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MCC's Support and Empowerment Program Assists Single Parents


Growing up TarismaHelms says education was never really a priority – her mother had a 7th-grade education and her father wasn’t around, still she knew she wanted to continue her schooling and become a nurse.  But the challenges of higher education – tuition, purchasing textbooks, transportation, studying – were all compounded by the fact that Helms is a single mother of 2 children. 

However, during Helms' first year at McLennan Community College she found the Support and Empowerment program – a program designed to provide a support system for single parents in school.   

“This program supports you to where you’re more motivated to not just give up. You’re motivated to go further than what you’ve come from," she said. 

Since its inception in 1979 the program has seen more than 7 thousand single parent students through its door, seeing anywhere from 60 to 65 students each semester. Becky Bogus (BAH-GUS) is program coordinator for the support and empowerment program at M-C-C. She says the program was originally founded as a community service project of the Junior League of Waco.

“They saw they need for single moms in the community to gain vocational skills and some training so they could support their family," Bogus said. "And so they gave some money to MCC to start a program, create a support network and to pay for childcare, transportation, in order to help single parents graduate and complete a degree.” 

In 2013 – according to the latest data available – nationally, 85 percent of single parents completed a high school degree – while just 18 percent held at least a Bachelor’s. That gap is exacerbated by the conditions that single parents in college often face. Bogus  says that those in the program are generally taking on full-time jobs, a full academic load, and balancing their school and personal life. For 23-year-old single mother Ashley Thomas, the resources available to her and other students in the program have helped her navigate through college – both financially and emotionally. The support and empowerment program provides students with emotional support, financial training, budgeting workshops and checks in on students – overall, Bogus  says:

"The overarching goal is to help the students to be successful in their academic careers and get them to graduate and attain a degree and a skill."

Thomas, the mother of a 3-year-old girl, says that without this support system in place, she wouldn’t have made it through college.  And in order to get to this point – just a couple days shy of graduation – she’s also had to balance multiple jobs.  

"It’s been challenging but it’s helped, you know? It’s hard financially to go to school and to raise a child," Thomas said. 

The federal government keeps the program afloat each year through the Perkins Vocational Grant, which provides 100,000 dollars to the program. Each year, Bogus says that they must reapply for the grant, which is awarded to community colleges based on how many students in their population are eligible for Pell Grants. That's determined by a student’s financial need.  In 2014, the number of students at MCC that received Pell Grants was just above 5,000 – that’s more than half of the average student population at Waco’s 2-year college. Here’s Bogus:

“The poverty in our student population is reflective of the poverty in Waco," Bogus said, "so MCC has a higher than average, I would say, a pretty high rate of students that have the Pell Grant."

In 2013 single mothers in Waco were 45 percent more likely to live below the federal poverty line.  That’s according to the most recent data from the American Community Survey. For a family of 2 that level is just under 16,000 dollars. For thirty-nine-year old Helms, the struggle to rise out of poverty was one of the main reasons she returned to school.

“In my whole entire life – even with working two jobs – I’ve never made over 15,000 dollars a year," Helms said. "So this is gonna give me an opportunity to say “you want that, you can have that.” It’s not a discussion of what you want and what you need.” 

Helms and Thomas are graduating this semester and receiving their associate’s degree in nursing.