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University housing program removes barrier for single mothers

Sarah Scinto
WVIA Photo
The playroom at Anne's House, Misericordia University's newest home in the Women with Children program.

Katherine Pohlidal, director of the Ruth Matthews Bourger Women With Children Program at Misericordia University, sits in the cozy living room of the newest house available to women with young children who want to continue their education.

“This is Anne’s House. It’s one of four homes that we have here on our lower campus on Lake Street,” she said.

There’s a living room, playroom, dining room and kitchen on the first floor, and bedrooms for four families on the second floor.

“Every mom gets their own room, and then the child gets their own room as well, and that’s how we accommodate it,” Pohlidal said. “I think it’s one of the biggest assets of our program… the community that we build with our moms and with our families.”

Anne’s House opened this fall and is the fourth home in the university’s program, which is in its 22nd year on the campus. It was made possible in part by contributions from the Friedman family and named in honor of Anne Friedman Glauber, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2017.

The program offers women who are at or near the poverty line the chance to go to college and have a place to live with their children. They live in the university’s houses rent-free year-round for four years while they complete their degree.

“Not only are moms going into 100 percent placement into professional careers once they graduate, or graduate school for a lot of our moms, but also the next generation behind them,” Pohlidal said. “So their children who were here in the early 2000s are now college graduates themselves.”

Emily Davenport lives in one of the houses with her two-year-old daughter, Julie. She’s majoring in social work and says she didn’t think college was a possibility until she found the Women with Children program.

“Without a place to live, you know, rent is very high and it wouldn’t have been doable for me at all,” she said. “When I got into this program, it was really like a blessing because without it, I wouldn’t be making it.”

The program started when a number of single mothers who applied and were accepted to Misericordia ultimately decided not to attend, according to Pohlidal. The program’s founder and a social worker on campus at the time, surveyed those applicants and found the cost of rent was what kept them from the college.

That’s when the Sisters of Mercy donated the first house, a former convent.

“And they basically said to the university, can we offer this up and let’s provide free housing,” Pohlidal said.

The house where Davenport lives feels like home. She has bonded with the other moms in the program and her daughter has made friends with the other children in the house.

“I kind of feel like there’s a little sisterhood going on,” she said. “You have your little disputes, but the kids love each other.”

Over the years, Pohlidal has started referring to the program as a “two-generation” model, meaning it can benefit both mother and child during the four years they spend at Misericordia.

“We’re not only asking the mom what she needs to achieve her educational goals… we’re also looking at what are the needs of the child,” she said.

They help mothers in the program access nearby daycares, each house has a food pantry, and traditional Misericordia students get involved with the Kids on Campus program to make the children feel more at home on campus.

The Women with Children program can house up to 16 families with 3 children each. Pohlidal hopes to keep expanding the program for the next 22 years.

“This is our fourth house and growing,” she said. “We’re really proud of that.”

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.