By: Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.

Every civilization worthy of being called that wants to help those who are in tough circumstances, particularly when they are victims of the actions of others, such as disabled veterans, or abandon/abused mothers and children.

And no society wants to have its "helping hands" taken advantage of by the lazy, the con artists, or those who are content to live hand to mouth if that hand is someone else's. We seek to see generosity used as a bridge from hard times to good times.

This then raises the question: Where can we look for models of success, where those being helped get predictably to the place where help is no longer needed? How can we help abused people get on their feet, become educated and employable, resulting in a savings of taxpayer money in the long run? How do we make sure that our generosity is not taken advantage of?

One good example of a success story is Family Scholar House in Louisville Ky.

What do you think about a program which took 98 single parent families, all of whom were homeless at some point, and the vast majority of which suffered physical and sexual abuse – and turned 58 of these parents into college graduates, including several professors and lawyers, and the rest into stable crime free families whose children graduate from high school and go on to college or military service. One word to describe it is awesome. Another is imitatable.

Family Scholar House is a program which makes unique use of what is called the Section 8 public housing program, which is essentially a voucher program which pays private landlords the rent for families so poor they cannot afford housing. Family Scholar House is a special “Section 8” housing neighborhood which has unique admission requirements - you have to be a single parent, have been homeless, and be ready to be enrolled in and/or making good progress toward a college degree or professional certification.

You have to participate in a long series of pre-screening interviews and must participate in ongoing activities designed to support the parent, the children, and the family as a unit. Because of this intensive screening program, no parent admitted to the program has dropped out of the program – and all have stayed in college.

And the kids benefit as well. Think of it as the reverse of "you are hanging around with the wrong crowd." In this case, all the childs neighbors are families where the adults are attending college – a group of collective adult role models. The parents value education, and “walk that talk” every day.

And peer pressure and peer support at both the adult and child level helps everyone succeed. In conversations with staff at the Family Scholar House, I learned that they have no known case of a child of a family in the program dropping out of school before getting their high school diploma – this in a country where 1 in 3 drop out of high schooli. Thanks to Family Scholar House, these very poor kids who experienced being homeless and abused graduated high school at a higher rate that the average United States Citizen! And of the children who have grown old enough to actually finish high school successfully, 12 are currently in college.

The Family Scholar House program currently operates two campuses (the Louisville Scholar House and the Downtown Scholar House) at capacity, containing 110 housing units, and anticipates opening another campus housing unit of 57 units in 2012. 

All programs for the adults have an age adjusted mirror program for the children. Family Scholar House offers activities from those in daycare, to high schoolers, including child care services and book clubs. The Louisville campus hosts its own daycare on site, while the downtown campus has a partnership with the Presbyterian Community Center. The Family Scholar House also provides opportunities for family activities including going to plays or bowling. Staff reported that the level of the individuals and families self confidence rises almost on a daily basis as a result of this structure. 

The support programs not only bring family members closer together, but they also bring different families together with one another in community, where the children all play and do schoolwork together, just like they are one big extended family.

Intensive orientation and counseling (a large number of programs participants to not ever live in the section 8 housing, but into you must participate.

Family Scholar House falls under section 8 (also known as Housing Choice.ii Residents who work while living in FSH pay 30 percent of their wages to rent. However, those whose academic workload while raising a family while participating in all the coaching programs makes employment impossible are exempt from housing payments as long as they are successful in their academic work.

Family Scholar House also helps keep its costs down by implementing support programs for the families trying to get back on their feet by making extensive use of the help of volunteers. Last year alone the program received help from more than 927 volunteers, and has a waiting list of 590 families – all fitting the profile of homeless, abused, seeking a better life, and willing to work hard to get it.

To take existing public housing dollars and administer it in a way that gets these kinds of results requires a dedicated leadership, community support, and the willingness to depart from “the way we have always done it”. Louisville Family Scholar House has done that. And so can your community.

We are not powerless to change the future of our country. We can take existing tools, learn to use them differently, and make things better for the single parent, their kids, and the taxpayer. It is not up to Washington. It is up to us. 

To Assist the Editor in Fact Checking