A year and a half ago, Kellie Jeffrey was a single mom with an associate's degree and a desire to finish her education. But she needed affordable child care for 18-month-old Philip while she took a full load of 12 credits a semester.
After looking at a number of Utah colleges, she found what she was looking for at Utah Valley University in Orem. The school's 11-year-old Wee Care Center "sealed the deal for me," she said.
That opportunity for affordable child care will expand to many more UVU students, thanks to a $1 million gift from Barbara Barrington Jones that will substantially enlarge the Wee Care Center.
In making the announcement last week, UVU President Matthew S. Holland said one of his top priorities this year is helping women finish their degrees: In Utah, women's postsecondary participation rate lags significantly behind the national average.
Lack of access to day care, he said, is one of the greatest barriers to women completing college. To that end, he and UVU first lady Paige Holland launched a $2.2 million campaign in March to expand the Wee Care Center, which can accommodate 60 children at any given time.
"This campaign to expand the Wee Care Center is symbolic of a larger initiative to reach out to women and remove barriers to the benefits of a university education," President Holland said in a news release. "Barbara's generous gift is a significant step forward in making the expansion a reality."
Barrington Jones is an author, speaker and CEO of the nonprofit Barbara Barrington Jones Family Foundation, which seeks to motivate and empower teenage girls and women. Having lived as a single mother of two, she knows the hardships and fear of an uncertain future.
In March, she attended UVU's inaugural Women's Leadership Luncheon, where the Hollands announced their campaign. At the luncheon's conclusion, Barrington Jones tapped President Holland's shoulder and said, "I want to give you my house." She subsequently put her San Francisco home of 27 years on the market to make her $1 million donation possible.
"This is a dream come true," she said about helping fulfill a vow she made long ago to help single moms, such as Jeffrey.
The 27-year-old received her bachelor's in behavioral science in April and is looking to attend grad school for a possible career in adoptive services.
The Wee Care Center, she says, taught her how to be a good parent and opened a world of opportunities for her and other financially strapped single parents who want an education but have limited time and resources.
"We wouldn't have gone back to school had that opportunity not been there," she said.
Jeffrey is thrilled about the expansion, because it will give even more single parents a chance to do what she has done. With 3-year-old Philip in tow, she is looking forward to a bright future. And she has advice for moms hesitant to go to college.
"Go back to school. There are opportunities for you."