Family Futures Downeast Invites Parents to College

 

By Lura Jackson

 

Are you a low-income parent that’s interested in going to college, but one barrier or another has gotten in the way? If so, you’re not alone. For many parents in Washington County finding childcare, transportation, or affording tuition and textbook supplies makes attending college a seemingly unattainable reality. There is a program available that can help, and it’s now accepting new applicants.

Family Futures Downeast is a novel pilot program that is beginning its second year. The program is specifically targeted at low-income parents or caregivers with at least one child under 8 years old. Parents who participate are able to work toward an accredited certificate following a part-time, one-year program at either Washington County Community College or the University of Maine at Machias – all at no direct cost to the parent. While the parents are in classes – most of which take place in the early evening – their children are engaged in an educational learning environment provided by Child and Family Opportunities. Since the program works with both parents and their children, it is considered a “two generation approach.” It is this model that has gained Family Futures Downeast and its umbrella organization, the Community Caring Collaborative, national attention. 

With the first year now nearly completed, the program is gaining rapidly in stability. All of the participants in the first year were female, although the program is also open to males. Up to sixteen parents will be accepted at each campus in the coming year. Every parent that is accepted will work one-on-one with a coach to ensure that their needs are being met and that any potential barriers are overcome. The program is aimed at parents who have completed high school or received a GED and who have no previous college experience. If you have not completed your GED but are still interested in becoming a participant, the program will assist you with attaining the necessary credential before classes begin.

So far, Family Futures Downeast has demonstrated significant potential in empowering parents and enabling them to continue beyond the program. According to program coordinators, 80 percent of participants between both campuses plan to continue on to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree when the program ends in July. At WCCC, all of the participating parents plan to continue on, with about half anticipating attaining their bachelor’s degree. 

The curriculum for the Family Futures Downeast program is uniquely designed for parents at the same time as aiming to provide core classes that can be transferred into associate or bachelor programs. Parents who participate will take classes related to child and family psychology, public speaking, English, and math, with remedial and preparatory classes available as needed. 

While providing access to college classes and childcare at no direct cost are some of the most tangible benefits of Family Futures Downeast, there are numerous other benefits as well. As coach Jesse McPhail describes it, “Sometimes just having a person that listens” is worth its weight in gold to a demographic that is continually stressed due to attempting to balance family life and limited finances. Being part of a cohort as opposed to attempting the classes individually also provides a source of structure and support, and McPhail reports that many of the current participants are eager to become mentors to the next group coming in. 

To find out more about Family Futures Downeast, contact Jesse McPhail at 263-8108 for WCCC or Lori Joy at 664-3774 for UMM, or visit familyfuturesdowneast.org.