Local Organization Helps Single Parents with Mental Health

By Kara Isham | Photos courtesy of Single Parent Scholarship Fund of NWA

The challenges facing those in poverty have only increased over the past few years, leading organizations like the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas to step up and fill some of the gaps. 


The mission of the SPSFNWA is to help single parents in Northwest Arkansas create futures for their families by providing direct financial assistance as well as supportive services for those pursuing higher education. Last year, the two SPSF organizations serving the counties of Northwest Arkansas merged into one regional organization. The new SPSFNWA serves scholarship recipients living in Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties.

Tyler B. Clark, SPSFNWA executive director, said the merger has helped the organization increase its capacity to better serve more single parents than ever before.  He said the nonprofit saw a 16% increase in applications this year and will be serving nearly 150 students in traditional classes, as well as another 15-20 students attending workforce development classes. Clark believes the increase in recipients is due in part to the singular message being put forth to single parents in the area regarding the services they can receive. 

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Twyla Rownak, SPSFNWA Counselor, hosts a Recipient/Alumni support group focusing on Brene Brown's Rising Strong curriculum, which discusses how to bounce back after failure

“The state of the union is really strong at Single Parent Scholarship Fund after 40 years,” Clark said. “We are growing our staff to provide the best support and customer service to our recipients.”


Clark said the rising cost of living and increase of tuition costs at local colleges and universities — as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s big snow events on some of the recipients’ ability to work — have all meant more financial burden on the organization’s recipients. 


For this reason, the SPSFNWA board voted to increase scholarship dollar amounts for all levels of scholarships by 25% beginning this fall. 


And, like always, the organization looks for ways to support the recipients and their families beyond the scholarship dollars, such as helping them to connect with other nonprofits and service organizations in the area, offering a dry pantry where recipients can get needed items like laundry detergent and hygiene products, and helping out with extras such as school supplies for the recipients’ kids.

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2021 Golftoberfest event

Twyla Rownak, director of counseling services for SPSFNWA, said recipients are able to reach out for counseling whenever they want. She said many of them need to talk with someone about their stress, fears and anxieties, as well as how to recover from trauma in their past. Along with counseling sessions, the counseling department also has workshops throughout the year on various topics that recipients can attend. 


Rownak said one of the biggest challenges is combating any remaining stigma about therapy, letting the recipients know it’s better to reach out before the need becomes too great. She said the idea is to always let them know they are not alone. 


“We encourage them to call us whenever possible as well as find others they can trust and reach out to when they need to talk,” Rownak said. “We try to offer a variety of ways to connect with people and help them through the hard stuff because you can’t do hard things on your own.”


This past year the counseling department added two interns to help better serve the recipients, but Rownak said she would love to be able to expand their services by adding two or three full-time therapists. From June 2021 to June 2022, the counseling department has seen a 54% increase in appointment requests. With the increase of recipients, she knows the need for counseling services will also continue to rise.


The SPSFNWA is supported by community donors as well as volunteer ambassadors who fill several roles in the organization. Rownak is a former SPSFNWA recipient herself, so she knows how invaluable all the assistance is that recipients receive from staff, volunteers and supporters of the organization. 


“The scholarship money is necessary in order to succeed,” Rownak said. “But having this whole community around them, telling them how proud of them they are, that helps them keep going and gets them through. And having a safe place to share is important in helping them become their best selves.” 


The organization hosts several fundraisers each year. The group’s annual Golftoberfest is scheduled for Oct. 8-23 at Golf Mountain in Rogers and Gator Golf in Fayetteville. This year there will also be a VIP event at Topgolf in Rogers.