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Women with kids finding family at Misericordia

Single moms praise the university program for helping them study for degrees.

Angelina Vargas, left, does her mother Meghan’s hair in the playroom of Rosary Hall at Misericordia University.

S. JOHN WILKIN/THE TIMES LEADER

DALLAS TWP. – From the outside, Rosary Hall and the Pauly House at Misericordia University appear to simply be dorms for students. But these are actually the homes of the eight women and their children enrolled in the Women with Children Program.

The program will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall. Vicki Austin, director of Women with Children, said it was the brainchild of Sister Jean Messaros, who at the time the program was implemented was the dean of students. Messaros is now the vice president of student affairs.

“When Jean was dean of students, she noticed a lot of single mothers having difficulties balancing school with raising a child,” Austin said. “This program was (meant) to address those challenges and alleviate some of the pressure.”

Debra Passarella, a senior psychology major from Brooklyn, N.Y., has been a member of the program since August and it has allowed her to focus more on school and to spend more time with her 2-year-old daughter, Giana.

“It’s challenging at times living in community living with so many different personalities in one house, but I’m really happy that I have the other girls for advice, and it’s great for my daughter, who is the youngest in the house,” Passarella said. “She’s learning and interacting with everyone and she has progressed so much since I’ve been in the program.”

For junior biology pre-dental major Jennifer Kates, the program not only provided her with help going to college, but also a home for her and her 4-year-old daughter, Lissenda.

Kates applied to the program while still in high school and has been enrolled for three years. Before coming into the program Kates was homeless.

“I would have to find a place to sleep every night. Now I have a place to come home to every day,” Kates said. “It’s a big burden off my shoulders for me to be able to show my daughter that I can succeed.”

Amy Hartman is a senior psychology major from Dallas and said the program has given her and her 3-year-old daughter Camryn a future.

“It’s done everything for us. It’s given my daughter and I a future, it’s given me an education, motivation, inspiration, and it’s actually given me a passion to help others,” Hartman said.

For most of the women, the program has provided them with the support of other mothers who are close to or their own age.

“One of the best things I’ve gotten out of the program is support from the other moms,” Hartman said. “When I had my daughter, nobody else I knew had children yet, and it was kind of hard to kind of lose your friends.”

How to become part of program Women and Children facts

Call Vicki Austin at 570-674-6728 or e-mail her at vaustin@misericordia.edu. There are a few qualifications for the program:

•A woman can’t have more than two children.

•A woman can’t have a bachelor’s degree, but can have an associate’s degree.

•A woman must be the primary custodial parent.

•Only six other schools in the country offer the Women with Children Program.

•You can find out more information by visiting www.singleparentcollegeprograms.org.

•Funding comes from local individuals and corporations and state funding.

•Ten women have graduated and eight women currently are enrolled.

•Once a week the traditional college students on campus spend time with the children for a few hours doing things such as crafts, sports and sometimes taking them to dinner.

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