Aspire Helps Single Parents Finish College

Barbara Pitts Riley, of Arkansas-based nonprofit Aspire, says her organization is making college degrees a reality for single-parent heads of households.

Barbara Pitts Riley, of Arkansas-based nonprofit Aspire, says her organization is making college degrees a reality for single-parent heads of households. Photo by Courtesy Barbara Pitts Riley

A nonprofit group with a new affiliate chapter in the Jackson metropolitan area seeks to assist low- and moderate-income single parents in finishing college.

That was the message this morning from Barbara Pitts Riley, a field representative from Aspire, based in Fayetteville, Ark. The organization, which started in 2008, now has affiliates in eight states including Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and California. In Mississippi, the first affiliate in Coahoma County has already assisted a dozen students since 2011 with scholarships of $1,000 per semester; six of those students have graduated.

For low-income single parents, completing college can have long-term effects for their children.

"We want to help them move from the cycle of poverty," Riley said during a presentation at Koinonia Coffeehouse's weekly Friday Forum. Koinonia is located at 136 Adams St. in west Jackson.

Aspire looks for single parents who are demonstrate a commitment to complete a certificate program, two-year associate's degree or a bachelor's degree who need additional assistance to reach their higher-education goals. College degrees help families achieve financial stability and earn living wages, Riley said.

The organization even assists those in master's programs if the affiliate can support that financial obligation. Of special interest are widows and widowers of men and women who have served in recent military conflicts overseas.

The Jackson affiliate includes Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties. Aspire expects to provide the first of many scholarships in the Jackson area next year. The national organization "seeds" new affiliates with two $500 grants, Riley said. In addition to cash, which Aspire awards directly to the students, the organization offers mentoring to assist students in completing their degrees. Financial eligibility for Aspire scholarships is generally the same as those for federal Pell grants.

Aspire is also looking for volunteers from the community to get involved, especially those who can serve on one of its many committees. This afternoon at 3 p.m., those interested can attend a presentation at the Jackson State University Welcome Center (1400 J.R. Lynch St., 601-979-0883).

"If you're looking for something to get involved in, Aspire is it," Riley said.

For more information on Aspire, visit the organization's website, or call 479-973-0800. For information on the Friday Forum at Koinonia Coffee House, visit its Facebook page or website, or call 601-960-3008.


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