Seventeen low-income women from the Mohawk Valley are taking the first step toward a college education as members of the pilot class of the ACCESS Project, a comprehensive program designed to provide low-income parents in Central New York with all of the support necessary to thrive in an academic community.
The program is supported by Hamilton College, the State of New York, the Watson Lowery Memorial Fund and the Frank W. Baker Fund of the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties Inc., The Charles A. Frueauff Foundation, Inc., the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center and the Kirkland Project for the study of Gender, Society and Culture.
Hamilton's program is unique in that it is a holistic, educational/social service program that will help low-income parents in Central New York move from welfare to meaningful work through an intensive and fully supported introduction to liberal arts education coupled with extensive long-term educational, social service, employment, and family services support. The program is also unique in that its co-director, the program coordinator, and all the faculty currently teaching in the program are parents who have overcome family poverty through the pathway of higher education.
Participants will attend classes in mathematics, introduction to theatre, learning academic language through Latin, and the history of motherhood, all taught by Hamilton College faculty, on Mondays-Thursdays. On Fridays they will participate in workshops on job skills, doing research, writing, family enrichment and computer use. These will all take place in the newly-renovated ACCESS Center in McEwen Hall on Hamilton's campus.
Applicants to the ACCESS program had to complete essays explaining their interest in joining the program. One class member wrote: "Despite my years of wisdom and all of my life experience, without a degree I will never be able to work with people in a professional capacity. That is one of the reasons I wish to be accepted into the Access project. Receiving my education from Hamilton College will put me on equal ground with others in the human service field."
Another wrote: "It's time for me to move forward and I need to redefine my life. The Access Project ... could be the lifesaver that I need."
"If you would have asked me when I was graduating from high school, where I saw myself in 10 years, I would never have predicted that it would be without a college degree or good job. Nor would I have assumed that I would now be taking a chance and in essence 'starting over,'" wrote another member of the pilot class.
Another woman in the class wrote, "Negative images of poor parents make me want to strive harder to achieve a better life for my son and myself."
The goal is that the pilot group will complete this program, then go on to earn college degrees. As matriculated students at Hamilton and other colleges in the region, the ACCESS class will continue to receive academic and social supports. After earning degrees they will also receive job placement and career counseling assistance, leading to meaningful (non minimum-wage) employment. The participants range in age from 19-46; all have a high school diploma or GED; and all have children, who range in age from infant to 20 years old. Utica College and SUNY Empire State are also participating in the program.
Hamilton is donating free tuition to ACCESS students in addition to use of its facilities, computers for the classroom and for each woman to take home, free lunch and entry to cultural events on the campus for students and their children. The program also provides books and supplies, coordination of childcare, transportation and family maintenance funds, research and work-study positions, counseling and tutoring.
Vivyan Adair, who developed and co-directs the program says, "ACCESS makes "both fiscal and community sense because it will strengthen these women as scholars, workers, citizens, and parents."
Co-director Erol Balkan, adds, "Our goal is to provide education in such a way that the whole family will benefit, including participants' children. Our program is unique in its holistic approach."
"ACCESS is an important project, committed to improving women's lives. Through their educational experiences, participants will empower themselves, thereby making a difference in our larger community," said Eugene M. Tobin, president of Hamilton College. "We look forward to providing the community with the success stories of many women who will be aided by this program."