Charity eases burden on single moms

Juggling a full load of finance courses and a part-time marketing job would strain anyone, but for USF student Cheeroke Townsend, there’s an added bundle of responsibility: her 2-year-old son.

“I have to be very focused,” she said. “My typical day is: go to work, go to class and pick him up from day care.”

But Townsend has not had to face this task alone. In the spring of 2006, she became the first recipient of a Dream Givers scholarship.

A Tampa-based charity that helps single mothers get college degrees, Dream Givers granted their first scholarship in January 2006, and since then they have expanded their operation to assist several USF students.

Townsend and about half a dozen other USF students dealing with daily challenges of single motherhood have signed up for the program.

Dream Givers said their goal is to find responsible young mothers who have a strong desire to finish college but are sidetracked by the financial difficulties of having a child.

USF Alumna and director of Dream Givers Keri Gawrych is a founding member of USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy, of which USF President Judy Genshaft is a board member. She said Dream Givers was something she had been thinking about for years.

“At some point I decided to give back to the community,” she said. “When you think about this woman, she shouldn’t have to put her dreams on hold.”

She said there are plans to expand the program in the future to include single fathers and pay for day care and health care costs, and possibly housing similar to that of a fraternity.

As president of Sigma Lambda Beta, David Ramos has encouraged his fraternity to pledge $5,000 to assist the program. The fraternity has already raised $15,000 for several other charities by selling candy and working at Tampa Bay Devil Rays games.

“At our fraternity we try to take care of everybody,” he said. “What could be better than helping parents who are dedicated get through college?”

A single father himself, Ramos said he knew about the urgency of Dream Givers’ cause. “I know what it is like to have a baby and not be able to study,” he said. “I had my first child when I was 19 years old, and to be quite honest I was very scared of dropping out of college.”

Sigma Lambda Beta will be holding charity events to raise money for Dream Givers. An event celebrating the Mexican holiday “Dia de los Muertos” was held Thursday, and a masquerade ball called “Betaween” will occur today. Ramos said a charity football game might also take place in November, as well as an upcoming drive to raise money for Alzheimer’s.

“Fraternities are given a bad rap, so we want to show the USF community that there are some organizations that care enough to go out of their way to help others,” Ramos said. “Our motivation the entire summer was to contribute as much as possible to the USF community in hopes of being acknowledged as a genuine service organization.”

As for Townsend, she will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in finance. She plans to pay her opportunity forward and join Dream Givers after she graduates.

“They have helped me so much,” she said.

Alec Shurtz can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or