Monday, April 2, 2018
“It’s a chance – a chance to change a life – or, at least, begin to change a life.”
That’s how Jackie Fink views her new role as director of the Women with Children Program at Mercyhurst North East. The program is designed to empower economically challenged single mothers by providing the support necessary to complete a college degree and create brighter futures for themselves and for their children.
“Our plans are moving forward on schedule and we are now ready to accept applications for the program’s first cohort,” she said. The program is expected to be operational by July, just in time for the fall semester.
Five families will be accepted for the program’s launch. The single moms must be admitted to MNE through the regular admissions process and be at or near the poverty level with no more than two children, ages 2 to 10.
The WWC program removes many of the roadblocks that may have stifled the single mothers’ previous attempts at an education by providing on-campus housing, academic and financial support, family enrichment programming, career services, on-campus counseling and a safe and secure environment.
Five townhouses at the far northwest end of the MNE campus are being retrofitted to accommodate the families. A common area to encourage social interaction, as well as a fenced-in playground for the children, are among the plans.
As a 25-year employee of Mercyhurst University, most of it spent at MNE, Fink has held many positions, and currently serves as director of administrative services under MNE Vice President Dr. David Hyland. But, no role has equipped her for her new job quite like having fostered two children in the early 1990s.
“That experience awakened me to conditions existing in Erie County that I would never have known about personally, such as hunger and homelessness,” she said. “I understand the plight of the single mom and I see this new program as a chance – a chance to change a life – or, at least, begin to change a life.”
According to research, the number of single mothers in college has doubled. Today, close to one in five women on college campuses are single moms. But the research indicates most of these women won’t graduate.
In working with Sister Joanne Courneen, RSM, to organize the program, Fink said the Sisters of Mercy have a long history of serving the underserved, and the new program is one more manifestation of that mission.
"We've had students who have had to leave because they were not able to manage," said Sister Joanne of single mothers working toward a college degree, “and we want to help them."