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Sunday, 13 October 2013 22:00

Nonprofit coalition assists women with education funding

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KALAMAZOO — At the age of 30, Laura Boulding found herself a single mother with two children and no way to support them.

“School just wasn’t for me when I was 18,” Boulding said.

So instead of going on to college, she got married and had three children, one of whom was born with severe health issues and died from a brain aneurysm at age 13. His death encouraged her to pursue the education she passed up when she was younger.

A little-known, but effective organization called the Women’s Education Coalition provided Boulding with the funds she needed to go back to school and earn a degree that has enabled her to support herself and her children. For the past eight years, she has been teaching “family and consumer science” classes at Kalamazoo Central High School to ninth through 12th grade students.

Since 1995, WEC has helped 228 women in a six-county area pay for anything associated with the cost of an education such as tuition, rent or mortgage payments, fees and books, said Carol Carter, who works with the fund through the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

“The fund also has an emergency component and those dollars can be used for car repairs, mortgage payments or energy costs,” Carter said.

One of Boulding’s counselors at Kalamazoo Valley Community College told her about the WEC when she was enrolled there. The first year she applied for funding through WEC, she didn’t get it. The application process calls for the applicants to write essays describing their goals. The second time Boulding applied, she received funding that allowed her to complete a two-year degree at KVCC and a master’s degree in education from Western Michigan University.

WEC funds are renewable each year. Boulding received funds from the program for a total of eight years. Carter said this is not unusual.

WEC funds are available to women living in Allegan, Barry, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties. Members of four organizations — Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Kalamazoo Network and YWCA of Kalamazoo County — raised $1 million for an endowment for the grant program.

“We only spend the income so the fund has grown each year,” Carter said.

Between 40 and 50 applications are received each year. Carter said WEC tries to cap the number annually at about 30 women, including those already receiving funds, because the organization wants to be able to make a significant amount available. Since the funding program began, more than $900,000 has been distributed to successful applicants.

“Each year we bring in 10 to 13 women,” Carter said. “Some of them attend school part-time so sometimes, it can take seven or eight years to earn a degree. The grants go directly to the school or certification organization if it’s for training.”

However, many times the WEC funds are used to cover room and board or housing expenses because the applicants receive Pell grants that they use for tuition payments.

Boulding originally was interested in earning a nursing degree, but after her son passed away, she said her passion for that career was gone. She switched her major to teaching after career counseling at WMU indicated that she would be good at working with children.

“I knocked out my undergraduate degree between 2006 and 2010. I took one course during the school year and a couple more classes during the summer because I was working for the dean at KVCC,” Boulding said.

Without the financial support from WEC, Boulding said she most likely would have never gone back to school because she wouldn’t have had the motivation.

“WEC makes you list what your goals are, gives you opportunities to reevaluate, helps you make progress and holds you accountable,” she said. “As a parent, I figured out that what I needed for me and my family was to complete my education.”

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Editor’s note: This story has been changed from its original form. A previous version of the story did not include bolding on the names of the two sororities that are partnered in the Women’s Education Coalition.  

Read 2291 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 08:41

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