By John Stran
Amidst the students at Youngstown State, there are some who face financial challenges that make it burdensome to complete everyday tasks like going to class, being a part of clubs and working part-time hours.
On some days, Kayla Sawhill relies on the WRTA bus to get to and from school from her home town of New Middletown. On other days, she relies on her grandmother to pick her up.
What’s unbeknownst to the eye is that Sawhill walks along the poverty line.
According to the 2016 poverty guidelines, a family of two must make at least $16,020 a year to not be considered a low-income family.
Maraline Kubik is the director of a program called Sister Jerome’s Mission College, which seeks to fund low-income students attending college by giving them $100-dollar gift cards every month that are used to help the students with living expenses such as food and gas.
“These students have the intellect to attend college, they just lack the funding and often times the guidance to graduate,” said Kubik
Kubik said that the reason some low-income students struggle to get in and graduate college is because the issue is generational. Some students are the first in their family to go to college or graduate high school.
Students like this can have trouble when there is no one to talk to about things such as filling out financial forms and applying for scholarships.
Sawhill’s mother attended college at Youngstown State University and eventually began working at GM in Lordstown. A life of low income became their future after her mother began to lose her sight. Now considered legally blind, she can no longer work.
Sawhill heard about the mission college program through the Beatitude House, a charity that serves single mothers and their children.
“I really do rely on the money the program gives me, but there are no food places on campus that accept gift cards,” said Sawhill.
She oftentimes has to wait to eat when she is off campus or at home. Even then, the pantries at her home may be empty. Between the $35 in food stamps the two receive every week and their first of the month check, food can be and is often scarce.
Sawhill continues on with her first year of college even though money is tight. She was recently laid off from her seasonal job.
The decision to continue schooling over working full or part-time job is a decision that can also be difficult for the low-income student.
“Students sometimes leave the program because they decide to pick a steady, full-time job over finishing school,” said Kubik.
A program like Sister Jerome’s can remove some of the burden off of the hands of students, and for students like Sawhill, it did.
But just like the students they provide for, the program lacks funding. They also fear a ratio of more students than advisors in the near future.
“The idea is to grow the program, but slowly,” said Kubik. “Certain students need more attention from our advisors. If we grow the program too quickly, students may be back the same situation they first found themselves in.”
In its efforts, the program has seen two students graduate from Youngstown State since it began in 2012, proving that the road from poverty to college is long, but it does have a destination.