A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lincoln Grant Scholar House to offer single parents opportunity for higher education, brighter future

Florence Tandy at the Scholar House, renovations underway (Photos by Anthony Wyatt)

Florence Tandy at the Scholar House, renovations underway (Photos by Anthony Wyatt)

By Anthony Wyatt
NKyTribune reporter

In December the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission (NKCAC) will open the doors on the Lincoln Grant Scholar House (LGSH). Years in the making, the LGSH initiative will assist single parents as they pursue a college education, all the while revitalizing the historic Lincoln Grant School in downtown Covington.

NKCAC has been an active organization in the Northern Kentucky Community since 1966. It offers numerous programs for residents in an eight county area, and its services are always expanding. Just recently, NKCAC took over the operation of three senior centers that were going to be shut down, and it has also begun assisting with health care enrollment.

Although it supports the region in many ways, NKCAC is most widely known for its sponsorship of Head Start and for its weatherization program, which provides assistance for home insulation and heating. As part of its growing service to the community, NKCAC has undertaken a scholar house initiative, a common feature of many community action organizations, to help single parents earn an education, find a career and become self-reliant.

Lincoln Grant Scholar House initiative

The Lincoln Grant Scholar House will use the same model as Louisville’s Family Scholar House, which has a 96 percent graduation rate. Family Scholar House has been running successful scholar house programs since 2001. Clients in their programs have earned a variety of degrees – from two-year degrees to Master’s and medical degrees – and almost all have gone on to careers to support themselves and their families.

Refurbished mural from the gymnasium.

Refurbished mural from the gymnasium.

“The great thing about getting all of Family Scholar House’s training and technical assistance,” said Dawn Fogarty, the vice president of Family Services for NKCAC, “is that we’re learning from all of the things that maybe didn’t work or that worked really well for them. They’ve been perfecting these processes and implementing these programs for quite a long time, and we can learn from that.”

Although there are a few scholar house programs in the area, including one in Newport, LGSH will be the first scholar house initiative for NKCAC. Additionally, LGSH will be distinct from other area scholar houses by offering a wider variety of services, including assistance for single parent college students who will not be moving into the residential facility.

Open to any single parent in need of financial and housing assistance who is either currently enrolled or planning to enroll in a college course of study, the LGSH program will provide safe and affordable housing, academic advising and life skills coaching. LGSH will also have a staff available to help residents’ children, extending assistance to the whole family.

“There will be an emphasis on academic advising,” said Dawn, “as well as on all of the other needs that a family has.” By helping children succeed in their own education and giving parents the tools and support they need to earn a degree and transition into a stable career, LGSH will empower families to take the next step in their lives and be entirely self-sufficient once they leave the program.

Applicants to the program will be screened by an initial phone interview. NKCAC wants to make sure that applicants will be able to transition smoothly into the LGSH program, both in terms of housing and academics. “We are looking at the intake for any issues that we might need to resolve prior to referring them to the housing application,” said Dawn.

Applicants will then attend an orientation session that covers all the guidelines and expectations for the program, and they will meet one-on-one with an NKCAC staff member for a final interview and psychological evaluation. According to Dawn, “We want to know if there are any barriers for them coming into the program.”

Lincoln Grant Scholar House

After the final screening, individuals will complete the housing application with the Kentucky Housing Corporation. Like any other rental application, the organization will look into a person’s rental history and conduct background and credit checks. Once applicants are accepted into the program and approved for housing, they can move into the Lincoln Grant Scholar House. While housing at LGSH isn’t free, it is subsidized to make it affordable for all applicants.

Although the services and assistance offered to participants in the LGSH initiative are honorable and worthwhile in their own regard, the program will impact the Covington community in other ways by renovating and restoring the historic Lincoln Grant School.

Revitalizing the historic Lincoln Grant School

Opened in 1932, the Lincoln Grant School served the African American community of Covington until desegregation in 1965. After becoming an elementary school until 1976, the building continued to be an important cornerstone of the downtown area as the Northern Kentucky Community Center (NKCC). The NKCC housed everything from a boxing ring to a senior center, and it served the community in a variety of capacities. In 2003 the center closed its doors, and the building has sat vacant ever since.

When deciding on a location for their scholar house program, the NKCAC team had only one place in mind: Lincoln Grant School.

Not only is the location ideal, being a short walk away from NKCAC headquarters, Gateway Technical & Community College and various community and childcare organizations such as Head Start, but it is also a building in need of a second chance.

“When you see the building, it’s easy to see why we chose the Lincoln Grant School,” said Florence Tandy, executive director for NKCAC. “It is a gem in Covington’s Eastside. It is a beautiful facility and has a huge cultural history to it. That story needs to be preserved, and it would be a crime if it were torn down or allowed to continue to decay. I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to renovate the building into something very special that will have its own legacy and cultural significance for the community.”

The historic theater

The historic theater

LGSH will breath new life into the historic Lincoln Grant School, revitalizing its Art Deco exterior, renovating its interior and building a matching additional wing. While former schoolrooms are being turned into housing units, children’s play areas and a computer lab, several features of the historic interior will remain.

A mural that once hung in the school’s gymnasium, for instance, is being retouched and will hang once again inside the building. Lockers and radiators, although no longer in use, will be refurbished to pay homage to the building’s history. Additionally, where it is possible, places where slate blackboards once hung will be reframed, leaving exposed brick reminders of the school’s storied past.

Although most of the renovations are intended for LGSH residents, several key features of the building and grounds will be open to the public. Since a new parking lot had to be built on top of a former community basketball court, NKCAC will be building new sports facilities for the neighborhood adjacent to the site.

More importantly, though, the school’s iconic Art Deco theatre will be renovated for use as a community theatre, allowing LGSH residents and community members the chance to share in their enjoyment of the historic landmark. The Carnegie, a cornerstone of the Covington arts community, will manage the theatre.

Florence Tandy, a Community Action leader

One of the driving forces behind the LGSH initiative is Florence Tandy, the Executive Director at NKCAC since 2005 and a veteran community action leader. Though she never expected to end up in Northern Kentucky, Florence enjoys her new home and has become a central figure in the area’s nonprofit community.

Construction proceeds on a living unit

Construction proceeds on a residential unit

In addition to working at NKCAC, Florence is heavily involved in the Covington Rotary Club and the Workforce Investment Board, as well as in various Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce groups including Leadership Northern Kentucky, the Women’s Initiative and the Board of Advisors.

Many of Florence’s civic involvements have led to collaboration with NKCAC. For instance, the Rotary Club helps with vision screenings for Head Start children and they have helped to fund child abuse prevention work. Additionally, the Workforce Investment Board has assisted in youth and senior employment services offered by NKCAC.

“Northern Kentucky is full of great opportunities for collaboration with other organizations,” said Florence. “There’s a lot going on both in the social services and nonprofit worlds, and in the greater community at large.”

With so many relationships and partnerships being built throughout the years by both Florence and NKCAC, it’s no surprise that the Lincoln Grant Scholar House initiative has seen so much collaboration between NKCAC, the local community and statewide organizations. Federal tax credits and support from the Kentucky Housing Corporation were required to fund the project, NKCAC worked closely with the City of Covington to purchase and make arrangements for the Lincoln Grant School building and NKCAC partnered with Family Scholar House to setup a model for the program, the application process and all of the necessary forms.

Moreover, NKCAC has worked closely with Louisville-based Marian Development Group – a well-respected leader in historic construction and preservation – to not only renovate the Lincoln Grant School, but also to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as an African American Heritage Site by the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission.

“We’ve had strong support from the City of Covington, from the Kentucky Housing Corporation and from the neighborhood,” said Florence. “It has taken from 2014 to now to get all of the pieces and partnerships in place that will make it a success.”

Historic school lockers being refurbished

Historic school lockers being refurbished

In 2013, Florence won the Kentucky Distinguished Nonprofit Executive award, and during her time with NKCAC other members of the organization have been recognized as well, including Bob Williams who won the 2012 Cincinnati Business Courier’s CFO of the Year award. NKCAC was a BBB Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics Honoree, and it is a finalist for the Greater Cincinnati area Impact 100 grant award, the winner of which will be announced on September 13.

A service motivation

This recognition has an important impact on the organization, and it helps promote NKCAC’s mission to both residents and businesses in the community.

“When a nonprofit is recognized for the work that it does,” Florence said, “it shines a light on the work that nonprofits do in our community. Many business people think nonprofits are do-gooders, but we’re also professional organizations with professional business models just like for-profit companies. We just have a different motivation for our work. It’s not a profit motivation; it’s a service motivation.”

Due to this recognition, nonprofit organizations like NKCAC can attract a broader pool of individuals to work for them, helping them grow and expand. As Florence said, “We work to get the job done like any other business. If we can be recognized for that work, then I think it brings a new level of respect and understanding from the wider community about the importance of the nonprofit sector in our region.”

As the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission looks to the future, Florence believes that the organization will continue to thrive. With NKCAC and its programs like Lincoln Grant Scholar House growing and improving, the organization can continue its mission to serve the Northern Kentucky region, impact the community and make the lives of resident families better.

“The scholar house program is such a solid model of service for families to help them achieve self-reliance,” said Florence. “It is such an empowering and affirming way of approaching services. I’m hopeful that the work that we do at Lincoln Grant Scholar House with those families can impact other ways of working with families in all of our services. Not that we don’t already try to do things as holistically as possible and serve families in a lot of different ways, but the goal setting towards a career track education and a future that helps someone become self-reliant is such a rewarding thing to be involved in. I hope we are able to serve not just those 45 families at LGSH, but also add services in other units and programs from time to time, including ones that might not have a housing component. That’s where I hope we are in five years from now.”

Anyone interested in applying to join Lincoln Grant Scholar House can call 859-581-6607. For more information about NKCAC and its programs, please visit nkcac.org.

Skyline view from a North-facing unit

Skyline view from a North-facing unit

The school gym

The school gym (Photo by Florence Tandy

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One Comment

  1. Kay says:

    I would like to know, Was the restored mural in.the old school a Lincoln Grant. student artist?..and What was the artists name?..Im referring to the long picture that hung in old gymnasium at Lincoln Grant school..

Reply to Kay Cancel Reply