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Beauty and the Beads
By Emily Merrell, Photography by Amy Long

For nearly 30 years, the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund has been helping families all over the state with its unique mission: To enable single parents to attain self-sufficiency through post-secondary education. The organization awards more than $1.5 million each year to help single parents around Arkansas support their families as they pursue higher education, improving their earning potential, and, as a result, the standard of living for their children.

Regional Program Manager Wendy Stotts and longtime volunteer Spring Sneed are dedicated to serving single parents in and around Jonesboro. They have worked hard to spearhead what they hope will become Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund’s (ASPSF) signature fundraising event, Beauty and the Beads, a ladies’ brunch and jewelry auction on Feb. 23. The proceeds from the inaugural event will go directly to local single parents in need to help cover costs of everything from required class materials to after-hours childcare.

Since its inception in 1990, ASPSF has been helping single parents who are enrolled in college, skilled trades or technical programs and are seeking better-paying jobs. Those involved with ASPSF recognize that these families are in great need of a helping hand; one in five Arkansas families are led by a single parent, and 55 percent of single parent families are below the poverty line. Children who grow up in poverty are seven times more likely to drop out of high school than children who do not grow up in poverty. ASPSF seeks to break this cycle of poverty by giving single parents the ability to increase their earning potential. Often times, these parents have needs that extend far beyond the cost of tuition.

“The scholarships do not go to the college’s financial aid office for distribution,” said longtime key Craighead County volunteer Spring Sneed. “We award these funds right to the parents to use as they best see fit. We know they have needs that financial aid can’t cover. We help fill that gap. It means the world to me to hear from the mamas and daddies about how they used the money for tires, Internet or saved it for summer classes to get ahead of their academic plan.”

The flexibility of ASPSF’s award distribution has proven to be successful. In 2017, 87 percent of scholarship recipients stayed in school or completed their programs, and 90 percent of working graduates earned above-poverty wages.

Regional Program Manager Wendy Stotts has seen plenty of local success stories since she began working with ASPSF in March of last year.
“One of our scholarship recipients is a 45-year-old mother who had two sons, one of whom was born with severe medical complications and lived to be 5 years old,” said Stotts. “Her full-time struggle was to keep him alive during those five years. She was lost after his passing. The children’s father kicked her and her youngest son out of the house. She and her son ended up in a homeless shelter. When her divorce was final, she was able to seek counseling and get a home for them. Her strength and perseverance to find resources all on her own gave her the desire to become a social worker. In her first semester of work toward her bachelor’s degree in social work, she made a 4.0 GPA.”

Both Stotts and Sneed agree that the most rewarding part of their work with ASPSF is witnessing the positive impact that scholarships have on so many families. However, they find that it is challenging to come up with enough funds and volunteers to serve all of the students who are in need of support. As the organization has restructured its vision statewide in order to make its services more visible and accessible, more individuals have applied for support from ASPSF.

“Craighead County has a critical need to raise funds for our single parent students,” said Stotts. “We currently have 54 applicants for the spring semester scholarship. One in five families is a single parent household. The need is great. Our goal is to provide an $800 award per eligible applicant enrolled in 12 or more credit hours. … If each student met the criteria for award and were all full-time students, we would need $42,400 for just the spring semester, which is almost as much as we awarded in the entire year of 2018.”

With a growing need for scholarship money and volunteers, Stotts and Sneed have set out to raise both awareness and funds with Beauty and the Beads.

“Wendy and I knew we had to put together an event that would create a stir and raise the most funds for our single parents scholarship,” said Sneed. “Beauty and the Beads will be that event.”

For the jewelry silent auction, selections will be available from local retailers such as Threads Boutique, Jagged Edge, 49 South Antiques, Lucy Lu’s Boutique, The Refinery and more. Pagan’s Jewelry has donated a 34-inch dyed pearl necklace for a jewelry raffle. There will also be a special raffle for those who bring non-perishable food items to donate. These food items will be donated to students’ families during their time out of school during spring break.

In addition to the brunch buffet and jewelry auction, Beauty and the Beads will also be a family-friendly event with plenty of fun options for children. Princess Belle will be in attendance to meet and greet guests, sing, read her story and give a dancing lesson to children. Norm Dickson of Dickson Photography will be there to take professional photos with Belle. Adults and children alike will enjoy Belle’s Jewelry Box, a shop where local artist Melinda Emerson has donated handmade jewelry and princess items for purchase by donation.

“Our amazing sponsors have helped us cover our expenses for the event so that all funds raised will go directly to scholarships: Fergus Orthodontics, Centennial Bank, Evolve Bank, Art Advertising and Rausch Coleman Homes,” said Stotts.

Organizers also encourage anyone who is interested in furthering ASPSF’s mission to volunteer their time to help students, which is one of the organization’s greatest needs.

“Our goal going forward is to reach volunteers who are committed to a portion of our process and may come in and out of involvement as their schedule and passion permits,” said Stotts.

Beauty and the Beads will be held on Feb. 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hilton Garden Inn in Jonesboro. Tickets are $25 ($20 for ages 3 to 10) and are available for purchase at Full Sun Gifts, Twisted Foods or online at eventbrite.com. Prices increase on Feb. 9. To donate jewelry for the silent auction, purchase a table for family, friends or businesses, be an event sponsor or volunteer with ASPSF, contact Wendy Stotts at wstotts@aspsf.org.

Donate to Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund by mailing a check to ASPSF Craighead County, P.O. Box 571, Brookland, AR 72417 or by contacting Wendy Stotts at wstotts@aspsf.org. Donations can also be made online at aspsf.org/get-involved/donate.