09:11 AM

Community Impact: H.O.P.E., Inc.

Kenita Pierce-Lewis founded H.O.P.E., Inc. so single parents could earn their college education much easier than she did.

Juggling parental responsibilities, work and college courses, it took her 10 years to get her bachelor’s degree in business administration.

H.O.P.E. — which stands for Helping Other People be Empowered — helps low-income single parents obtain college degrees by providing rental and childcare assistance, connections to community resources, financial advising, counseling resources and success coaching.

“Statistics show the number one reason students don’t finish their college education is financial stress,” Pierce-Lewis said. “We focus on single parents who work and don’t qualify for government assistance but need help to provide for their children and plan for a better future.”

H.O.P.E. recently received a $5,000 grant from the Jackson EMC Foundation to assist with childcare and housing so parents can continue their college education.

The foundation grant targets childcare and housing costs for H.O.P.E. clients, who receive up to $100 a week in childcare assistance and up to $400 a month in rent when lack of either puts acquiring a college degree at risk. Pierce-Lewis said her own college degree was delayed because she couldn’t afford childcare.

“This enables students to focus on their academics without the anxieties of shelter loss and childcare issues,” she said. “With this investment, parents not only increase their earning potential, but they also increase the likelihood that their children will pursue higher education.”

Based in Duluth, H.O.P.E. has served 53 families since 2011. Of the 27 participants who have graduated from college, most have used their degree to increase their income by an average of $20,000, according to Pierce-Lewis.

“We have a single dad, our first male participant, who recently graduated from college. He has doubled his salary, and now he donates to the program,” she said.

While many charitable organizations provide one-time assistance with rent or childcare, what sets H.O.P.E. apart is that it continues to help with rent and childcare until clients have their college diploma in hand. Pierce-Lewis credits the Jackson EMC Foundation for helping H.O.P.E. get off the ground and is thankful for its continued support.

“The Jackson EMC Foundation grants have been a blessing,” she said. “It was one of the first foundations that believed in us and our vision. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for believing in H.O.P.E.”

For more information about H.O.P.E., Inc., visit hopbe.org