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Single mothers have option of Pa. college program

March 11, 2001

Single mothers have option of Pa. college program



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Rosenna Williams' car used to be her only friend. The single mom had no time for a life outside of shuttling herself to work and school and her son to a day-care center.

But now Williams, 32, leads a fairly ordinary life as a junior at Wilson College, sharing on-campus living quarters with her 8-year-old son, Trevor.

Williams, who has an associate's degree, began working toward a bachelor's degree last fall through Wilson College's Women With Children Program.

The small liberal arts college in Chambersburg is one of only a handful of higher-education institutions in the country to offer on-campus housing to single mothers and their children, said Mary Taylor, program director.

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"Single mothers are the poorest of the poor in our country. The only way out of poverty is through education," she said.

Currently, there are 16 mothers with 19 children living in two-room suites in Prentis Hall. This fall, the program will be at capacity with 23 mothers - about 10 percent of all students, Taylor said.

Wilson began the program with three women in the fall of 1996 and has slowly expanded it. Prentis Hall is a three-floor dormitory with kitchens and computers on every floor and a day-care center in the basement.

Taylor said the program was a logical move for Wilson.

"We're a women's college and our mission is to serve women in today's society. One of those groups is single mothers, and they're generally not served by higher education," Taylor said.

Women in the program range in age from 18 to 38, and the children are from 6 months to 10 years old.

Children more than 20 months can use the day-care center on the premises. Mothers must find alternate care for younger children in the community, but beginning this fall, an endowment will cover all day-care costs, Taylor said.

Older children are enrolled in Chambersburg schools and picked up at a bus stop outside of Prentis Hall.

The women must apply for admission to the college like any other student. Once accepted, they can apply to the Women With Children Program.

"Everyone comes with their own baggage, whether they are a mom or not," Taylor said. "We're looking for students committed to education that can visualize themselves graduating."

So far, eight women have graduated from the program, and two more are slated to graduate this spring.

Taylor said the program has become part of the culture of the college, to the point all students are used to sharing the dining hall with the children.

"Some of the older girls run around more than the kids do," said Williams, who is originally from Washington.

She most recently lived in Columbia, Md., where she earned her associate's degree at a community college.

She was ready to begin working on a bachelor's degree in visual and performing arts at another school when she heard about Wilson's program.

"I couldn't pass on living on campus. I would have had a 40-minute commute each way at another college," she said.

Instead, she sees off Trevor at the bus stop and heads to her own classes. By the time she picks him up from the YMCA's after-care program in the evenings, she's done with class, run her errands and is ready to spend time with her son.

"When he gets home it's Trevor-time," she said.

Her own homework waits until Trevor's is finished and he's tucked in bed in his room. Williams set up the first room as a combination living room-bedroom for herself.

She is able to squeeze in some campus activities and is the residence hall's student government representative and president of the Baptist Student Union.

"It's pretty awesome to be able to do that. When I had my own apartment, my car was my best friend - I had no life outside of that," she said.

Now, she has a pool of women in the same situation to which she can relate.

And while she knows she will be paying back student loans for years to come, she said that's better than worrying if she'll be able to buy groceries next week.

"There is nothing like going to college and getting a solid background so you will be able to pay the bills," she said. "What keeps me here and focused is I don't want to go back to working a dead-end job, wondering how to live on $8.50 an hour."

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