Celebrating the Strength of Single Parents

“These amazing women never failed to astound me with how they managed, how they coped and how they triumphed over adversity.” —Jill Abbott

Jill Abbott so admired the strength and resilience of the single parents she taught at Kapi‘olani Community College that she created a scholarship to help students in similar circumstances after she retired.

In 1991, her first year of teaching English and composition at KCC, she met some remarkable single-parent students. They inspired her then and continue to inspire her. Not only because of the challenges they face raising their children, but also because of the work they do in addition to attending class to support their families and the many sacrifices they make to improve themselves in order to improve the quality of their children’s lives.

Soon after Jill first met and got to know her single-parent students, she became involved with the Single Parents and Displaced Homemakers (SPDH) Program. She and the SPDH Program Coordinator, Cathy Wehrman, formed an Access to College Experience or ACE group, focusing on the unique issues that single parents face as full- or part-time students. The group met once a week, invited speakers to discuss issues important to them, and offered support both in and out of the classroom.

Single parent statistics from the Career and Technical Education Center website:

  • More than half the children born in the United States today will live in a single parent home before the age of 18.
  • Single parents may be mothers or fathers, but the vast majority of custodial parents in single parent households are women.
  • Traditionally two-thirds of single mothers in Hawai‘i are in one of three occupations categories: service, clerical, and sales.

Learning from others to face personal adversity

In 2002, Jill became a single parent herself. She understood even more clearly then the difficulties her students faced as single parents.

She remembers, “One woman in particular was a single parent in my writing class who had been physically abused by her husband for many years. I urged her to write about her experiences. She went on to write one book of poems and four books of mixed fiction and non-fiction. I felt that was an incredible thing for her to embrace and do. She is a courageous person who taught me how to deal with unbelievable attacks on health, spirit, body and mind.”

Another student, who became a dear friend, faced tremendous difficulties and went on to get a master’s degree in social work at UH Mānoa; another became a social worker in hospice care.

Choosing to give back

Jill appreciated the experiences she had and friends she made while at Kapi‘olani Community College. “Even before I retired I realized I wanted to do something for KCC. My colleagues there and my experience with the students have been so wonderful that I realized that if I ever had money, I would want to give something back.”

After Jill retired, her mother’s inheritance helped her give back as she had wanted. When Jill first started exploring what her gift might do, she contacted KCC Director of Development Linh Hoang. “Linh was wonderful about helping me with the process. We would meet and we went through everything. She was very generous with her time and that encouraged me a lot. She was more than interested; she was extremely helpful and I appreciated that very much.”

After considering several areas important to her, she chose to create a scholarship for local students who are single parents. “I decided to make my gift for students who were most likely to be in those composition classes that I used to teach and who have great financial need. If it makes the difference between a single parent – man or woman – deciding I can go to or stay in school, then that’s huge to me. It means they can provide not only for themselves but for their children greater opportunities and hopefully communicate to their children how important it is to get a college education. I believe the ripple effects are greater by providing that possibility for single parents.”

The first recipient

The first recipient of the Jill Abbott Endowed Scholarship is Cristine Natividad, a KCC student and single parent who is determined to succeed. As a youth, Chris lived in foster care and she is a domestic violence survivor. She has four children; three live with their dad and her active 6-year-old lives with her.

Chris’ goal is to become a financial adviser after completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Jill Abbott’s scholarship helps her pursue her academic dreams. “Working with numbers seems to come naturally to me and I am fascinated with troubleshooting and working out problems,” she said.

“I really appreciate this scholarship. It is like a cushion that will help me with all those expenses that seem to creep up unexpectedly such as childcare, books, gas and other necessary costs. I am so very grateful to have been awarded this scholarship, and I appreciate her generosity.”

 

For Our University, Our Hawai‘i, Our Future