Seattle Milk Fund pays for childcare so low income parents can afford college

Jun 7, 2016, 10:24 AM | Updated: 10:28 am
"I had always wanted to go to school but it was never something that was an opportunity," Shawna Co...
"I had always wanted to go to school but it was never something that was an opportunity," Shawna Collins said. "For me, going to college was never something I was shown. My mom worked in a factory for 50 years."

Shawna Collins didn’t grow up thinking she’d go to college.

“I had always wanted to go to school but it was never something that was an opportunity,” Collins said. “For me, going to college was never something I was shown. My mom worked in a factory for 50 years.”

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But four-and-a-half years ago Collins, now 42, got pregnant wanted to create a better life for her daughter.

“I had never made over $12 an hour and I became pregnant with my daughter at 37,” she said. “I had gotten laid off from work when I was seven months pregnant with her and the opportunities that came to me, without an education, it created a lot of barriers.”

So she enrolled in community college. But when her daughter was 18 months old, Collins left an unhealthy relationship and instantly became a homeless, single mother.

She found housing, and then she found the Seattle Milk Fund, King County’s second oldest non-profit, founded in 1907. Seattle Milk Fund helps low income students in King County pay for childcare.

“What we find is that many of our families can’t go to school because even if they are able to get financial aid, there is absolutely no way they can go full-time and pay for childcare,” said Executive Director Inga Paige. “So we are trying to take away that burden for these families and hopefully, though things may be tight in the short interim, in the long run helping them get a better job by getting a college degree.”

Paige says Seattle Milk Fund spends $300,000 a year on childcare for parents working toward their degrees.

“We pay $1,300 a quarter, per child,” Paige said. “So as long as you’re keeping a 2.0 [GPA] you stay on our program. Some of our students have come to us their freshman year, they’re with us four years. We’ve helped some families with multiple children with more than $30,000 by the time they’ve left our programs. As we know, in King County, childcare is the second highest expense for families outside of rent.”

“Sometimes it’s more expensive, especially if you have an infant or a child under the age of two,” she said. “It can be upwards of $2,000 a month.”

The students are so appreciative, they tend to try hard. Last year the average student being helped by Seattle Milk fund had a grade point average of 3.67.

This week, Collins will graduate from the University of Washington with a degree in social work, and she’s already been accepted to the master’s program.

“When you’re trying to support and balance all of these things, being a full-time student, and I’m graduating Summa Cum Laude which is the highest … I’m very proud,” Collins said, starting to cry. “Sorry. Because I worked really, really hard and to know that I have this money coming in, and I have this support. That relieves a tremendous amount of stress. It frees up my mind to concentrate on my studies and be a good parent and be there for my daughter.”

Graduating from the University of Washington will allow Collins to make more money to support her family. But it also sets a good example for her young daughter. An example she wasn’t exposed to.

“She’s like my pillar,” Collins said about her 4.5-year-old daughter. “She actually asked to walk across the stage with me. She’s come to class with me; there have been days when her school has been closed.”

“For her to see that, and to understand and see college and see that as a reality and to see how hard I work,” she added. “And then to see the end point. She loves the UW, she says she wants to go there. I’m a first generation college student, I’m the first person in my family that will have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree and the first person in my family who will have a master’s degree.”

Seattle Milk Fund helps 45 students per quarter. The nonprofit runs on private donations.

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Seattle Milk Fund pays for childcare so low income parents can afford college