In an old supply closet with the smell of fresh paint hanging in the air, sitting on a squeaky, red leather couch so new the tags were still on, Amanda Toppe explained just how far her program had come since its inception halfway through last semester.
Toppe, coordinator of the Young Student Parent Support Initiative, took the reins of the newly-formed program in mid-March. She is settling in to her second office and has overseen the transformation of a space which was previously occupied by old electrical supplies into what will be a space specifically for student parents.
Even with the new office and the new social space Toppe has secured for the fall semester she said the biggest success so far has been the response to available scholarships for single mothers.
“One of the biggest successes we had this summer was the Mary Beth Wedum Single Mothers Scholarship. We had 65 applications that came in for that scholarship,” Toppe said. “It really show the need for support that parents, in general, need.”
SCSU received $187,283 from the J.A. Wedum Foundation to fund scholarships through the Mary Beth Wedum Single Mother Scholarship Fund.
SCSU graduate Jay Portz, the foundation’s president, presented the check to President Earl H. Potter on Monday, Aug. 6.
“Mary Beth Wedum is an SCSU alumnus and was a single mother while attending college. She knew first-hand the challenges that students face while trying to improve their lives,” Portz said. “The Wedum foundation’s mission is to change and improve people’s lives through the stewardship and generosity which is the reason that we strongly believe in providing scholarships for SCSU students.”
Toppe said she was intimately involved in the process of deciding who would ultimately receive the scholarships.
“I was on the committee to help go through all the applications. We had a process in what we were looking for. We decided how many we wanted to give out of the 65 applicants,” she said.
It was a difficult process, Toppe said.
“It pulls at your heart strings when you read people’s stories. Some of those women have come really far so you want to reward everybody for where they’re at and encourage them to continue,” she said.
The response to the scholarships, more than anything, drives home the need for student-parent support on campus, she said.
Initially there were to be up to 20 scholarships of $2,000 awarded Toppe said with the surprising response the committee in charge of awarding the scholarships proposed a new number to the foundation. She said they are waiting to hear if that number has been approved and those receiving scholarships should be notified later this week.
Single mothers, however, weren’t the only ones interesting in the scholarships.
”I had six or seven emails from single dads regarding [the scholarship] in which they were very frustrated and upset, kind of a ‘hey, what about us’ kind of thing,” Toppe said.
Feedback of this sort really helps Toppe prepare for the future and see where the need is, she said. A re-framing of the scholarships might be in order, she said, because single dads should be included as well.
Interest in the program has continued to grow, Toppe said, citing double the number of parents in attendance at her latest support group.
“We had the last support group of the summer today and we had double the turnout we have had all summer,” she said. Six were in attendance and three were there for the first time.
Toppe expects more involvement once the fall semester starts and the word begins to spread.
With new office and social space now available Toppe said she feels she is ready.
“I feel so much more excited about it because the way it came together and the guys who worked on it. They knew I had my heart in it, so I think they put their heart in it, too,” she said.
Having a space for student-parents to go is imperative, Toppe said.
She said she is planning an open house for Sept. 17 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for anyone to come in and see what they are doing.
While Toppe said she has an idea for where she would like to take the program, she is always open to new ideas and ever-evolving is probably the best way to describe the process at this point.
“I’m really open at this point,” she said. “I’m always looking for new ideas. We can only do as much as the student parents let us know that they need.”
The Minneapolis-based Wedum Foundation owns Coborn Plaza, which includes St. Cloud State’s Welcome Center and Coborn Plaza Apartments. The foundation also has developed senior and student housing in Minnesota communities such as Buffalo, Rochester, Minneapolis, Fridley and Mankato.