Scholarship program helps single mothers furthering education: 'I feel like I can breathe now'

Scholarship program supports single mothers furthering education: 'I feel like I can breathe now'
Posted at 10:22 PM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 23:26:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Six local single moms received a total of $65,000 to cover the costs of childcare while they further their education through a new United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg scholarship program.

Audrey Trussell, VP of Community Impact, said there were more than 39,000 single-mother families in this region alone. Of those over 39,000 single-mother families, more than 12,000 lived below the poverty thresholds.

Trussell said they started the WomenRise scholarship program after seeing the impact the pandemic was having on single mothers.

"We saw the greatest number of mothers leave the workforce in the past year and a half due to pandemic-related reasons. And it's all about the intersection of workforce and childcare. "Because when schools shut down, childcare center shut down, mothers were the most likely to quit their job to take care of kids and be at home with them," said Trussell.

"So, as we recover from the pandemic, we're investing in those mothers, but also in these childcare centers to build that system back up, to build education back up, and to get people back to work so our community can continue on."

Sheryl Harvey, a recipient of that scholarship, is no stranger to having her hands full.

"It's a job that never ends. And if I can do that, then I can do anything," said Harvey with a laugh.

A natural caregiver, the single mom of two young children started pursuing her dreams early.

"People say, 'you got am old soul' or 'stop being such a mom', but I do enjoy helping people," Harvey said.

When she was just in the 11th grade, Harvey received her CNA license, and has been working as a Care Partner with VCU Health for the last nine years, recently winning 'Care Partner of the Year.' But for several years Harvey had to put her goal of becoming a nurse on hold.

"Before the baby, before 2017, I was in school, and then I got pregnant with my first so I kind of put school to the side," Harvey said.

The challenges of finding affordable childcare, especially amid the pandemic, made juggling being a mom, work, and the prospect of school especially difficult.

"There were days I actually had to call out and miss," Harvey said.

But after applying and being accepted for the WomenRise scholarship program, Harvey said it allowed her the freedom to complete a nursing program at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, all the while knowing her babies were in good hands.

"I feel like I can breathe now, thanks to United Way for making it even possible. I don't have to worry about the main thing was who's keeping my babies?" Harvey said.

"It was a burden and they have taken that off my shoulders and I feel like I'm me now. And I can go to the library and study and, wow, I don't... that's all still so surreal. It's a new reality. I'm so thankful for it," Harvey said.

She added that she didn't plan to stop with an RN degree, but wanted to pursue a master's as well.

"I’m just gonna keep on going. Keep on going," Harvey said.

The United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg planned to hand out scholarships annually through their WomenRise program. Applications for next year will be available in the spring.

If you'd like more information on the program, or you want to donate, you can do so on their website.



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