Cathe Dykstra has a brain for numbers, a mind for business, and a heart for families. The President and CEO of Family Scholar House has an optimistic view that led her to put the words “Chief Possibility Officer” on her business cards.
She’s been there from the start of the first Family Scholar House in 2008, when the new concept – providing a safe home for single-parent families intent on getting an education – was an iffy proposition. With Dykstra leading the way, there are now four facilities in Louisville, with a fifth opening soon in Riverport and a sixth being planned for Russell.
So why not be content with a single, successful facility?
“I wouldn’t have met the need. I’m not a social worker. I’m an economics major from Wake Forest. This is cost-benefits analysis,” she says. “People look at it and say ‘These people need help.’ I look at it and say ‘These people can be helped.’ We take folks who are hungry for the opportunity to get an education and be contributing members of the community. We help them do that.”
Dykstra considers the parents and children a part of her family and, as with other families, there are rules in the home. Family Scholar House parents must be full-time students and carry a 2.0 GPA (the average is 3.15), and children must be in school. There are no overnight guests allowed, and apartments are inspected monthly.
“This is not a place to party – this is a place to change your life,” she says. “We have a structured and strict program. I remember my parents saying ‘not under my roof’ and now I’m the person here saying ‘not under my roof.’”
Dykstra says 86 percent of those accepted to the facility graduate with a post-secondary degree. This makes them much more able to get jobs and housing and are free of government assistance. That’s where the program really begins to show value.
“Within 90 days of graduating they must exit our program, and immediately 70 percent are off all government assistance. They become nurses, social workers, teachers, workers in the criminal justice system,” she says. “When we can take someone who is using all the subsidies we throw at a family that’s struggling, turn them into a family that’s thriving and paying into the system, then we’ve done something amazing, and we do that every day.”