Wilisha Scaife's personal experiences are reflected in the work she does every day. As the Program Coordinator for Muncie P3 (MP3), a local program run through Longfellow Elementary School, her days are filled with helping children achieve their goals.
Funded in part by United Way of Delaware County, MP3 was designed to ensure children read at grade-level by third grade. This reading-level attainment is a key indicator of future success—and serves as UWDC’s battle cry.
At Longfellow, 97% of children are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program. This program provides a lifeline for the high percentage of families working hard but still needing assistance to make ends meet. Despite the obstacles, the school boasts a 97% attendance rate!
"Kids are there and families care, but we were still struggling," said Wilisha, MP3’s Family Community Engagement Instructor and Program Coordinator. "The life these families know is a struggle through crisis. ALICE families often don't have time to go find help."
In Indiana, more than 550,600 households live above poverty but below the ALICE—Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed—threshold, which accounts for the basic costs of living. Combined, ALICE and poverty households account for 36% percent of total households in Indiana. In Delaware County, 47% of the 45,207 households are ALICE or living in poverty.
Wilisha understands the struggles ALICE families face. She has been there herself. Once a teenage mother, she could only see a dim future—until she reached out to United Way funded programs like Muncie P3.
Wilisha remembers the tough choices she’s had to make. One of those choices was deciding between providing for her family today or pursuing higher education to create a better tomorrow.
"I see a desire to go to school, but also the need to work," Wilisha explains. "If I don't go to school, will I get ahead? If I do go to school, will we eat tonight? We have to eat, and we have to have a roof over our heads. It is a necessary preoccupation."
With help from United Way funded partners, she received the resources she needed to meet her basic needs and keep moving forward. Because of accessible community programs, Wilisha returned to school and earned a college education once her children were grown.
Now, she sees parents of the children she teaches facing the same tough decisions. She hopes through MP3, she can make a difference in their lives.
When recalling stories of success, one student comes to mind—Marquis Bales. Marquis, a student who struggled with reading comprehension and faced severe language barriers, overcame obstacles while at MP3. Marquis' situation reminded Wilisha of a personal experience within her own family, which fueled her determination to help him on his pathway to success.
"I had a nephew who struggled with comprehension," she said. "I watched a good kid make bad decisions in middle school because he didn't want his teachers and friends to know that he was struggling with reading. I did not want to see that happen to other kids."
Wilisha knew she had to help. When Marquis entered the MP3 program as a kindergartener he struggled with severe speech issues and low self-confidence. Over the next few years, the MP3 staff worked hard with Marquis. He made monumental strides and showed the greatest improvements in the class! By the end of third grade, despite his personal achievements, he slightly missed the cutoff to advance to the fourth grade.
"During that year, he made tremendous grades," Scaife said. "His self-confidence grew, his leadership grew. He was a positive influence on other kids. It went well beyond academic standards."
Determined to watch her child to succeed, Marquis’ mother, Tiffany, insisted her son continue to grow socially and academically in MP3 as he repeated the third grade.
"Marquis will live his dream because his mother grabbed hold of a program that was grabbing hold of United Way,” Scaife said. “[The program] was being held up by men and women we don't know, faces and names we may never know. Every little bit truly counts. Families are benefiting not just for the moment, but dreams are lived out. I am example of that. Tiffany and Marquis Bales are examples of that. It makes a difference.
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