JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Kenita Smith was 21 years old, a sophomore in college, when she discovered she was pregnant with her first child.
As a single parent, she knew she wouldn’t be able to complete a residency, so she changed her course of study from pediatrics to nursing, and later to business administration.
“I was told that I was not going to graduate because I was a single parent,” Smith said. “I was told my kids were falling being in school. That I would not be successful.”
All of those predictions have proven false. It took her 10 years, but Smith graduated into a successful career at a hospice company. This year, her oldest son graduated high school with high marks.
Smith knew there were countless single parents like her who wanted to graduate college and have a fulfilling career, but were struggling with housing, childcare and other financial borders.
In 2009, she founded HOPE Inc, or Helping Other People be Empowered. The nonprofit helps single parents working toward an associates or bachelor's degree by providing monetary assistance for housing and childcare, social services, counseling and financial planning.
“I started with no nonprofit experience, no donors,” Smith said. “We went from 2 participants to 57.”
More than 30 single parents have graduated the program, and 111 children have been helped indirectly. Among the graduates, 90 percent increased their income by at least $25,000, and 38 percent were the first in their family to graduate college.
The nonprofit is based in Duluth, but serves parents across the state, mostly in the larger Atlanta area. May 22, Smith spoke before the Rotary Club of Johns Creek.
“Kanita is an amazing, powerful, heartfelt human being,” said Johns Bowers, a friend of Kanita who introduced her to the Rotary club. “I am better for having known her and our friendship is one of the best things to come out of my experience with Rotary.”
HOPE Inc. is looking for volunteers who can help with financial advising or tutoring. The nonprofit is also looking for college students to assist, who must be U.S. citizens, a single parent, with financial need, a high school graduate or GED holder, enrolled in an accredit university and employed.
In October, the group will host the Deon Lewis Memorial Hope Run. For more information, visit hopbe.org.