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Student parent program serves many in first year

The office for the student parent support center located in the ECC building.Pravin Dangol

A year ago the number was zero. Today the number is 62.

Amanda Toppe, coordinator of the Student Parent Support Initiative, has connected with 62 student-parents in the first – and potentially only – year of the program.

Much has changed, Toppe said, since the beginning of the fall semester when there were around 12 parents participating in activities and groups hosted by Toppe.

The whole first semester of being able to talk to student parents and being able to determine what it was they needed was instrumental in being able to continue to stretch the limits of what this program can provide, Toppe said.

“I’ve had enough conversations with student parents to know more of what they need,” Toppe said. “The need to be connected with campus and with other student-parents is huge for this population.”

While Toppe said she loves her job and working with student-parents, there can be a lot of pressure that comes with the territory.

“It’s stressful though, too, because we want to do so much more,” said Toppe, adding she only has so much time and she doesn’t know yet whether the program will continue to receive funding.

“Being grant-funded is a challenge in itself because you have no idea what the future holds,” she said.

The funding period is over Aug. 31.

Even if the funding continues, Toppe said she is anticipating a gap in funding, which she is working to make sure doesn’t result in a gap in services.

“We are currently seeking other opportunities for funding in case it [the federal grant] does not continue,” said Toppe.

She said she has presented to the Student Fee Allocation Committee for a bare-bones budget and is looking for other options as well.

“There’s a lot of pressure to make sure we go through all the avenues we can to find funding,” said Toppe.

Toppe said another one of the main goals she has had is to make the student-parents feel more comfortable on campus. One student expressed concern about being seen exiting or entering the office: it’s labeled the Student Parent Support Initiative office, and she felt uncomfortable having others know she was part of the program as a student parent.

Brittany Schwantz, graduate assistant with the Student Parent Support Initiative and member of the group during fall semester, said there can be a bit of a stigma which comes along with being a student-parent.

“You’re in your undergrad, you’re away from home, finally, and then you get pregnant. You lose a lot of friends, you can’t do the same social kinds of things,” said Schwantz. “There are also professors who might not have children or just have zero sympathy for cases that may come up where you need to be with your child. We’ve had some parents that have struggled with some professors along those lines, too.”

Toppe said it has been clear to her how important it is for student-parents to have a place where they feel welcome, with people who know what they are going through.

“We are providing a service that has not been there before. The need is completely there. The need has been shown,” she said. “Everything in life is relationship-based.”

Relationships, Toppe said, are at the heart of what the Student Parent Support Initiative is all about.

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