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Valerie Young's picture

Quite unexpectedly, I recently met Nicole Lynn Lewis, Founder and CEO of Generation Hope. You don’t meet a mom with her very own non-profit every day, let alone one so closely tied to the mission of maternal support and encouragement, so I was instantly intrigued. She graciously let me follow up after our great conversation with some questions so you could get to know her too. I was mighty impressed by her mission of matching college student/parents with mentors who can help them navigate the dual objectives of getting that undergrad degree while mothering a young child.

How does Generation Hope work?

Generation Hope seeks to remove the main obstacles that face teen parents attending college by matching our Scholars (i.e. teen parents) with Sponsors who provide both emotional and financial support until they earn their college degree. Emotional support takes the form of one-on-one mentoring. Financial support is in the form of up to $2,400 per year in college tuition assistance. We believe that with this support and the guidance of the entire Generation Hope team, our Scholars will earn their degrees while creating stable and successful futures for their families.  

What is your goal for the scholar parents you serve?
Our ultimate goal is to break cycles of poverty in their families through the economic advantage that a college degree provides. On a smaller, but no less important, scale our goals are to provide support and acceptance for a traditionally ostracized population, help our Scholars gain self-confidence and self-efficacy, and support them in their pursuit of a fulfilling career. 
How many scholars have completed their secondary education through your program?
Last year, our first, we celebrated the first Scholar to graduate from college. We are currently serving 11 Scholars and we are in the process of recruiting 9 or 10 new Scholars, doubling the size of our Program. Three of our Scholars are on track to graduate next year. We also reach high school students through our college readiness workshops–last year we were able to speak to more than 70 pregnant or parenting high school students and show them that college is a real possibility. 


It’s hard under any circumstances to be a mother.  What kind of support do your scholars need to be successful students as well as mothers?
Our Scholars say that the most important aspect of our program is the mentoring support that they receive–many of them are lacking relationships with caring adults, and to have a “cheerleading squad” (not only their Sponsor but also the entire Generation Hope family) makes a huge difference for them. We also provide training and workshops that give our Scholars the tools they need to be successful. Finally, the peer group that our Scholars build with each other provides a powerful network of support from others who are facing the same challenges. 
What makes an effective mentor?
We always say that the only requirements for our Sponsors are an open mind, a listening ear, and a big heart. We have Sponsors from a variety of careers and backgrounds. Effective mentors come in all shapes and sizes, but what they all have in common is that they possess a sincere desire to get to know their Scholar and his/her family, a willingness to learn new things, a non-judgmental attitude, and the determination to see their Scholars succeed. 
Can teen mothers parent effectively while going to school?
Absolutely! Our founder, Nicole Lynn Lewis, started at the College of William and Mary when her daughter, Nerissa, was only three months old, and graduated in four years with high honors. Her daughter is now about to start high school. Is it challenging? Absolutely–parenting always is! But with the support of their Sponsors, families and friends, our Scholars are doing it every day and their wonderful children and incredible academic accomplishments  are a testament to that. One of our Scholars earned a 4.0 this semester!
Do our current public policies help teen parents further their education? 
There are some wonderful programs working to help teen parents that are supported by public funds. Head Start, subsidized child care, and Pell Grants are just a few examples. But cuts to these programs greatly affect a teen parent’s ability to further his or her education. If a young parent cannot afford the high cost of child care, then they cannot go to class. We also encourage efforts that focus on family housing at colleges and campus-based, subsidized child care. Whatever we can do to make college more accessible to parenting students is a win for our communities.
I was so thrilled by this project, I have applied to be a sponsor! You can find out more about that here. If you know a parenting student working towards her undergrad degree, direct her to the “Become A Generation Hope Scholar” page.  Keeping mothers moving towards economic stability is the single most effective way to defeat poverty and empower women. Maybe my “mother knowledge” can help another woman. We stand a better chance of succeeding if we all support each other.
“Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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