Hidden Cleveland: Lee’s gift to Habitat could be a U.S. first
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG, Banner Staff Writer
Dec 27, 2012 | 2332 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lee University's gift
LEE UNIVERSITY served as the lead sponsor in constructing House No. 100 in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland and the Sylvester Hetiback family. Now, Lee is launching a new gift of education for Habitat families. From left are Matt Carlson, Habitat executive director; Dr. Paul Conn, Lee University president; Larry Berry, director of Physical Plant at Lee; Chris Conine, vice president for Business and Finance; and Mike Hayes, vice president for Student Development. File Photo
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Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland has received help from a variety of organizations over the years in the process of building more than 100 houses for local families and individuals. Now, Lee University is set to become what could be the first college in the country to partner with a local Habitat affiliate to provide new homeowners the opportunity to take free college courses.

At the Dec. 5 home dedication that included the affiliate’s 100th home, Lee President Dr. Paul Conn announced a new partnership that will allow Habitat house recipients the chance for one member of their household to take a course at the university for free. Since then, the staffs of both organizations have been working to see the new program reach fruition.

One member of each Habitat household will be able to take a college course for free once the family completes the entire process of becoming Habitat homeowners.

Matt Carlson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, said Lee University was the lead sponsor of the 100th house and that he was able to discuss the organization’s mission of “creating new opportunities” and “breaking the cycle of poverty” for families with members of the administration during its construction. He said that, by the time it was ready to be dedicated, the university had decided to offer Habitat homeowners the chance to take courses that will allow them to learn new skills in the classroom.

“We’re very blessed that they decided to help in that way,” Carlson said. “We’re excited that families will have that opportunity.” 

Dr. Mike Hayes, vice president for student development at Lee, echoed Carlson’s enthusiasm for Habitat homeowners and their families getting the chance to take college courses they might not normally be able to afford.

“Habitat has been a wonderful partner with us for many years,” Hayes said. “We felt that this was a good way for us to help them help their families to move further along educationally. Our thinking was that it perhaps would be a parent who wanted to learn how to manage their finances better or perhaps even a student who would want to dual enroll.”

The homeowner or member of the same household who decides to take a course at Lee will have a time frame for enrolling in the course.

“We’re in the process of working that out with the Habitat team,” Hayes said. “It will be a matter of — I’m sure — a few years.”

Recipients will be able to take either undergraduate or graduate-level courses based upon each student’s previous education experience.

When recipients are ready to take their individual courses, they will meet with Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland’s Family services manager, NaCole Harris, who will help them decide which courses to take and walk them through the university’s registration process. Hayes said Lee University and Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland will continue to work together to streamline the college admissions process.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for the families to take the course,” Hayes said. “Many of these families haven’t even ever been able to dream about higher education.” 

Homeowners whose homes were dedicated on Dec. 5 are already able to plan which courses they want to take. Carlson said it has not been decided whether or not owners of previously dedicated homes will be eligible for the program.

While they still have to work through the registration process, Carlson said there are some individuals living in the new Habitat homes who are interested in taking their courses as soon as January, when Lee University’s Spring 2013 semester begins.

Carlson said a father from one of the families at the most recent home dedication said he was very eager to take a college course because attending college was something he had never been able to do before.

“For him, this was a dream come true,” Carlson said. “We hope it will be for many others, too.” 

He also said a college partnering with Habitat for Humanity to provide free college courses may be an entirely new idea.

“I honestly don’t know if this has been done before,” Carlson said. “This may be the first or one of only a few in the country.” 

He expressed hope similar partnerships might also occur between local Habitat affiliates and universities elsewhere.

Nakia Fowler, senior media relations specialist at Habitat for Humanity International, the parent organization of Cleveland’s local affiliate, said she was “not aware of” any other university providing free college tuition to Habitat homeowners.

For more information about Cleveland’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, visit its website, HabitatofCleveland.com.