MUNCIE, Ind. – Sometimes this column just writes itself.
That usually occurs when I see something that is so teeming with potential that even the humblest writer can explain it. That happened earlier this year when retired Senator Doug Eckerty showed me to the work he was doing at the Family Scholar House in Anderson. Its story begs to be told, and there’s no better time than the holiday season to tell it.
The Family Scholar House in Anderson is the newest location of an idea that started in Louisville back in 1995. It was started by a group of nuns and now has affiliates in eight states. Their website (https://familyscholarhouse.org/) has a great explanation, but let me tell you what I saw and heard in this novel anti-poverty program.
The Family Scholar House in Anderson targets impoverished single mothers. In the Louisville locations, they also serve some single fathers and young people who have aged out of traditional foster care. The Family Scholar House offers these families a place to live, provided they pursue education. For some, that means completing community college or a certificate. For others, it means finishing college and continuing on to graduate school. Their graduation rate is 88 percent, which would be the pride of any fine university. A whopping 70 percent of graduates are completely off public assistance within three months of leaving the Family Scholar House program.
Each Scholar House location is a bit different, but the focus is on making these families self-sustaining. That means different things for each family. It might mean helping a single mom to finish two years of college after leaving an abusive relationship. For others, the challenges can be far more daunting. The key, however, is to find the right mix of assistance to help each family.
This is where the magic happens. When a family gets into the Scholar House, they enter a community. The staff helps these families locate the right type of daycare, early childhood education or transportation to school. They coach the families on how they can rely on one another, and where they can go to ask questions about school, healthcare or their kids’ education. The best way I can describe it is that it is like having a helpful aunt and uncle nearby.
In the sterile language of public policy, this approach is called ‘wrap around’ services. It means that when a family needs help, it comes comprehensively, in the form of advice, counseling and the right type of financial assistance. But, the kicker in all this is that the cost of doing this is probably lower than allowing these families to remain in poverty. Here’s why.
The Family Scholar House model is built around education. Everyone is expected to pursue more schooling. That is the essence of the program. These families are already poor, so are already eligible for a long list of public assistance programs. What they lack is someone who can help them build a life from these programs. As anyone who’s observed anti-poverty efforts knows, that’s the hard par. However, if done effectively, it reduces cuts the lifetime costs and breaks the cycle of poverty.
The Family Scholar House model does this more effectively than any other program I’ve heard or read about. There’s just nothing like this in the academic research or program reports I’ve read for 25 years. There are other effective programs, but I have not run across any effort that so effectively combines immediate assistance to families with a long-term effort to transition folks out of poverty.
During one of my visits, I was fortunate enough to speak to two recent graduates of the program. Both were single moms who finished college and had set out on their own careers. Their young sons were thriving in school, and neither one would ever again be on public assistance. It was frankly inspiring, and I’ve spent a lifetime around inspiring, hardworking, young people. You could see the transformative effect of the Family Scholar House experience in both their lives, and that of their children. I was deeply moved by their stories.
The Family Scholar House in Anderson is a 12-unit apartment building purchased by JobSource, Inc., an Indiana non-profit. The apartments were fully remodeled with more than $750,000 of donated money. No government money or tax credits were used on this project. The apartments are located in a nice neighborhood, within a close walk of one college campus and a short drive to another. The location is convenient for young families. They are an easy walk to daycare and local schools. Most of the furniture is donated, and there are places for a playground, sledding and other outside activities that kids need. These remodeled apartments are a boost to the surrounding neighborhood and would be welcomed anywhere.
The parents are all enrolled in college; two at Ivy Tech, one at Anderson University and one at IUPUI studying pre-law. The Ivy Tech students have been provided full scholarships. This is the type of program that every college and university in Indiana ought to fight to have next to campus. Fortunately, there are growing opportunities for expansion.
In early 2023, Anderson Family Scholar House will open two more campus sites in Indianapolis as part of a collaborative effort with Glick Housing and Glick Philanthropies. As Doug Eckerty told me, “with the Glick partnership we intend to expand the Scholar House model across the state of Indiana and then throughout the Midwest.” I’d interpret this as an open invitation for civic groups across Indiana to consider participating. There are thousands of families who could benefit from this work, and dozens of places across the state who could open a Family Scholar House.
Seeing the Anderson Family Scholar House has been exhilarating, and to see their success over the pandemic period has been especially rewarding. As Eckerty said, “it’s an exciting thing to be a part of, and both I and my entire staff are thrilled to have this opportunity to help people change their lives, and their children’s lives, forever.”
I am confident of the success of the Anderson Family Scholar House, and hopeful more will open quickly across the state. I also hope that many of you will join my family in donating to the operations of this worthy effort.
You may do so by visiting the donation page of the JobSource website (https://www.jobsourcecap.org/ashdonation), or by emailing me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information. And, may you and your loved ones have a joyous holiday season.
Michael J. Hicks, PhD, is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.