Middletown-based Non-Profit Provides Resources to Single Parents in Need

Writer / Noelle Tennis Gulden
Photography Provided

SPARCSPARC (Single Parent Resource Center) Hope has changed considerably since its founding as Mom’s Closet Resource Center (MCRC) in 2003.

What began as a simple clothes closet to help single mothers dress for job interviews has grown into an organization focused on helping single parents – both mothers and fathers – seek a better quality of life through higher education.

It all started when MCRC Founder Sheila Day responded to a challenge she received from her pastor: Take $100 and change the world. Day felt that God had placed single mothers on her heart. Her first step was to send letters to 50 people asking them to join her in this challenge by matching her $100. She received $15,000 in response. With that money, Day rented her first space and began serving single mothers through a clothes closet.

Not long after MCRC opened, Day added a food pantry to the clothes closet – but according to current Executive Director Laura Wingfield, Day “began to feel like she was giving a handout instead of a hand up.”

It was then that Day came up with the program that changed the very heart of the organization.

With the creation of the Life Plan program in 2005, MCRC shifted its focus from handing out clothes and food to providing “support, encouragement and guidance to single parents in the pursuit of identifying life choice options that will enhance their opportunities for career advancement and independence,” according to the SPARC Hope website.

In addition to receiving personal, professional and educational support, Life Plan program participants may also receive help with rent, utilities, water and other needs. They have full access to the food pantry, as well as clothing through the organization’s consignment shop partnerships, household items, discounted car repair and more.

“The goal of our Life Plan program is to walk with these clients throughout their schooling,” says Staci Harrub, program coordinator. “Once they graduate, we walk with them for six more months as they prepare resumes and interview for jobs. Our goal is for them to be self-sufficient at the end of it.”

The Life Plan program is reserved for single parents who have at least 50% custody of their children, work at least 20 hours per week, attend a college, university, trade school or institution of higher education (IHE) accredited by the state of Kentucky or Indiana at least part-time with a minimum grade point average of 2.0, and are not cohabitating in a partnered relationship (e.g., living together but not married).

SPARC Hope serves anywhere from 13 to 17 Life Plan program participants at any given time, though they are looking to double their program capacity. Interested individuals can apply on the SPARC Hope website at sparc-hope.org/need-assistance.

Single parents who don’t qualify for the Life Plan program may access the food pantry once per quarter for one year. Harrub works with these single parents to help them become eligible to apply for the Life Plan program, and she connects them with other resources in the community that best fit their current circumstances.

“I will direct them and resource them out where they can get the things that they need, as well as give them access to visit our pantry every three months for a 12-month period,” Harrub says.

This includes working with parents who want to go to school, but who aren’t currently enrolled in a college, university, trade school or other IHE.

“We’re trying to help bridge that gap,” Harrub says.

Local partnerships are crucial to SPARC Hope’s work. They partner with Dare to Care Food Bank to help stock their food pantry, and they partner with several area consignment stores to help provide clients with clothing and household items.

SPARC Hope is also connected with a number of local colleges and universities, and they work closely with Family Scholar House, another nonprofit organization here in Louisville dedicated to helping single parents meet their educational, career and family goals.

“We refer to Family Scholar House, and they refer to us,” Harrub says.

SPARC Hope is currently working with Metro United Way to become part of their United Communities initiative, which their website describes as “a community-wide initiative to deploy an innovative shared technology platform to initiate and close referrals across many organizations.” Learn more at metrounitedway.org/program/united-community.

SPARCHarrub is hopeful that this connection will make it easier for more single parents to find SPARC Hope. She also hopes it will help her more quickly and easily refer single parents to other resources when necessary.

One other exciting partnership is SPARC Hope’s emerging collaboration with the Kentucky Career Center to provide career coaching to clients. This service is yet another way SPARC Hope will be able to help single parents achieve self-sufficiency.

Given the many changes that have occurred since MCRC was founded in 2003, the organization’s leaders decided to change their name and undergo a rebranding process in 2019. They feel the name SPARC Hope better describes who they serve (both single mothers and single fathers) and why – to spark hope in the lives of single parents and their families.

SPARC Hope relies heavily on volunteers and funders to make all of this good work possible. Funding comes through a combination of grants, private donations and events. With most events on hold during the current pandemic, Development Coordinator Kara Sanders is focused on building the organization’s growing network of monthly sustaining donors.

“Monthly supporters are the key to our sustainability,” she says. “Their consistent support gives us the ability to plan and grow.”

A monthly gift of $25 is enough to enable SPARC Hope to provide supplemental groceries to a family for an entire month, while a $250 monthly donation can provide financial support for a family for an entire year. Individuals interested in becoming monthly supporters can learn more on the SPARC Hope website at sparc-hope.org/sparc-supporters.

While monetary gifts are the strongest way to support SPARC Hope’s work, in-kind donations are also welcome. SPARC Hope organizes three major food drives per year, but they accept in-kind donations year-round. A list of needed items is maintained on their website.

Volunteers form the backbone of the organization.

“We live off volunteers,” Sanders says. “We can’t do this without them.”

The biggest need that volunteers meet is organizing and running the food pantry, but there are a number of ways they can serve. Volunteers are needed to assist in the office, help plan and put on events, conduct community engagement, research resources and opportunities, and more. A full list of areas in which volunteers can assist is available on SPARC Hope’s website at sparc-hope.org/volunteer.

SPARC Hope has evolved into an organization focused on giving single parents a hand up, not a handout. Their program alumni include single parents who have graduated from college and gone on to become teachers and lawyers – single parents whose children’s lives have been transformed just as much as, if not more than, their parent’s lives. For SPARC Hope, that’s what it’s all about. As their tagline says, they’re “changing the future of Kentuckiana’s kids, one single parent at a time.”

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