So what are the biggest challenges to building a Scholar House? Rob Ellis, Kentucky Housing Corporation, has worked to develop nine Scholar Houses across Kentucky. He knows better than most how challenging a Scholar House can be, but he also understands that the work is worth the struggle. “Scholar Houses are challenging because of all the components that have to be juggled, when constructing the project as well as after the project is up and running. It’s really important to integrate not just the student, but also the children, and once the children see their mom or dad going to school and succeeding this will impact their lives. Those children will grow up in a household that values the importance of education.”
Challenge 1: Financing
The first challenge is financing, but perhaps not because of the reasons you might think. “It’s a challenge to understand what is allowable and not allowable by the various funding sources,” says Vicki Jozefowicz, executive director, Kentucky River Foothills Development Council, key partner in Kentucky’s newest Scholar House. “We all have our vision of what we want the project to be, however, Kentucky Housing Corporation has developed a Scholar House model that is based on years of successful Scholar House programs. Because of the experience of these other programs, new programs don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Financing is also challenging due to managing the many partners who are bringing funding and resources to the table. Ellis says, “Financing is always a challenge. Managing all the funding and resources that go into making one of these successful is complicated. You have to have strong leadership. Even after it’s built, you have all the players from the service components ongoing, working with families, children, having to have a property management company that can keep it going and in compliance. It’s a challenge to finance and manage all the players who provide ongoing services and support.”
Challenge 2: Finding a Suitable Site
According to Jozefowicz, a second challenge in putting the project together is the acquisition of a suitable site. “Not only is there potentially a large expenditure of funds when land is purchased, there are also safety and suitability concerns that must be addressed in selecting a site.” For Eastern Scholar House, a partnership with Eastern Kentucky University provided a long-term land lease that allowed for a large green space where the children can play and the families can enjoy being outdoors. “We call this space ‘The Eastern Scholar House Field of Dreams’ because we know that dreams will be achieved through this project,” says Jozefowicz.
Challenge 3: Great Need, Finite Resources
A final challenge is knowing the needs and knowing there are finite resources. “The thing I find most challenging is knowing that the 849 families in our pre-residential program are eager for the opportunity and waiting for a chance to live with us. I pray for them, their safety and their ability to stay hopeful in difficult circumstances. Last year, we served 3,296 families with 4,451 children. The desperate needs in our community, Commonwealth, and country can be overwhelming,” said Cathe Dykstra, president and CEO of the Louisville-based Family Scholar House.
Overcoming the Challenges
Advice on how to create a successful Scholar House?
Jozefowicz offers advice to those heading down a Scholar House path. “Had we known to anticipate how little control we had over this process, we would have built more time into the development schedule.” It can be particularly challenging to juggle never-ending deadlines and competing interests. There are lots of parties to keep engaged, according to Jozefowicz, including contractors, service providers, inspectors, licensing bodies, and funders. “However, we are inching so close to achieving our shared goal of finalizing the project so that all of the anticipated services can be provided to our participating scholars and little scholars.”
From Dykstra, engaging partners for ongoing support is her advice. “I wish I had known how special Kentucky Housing Corporation and Louisville Metro Housing Authority are. If only every community had this type of support.”
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