COVINGTON, Ky. -- The road to a college degree is a rough one for many low-income students. When you add single parenting demands to the mix, there are even more obstacles.
The journey is getting a little easier for some in Kentucky thanks to Scholar House, a statewide program that aims to break the cycle of poverty for single parents through education. Northern Kentucky will get its second when the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission opens the doors to its new Lincoln Grant Scholar House in Covington this December.
The initiative was born from the Kentucky Housing Corporation, but providing affordable housing for single parents while they earn a college degree is just one piece of a very large puzzle, according to organizers.
“It’s an education program with a housing component,” explained Florence Tandy, the local commission’s executive director. “Education is a key pathway out of poverty, but there are barriers -- especially for single parents -- that can make it a real struggle."
The new Lincoln Grant Scholar House will provide affordable, safe housing for single parents who are enrolled full time in college, as well as access to myriad services and resources, including counseling, academic advising and career services, early childhood education and wraparound child care for their children.
“It provides a much-needed support network while they’re earning a degree,” said Tandy. “We want to help remove any barriers to their success.”
In Covington, there’s excitement about the new Scholar House program, not just because of what it will mean for the 45 struggling, single-parent families moving into the development this December, but also because of where the program will be housed.
The commission has renovated the Lincoln Grant School building, a community landmark on Greenup Street, as part of the project and built an additional structure at the site. Collectively, the buildings will house the 45 apartments for single-parent families in the program.
The nearly $10 million project has breathed new life into the historic building that's been vacant for years.
The Lincoln Grant School building was constructed in the early 1930s and served as the city’s public school for African-American students for decades until schools were desegregated in Kentucky in 1965. It operated as an elementary school until 1976. From there, it reopened as a community center but has sat vacant since it closed in 2003.
The new Scholar House program will take the building back to its educational roots, according to Larry Klein, Covington’s city manager.
“It’s a good fit. Scholar House is a proven program in Kentucky, and there are a lot of success stories,” he said. “It’s a great renovation and a great repurposing that will allow (the historic building) to continue to serve the community.”
The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated as an African American Heritage Site by the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission.
The commission partnered with Louisville-based Marian Development Group LLC to convert the space into two- and three-bedroom apartment units, but a bit of the “historic charm” of the old building has been preserved, Tandy said. For example, some of the lockers from the original school still adorn the walls, and original tile has been preserved in various spaces.
“There’s also a beautiful mural that was in the former gym that has been restored,” Tandy noted. “It’s being split up and put in different areas throughout the building.”
The building’s art deco theater is being fully restored, as well, and will serve as a community theater space. The Carnegie, a multidisciplinary arts venue in Covington, will manage it.
“This restoration is very exciting because there is a real lack of theater space in Northern Kentucky,” said Katie Brass, the venue’s executive director. “It will be a huge resource for the community, especially for smaller production groups.”
The theater also will allow The Carnegie to expand Camp Carnegie, its summer camp program that aims to help local kids build self-esteem and find their creative voice. The camp currently serves about 200 kids each year and has a long waiting list to get in each summer, Brass said. She estimates the camp will be able to serve 400 children beginning next summer with the added community theater space the Lincoln Grant Scholar House will provide.
“It’s great to see this building in the heart of Covington being completely reactivated,” Brass said. “It’s a beautiful space.”
Renovations will wrap up by the end of the year, Tandy said. The Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission is already accepting applications and hosting orientation sessions to help potential applicants get through the process. Families accepted into the program are expected to move in this December.
That move-in day will be an exciting day not just for those families, but also for supporters and partners of the program, Tandy said. The project has been in the works since about 2013.
“It takes a lot to get something like this off the ground, but it’s a very rewarding process,” she said. “Now the real work can begin with our families in the program."
To learn more or apply
The Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission is accepting applications for enrollment in the Lincoln Grant Scholar House. Staff members are scheduling phone and in-person screenings. Interested applicants can call 859-581-6607 or 859-655-2987. After each screening, applicants will be referred to an upcoming orientation session.
Enrollment priority will be given to U.S. military veterans and single-parent families at risk due to toxic stress or domestic violence.
Scholar House is a Kentucky Housing Corporation housing and education initiative that enables the head-of-household to reach self-sufficiency. Participants must be 18 and meet a variety of eligibility requirements.
The Lincoln Grant Scholar House will be the second in Northern Kentucky. Brighton Center opened the Northern Kentucky Scholar House in Newport last year. For details about that program, click here.
There are also programs throughout the state in Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green, Paducah, Owensboro and Pikeville. Click here for details and a full listing of locations.