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Never Alone: How One Parent Scholar House Gives Single Parents a Helping Hand

It’s noon on a Saturday. Roller skates and snowy boots sit by the front door. The smell of pizza rolls floats past the art-covered fridge into the living room, where a tea set basket lays open by the couch.


“Bubby, your pizza rolls are ready,” 9-year-old Danity Greene calls out to her 5-year-old little sister, Serenity Moment.


Small footsteps make their way to the kitchen, and soon the faint sound of television is drowned out by laughter.


“When she was a baby, she took ahold of my mommy’s phone and DoorDashed from Chick-fil-A,” Danity says as she grins at her younger sister.


Taylor Sweeney, the girls’ mother, playfully tries to sneak a pizza roll off her youngest daughter’s plate as Danity catches what her mom is attempting and holds in a laugh.


“She was a baby, baby. She ordered one chicken biscuit from Chick-fil-A, even tipped the driver and everything. I didn’t know until I opened the door and there’s a chicken biscuit on the ground,” Sweeney says as Danity’s laugh gets louder and Serenity’s smile grows.


While this whole recollection is happening, Marley, the family’s 2-year-old miniature goldendoodle, is hopping back and forth between the three of them.


This life is because of an “opportunity,” the word Sweeney used to describe One Parent Scholar House.


Sweeney and her daughters live in one of the 80 apartments built by One Parent Scholar House on Virginia Avenue in Lexington, Kentucky. Formerly known as Virginia Place, One Parent Scholar House is a nonprofit organization created in 1986 specifically for single parents who want to obtain a post-secondary education.


“Life takes different directions for everybody, but if you genuinely are here because you need help and you want to graduate, they (One Parent Scholar House) will back you 100%,” Sweeney said.


But as a 19-year-old living in a two-bedroom apartment expecting her first daughter Danity, Sweeney said she had never considered the program because she wasn’t a single parent at the time.


Sweeney had met Dominique Greene, Danity’s dad, during her freshman year of high school. They grew up down the street from each other and had gotten engaged when Sweeney was 18, ready to start the next chapter of their lives with their daughter.


When Danity was 6 months old, the couple moved into and were living in Dominique’s parents’ basement when Dominique died from a fentanyl overdose in 2015.


“We went downstairs, and Dominique was at the bottom of the steps, and Danity was sitting beside him. So I gave him CPR while his dad called the ambulance, and then we swapped, and I stood out front waiting for the ambulance,” Sweeney said.

Hours later, Sweeney became a single parent at the age of 20.


Sweeney said she dealt with a lot of anger along with her grief after Dominique's death, and she had to completely change her mindset to continue being the best mom for Danity.


“For the first two weeks after he passed, I would just talk out loud in the basement. I’m like, ‘I don’t forgive you.’ And then it sounds so mystical almost, but I was with my sister, and I just had this thought: I don’t want Danity to grow up and tell her friends, ‘Well my dad passed away when I was younger, and my mom was always sad,’” Sweeney said.


After that realization, Sweeney said she felt so much peace and love and described it “like just getting a big hug.”


Sweeney said it was hard living and raising Danity in the place where Dominque had passed, so One Parent Scholar House gave her a new beginning.


“I thought it would be a really long process. I put my application in, and I think Donna called me and she was like, ‘Alright, let’s do your interview.’ And then the next week I had my keys,” Sweeney said.


Donna Townsend, the housing manager, makes up one-half of the team that keeps One Parent Scholar House running. 


Sweeney said Townsend has grown into an “aunt that comes and checks in on all 80” of her nieces and nephews over the past seven years she’s lived at these apartments.


Along with housing, One Parent Scholar House has a child development center in partnership with Community Action Council, a nonprofit organization that studies and addresses poverty in Central Kentucky. One Parent Scholar House also helps parents with workshops, life skills classes, community events and whatever else they may need. 


Alison Justice, the program coordinator who has been with the organization for 12 years, is the other half of the duo who keeps One Parent Scholar House alive.


“I just needed a job. I started in the classroom with the infants and working with the kids. And I just kind of fell in love with the parents,” Justice said.


Justice said one of her favorite events is the small graduation ceremony held every year.


“Even though I see these moms and dads every month, sometimes I forget the person that they were before. I just think of who they became. You know, they seemed like kids and babies themselves, so just watching them grow up and learn and succeed has been the best,” Justice said.


Single parents can qualify for the program as young as 18 years old for housing if they have a high school diploma or GED certificate, are enrolled as a full-time student in a post-secondary educational program and are eligible for Section 8 rent-subsidized housing.


Justice said one of the biggest aspects of what she does is working with the residents to give them and their kids a better future.


“If we weren’t here, I have no idea what we would have done,” Sweeney said.


After Dominique’s death, Sweeney said she went back to cosmetology school after a two-week break, which is when she first met Brandon Moment, Serenity’s dad, who was working as the school’s maintenance man.


Their relationship started as casual conversations but grew to picnics with Danity and Sweeney’s friends, and after Sweeney decided to leave cosmetology school and enroll at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in elementary education, she became pregnant with her youngest daughter, Serenity.


Sweeney said Brandon immediately stepped in as a father figure for Danity as well but made it clear that he was not replacing Dominique. Danity and Sweeney also shared stories with Serenity about Dominique, reiterating his role in their lives. 


“So she (Serenity) will draw pictures, and she’s like, ‘This is my daddy. This is me, you and sissy. This is Dominique.’ You know, they’re all included in all of our family,” Sweeney said.


Two months before Serenity’s third birthday, Brandon died in a motorcycle accident.


And once again Sweeney was on her own physically, but Brandon and Dominique continue to live on in their household in other ways.


“There’s pictures of them everywhere. We keep their spirits very much alive, and my oldest daughter, she really helps Serenity,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said Danity is very spiritual, and at just 7 years old Danity gave many words of advice to Serenity about grieving the loss of a dad.


“She (Danity) is looking at her sister and she’s like, ‘You can talk to him whenever you want. You just sit real quiet and you listen with your spirit,’” Sweeney said.


Sweeney said Danity and Serenity both talk about their dads with joy and laughter and despite the hard days, they are big believers in the outlook “everything happens for a reason.”


That ideology is also found in the number 424, which holds great importance in their family and is even tattooed on Sweeney. Dominique’s birthday was April 24, so after Danity’s dad passed away, Sweeney said they would see 424 all the time, which she taught Danity was her dad’s way of saying hi. 


Years later, Serenity was born at exactly 4:24 p.m.


“I think Dominique sent her here. I know that I wasn’t supposed to be just me alone,” Sweeney said.


Sweeney also said Brandon and Dominique’s families also still play a role in her and her daughters’ lives.


“Her (Danity’s) grandpa’s like, ‘You’re always going to be our daughter,’ and they include me in everything. And then, when I had Serenity, they were like, ‘We’re her grandparents too, there’s no difference,’” Sweeney said.


With emotional support from family and financial support from One Parent Scholar House, Sweeney is now studying elementary education at Eastern Kentucky University and is set to graduate in May 2024.


Sweeney said she is planning on going back for a master’s in special education, and the family of three will move to Tates Creek, closer to Sweeney’s dad, whose wife died this past November.


“It helps the girls a lot because they love their Poppy, and when the girls come over, he gets so excited,” Sweeney said.


Sweeney said she is also looking forward to a big backyard where she can start a garden, reminiscent of the one she once helped plant at One Parent Scholar House, and Danity and Serenity have been patiently waiting for another dog to be a buddy for Marley. 


With this chapter of living at One Parent Scholar House coming to a close, Sweeney, now 28, has seen the growth in herself and her life. 


“When I came in, I barely had any furniture. I had this couch that I had gotten off Craigslist that I was so proud of. My mom had gotten Danity a bed, and then I had a mattress on the floor and a box TV. That’s all we had. And I was so happy,” Sweeney said.


Now, a plant-filled, toy-filled and decoration-filled apartment sets the backdrop for conversations amongst the family, including lists of what Serenity and Danity want in their new rooms and excitement for what their life is going to look like after the move.


“They’re my little team. I tell the girls all the time we're a team, like it’s us three. This is what we have,” Sweeney said.


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