CONWAY — When Women in Support of Hope Circle was launched in Conway earlier this month, it was the result of an idea that Central Baptist College President Terry Kimbrow had years ago.
WISH Circle is an initiative to provide scholarships for CBC’s Professional Adult Career Education program, which is designed for adults already in the workforce.
“It’s all for women,” Kimbrow said.
He said WISH Circle is partnering with nonprofit organizations in the community to identify women who will be “persistent” in getting their degrees through PACE and will need scholarships.
“It’s a dream, or a wish come true,” he said.
Amy Reed, annual fund officer at the college, said CBC has no scholarships available for PACE, which has a discounted tuition.
The initiative is about more than raising money, though. The 14 committee members will mentor women and pray for them, too, Reed said.
“Under the umbrella of WISH, there’s going to be a mentoring part,” Reed said. “A lot of single moms don’t have any support; they may not know how to fill out the FAFSA (Free
Application for Federal Student Aid), how to dress, even for a job interview. Then there’s going to be a prayer circle. Women who don’t have money to give financially would love to pray over these women, pray over this process.”
The first scholarship recipient is 38-year-old Ashanti Wallace of Conway, a student in the PACE program. The widowed mother of two was invited to the Nov. 9 kickoff meeting to share her story. It was held in a Conway home, and between 80 and 100 women attended, Reed said.
They prayed with Wallace; then Kimbrow surprised her with a $10,000 scholarship.
“It was quite an emotional experience for everybody,” Kimbrow said.
Wallace and her husband were enrolled in the PACE program when he got liver cancer. He died in 2011, and she was working three jobs and taking care of their two children. She defaulted on her loans, but she worked to pay off enough to be accepted to the PACE program again this year.
Kimbrow started the ball rolling for the women’s initiative when he heard Melanie Sabelhaus, vice chair of the American Red Cross Board of Governors, speak three years ago at a fundraising training he attended in Chicago. She was appointed by then-President
George W. Bush to serve as deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration from 2002-2005.
“I was more than impressed,” he said. “I thought, I have got to get her to Conway somehow. I thought then about starting a women’s initiative.” It took three years to get her to Conway, but Sabelhaus was the speaker Nov. 9 at the first meeting of WISH Circle.
Jessica Faulkner, director of campaign activities, came up with the WISH acronym.
Faulkner said she has worked at CBC for several years, and she was asked to help with the launch of the women’s initiative.
She said she thought about what women are wishing for. “They’re wishing for a college education; they’re wishing for their lifelong dream. I started thinking of acronyms, so Women in Support of Hope, WISH, is what I came up with, and we batted around with the idea of wishes and came up with the dandelion theme. When you blow a dandelion, the seeds blow off in the distance. … It’s almost like planting your seeds.”
Reed said CBC started getting feedback on the WISH Circle idea in January.
“We just started talking to women in the community,” Reed said. “They said, ‘[It’s a] great opportunity to fundraise in your PACE program, but there’s got to be more than that.’ We decided to look into the nonprofits. A lot of those women would never in a million years dream they could go to school. We met with about 15 of the nonprofits that we felt would be more driven toward women and just picked their brains to see what this would look like, let them identify women in their organization … women who were very excited about it, would benefit from a college degree and had the sticking power to stay with it.
“Being able to scholarship them is going to be a neat, neat thing for us.”
She said nonprofit organizations contacted include Conway Cradle Care, which assists teen parents, and Bethlehem House, a transitional homeless shelter in Conway.
Kelsey Weaver, executive director of Conway Cradle Care, said her eyes were opened when she was contacted about WISH Circle.
“We were unaware of the PACE program prior to the meeting [with nonprofits] and got really excited to learn about that, and to learn the WISH group was happening to support at-risk women in the community,” she said.
Several teenagers in the program would love to go to college, “but a college schedule is just unfeasible because they have to work to provide for their child.”
Weaver said Conway Cradle Care had “the perfect mom” for the PACE program. The high school senior, who has a 2-year-old, took a tour of CBC earlier this month. Weaver doesn’t know that the woman will attend CBC, “but we will certainly be writing letters of recommendation for her,” Weaver said.
Lori Melton, chairwoman of the WISH Circle Steering Committee, said she is a big believer in the PACE program after seeing her niece graduate from it. Her niece, who was married and had a baby, was able to work and attend PACE classes one night a week.
“PACE is just for a different student; most of them are working one, two, maybe three jobs to provide for their family,” Melton said.
She said WISH Circle will give those women more support: emotional, spiritual and financial.
Reed said anyone interested in being involved in WISH Circle can call her at (501) 205-8934 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Informational meetings will be held in homes of women in the community, she said.
“Giving is important, but it’s not everything. We want everyone to be able to be involved, from the 20-year-olds up to the 80-, 90-year-olds,” she said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.