A life changed through generosity
Donors help Singleton fulfill dream of college degree
Rhonda Minton |
Generosity can help change a life. Just ask alumna Renarda Singleton.
As a young child, Singleton knew she wanted a better life than what she daily experienced growing up on the south side of Memphis, Tennessee.
“Living in poverty, longing for basic necessities like food, clothes and a safe place to live … as a kid, I knew I wanted a better life as an adult,” she said. “So, I set a goal of going to college and getting a degree.”
Singleton started working toward her dream of a college degree at age 18 by enrolling at a local community college. Since that first day of college years ago all the way to this past fall semester, life has thrown a few curveballs at Singleton. However, her dream finally came true. At age 41, Singleton earned a Bachelor of Professional Studies degree in integrated studies at Lipscomb University’s commencement on Dec. 19.
Singleton will be the first to tell people the road to her degree in social work and psychology hasn’t always been easy, but she knows it has all been in God’s hands.
When Singleton needed financial help to enroll in two courses to complete her program last fall, alumni Dr. Billy Long (’69, B.A. Biology) and his wife Rebecca Holmes Long (’72, B.A. Biochemistry) of Madison, Mississippi, didn’t hesitate to help. The two longtime university donors heard Singleton’s story and directed a gift to the Lipscomb Opportunity Scholarship Fund to cover Singleton’s final two classes.
During her pursuit for a degree, Singleton worked part-time jobs while caring for two children and a husband and taking classes. She also volunteered at Birthright of Memphis, a pregnancy crisis counseling center. The Christian university she was attending suddenly closed its doors, leaving its students adrift. When the family moved to Nashville in the summer of 2015 for her husband’s new job, Singleton said it was a difficult adjustment. The kids were elementary school age, and adapting to the new surroundings wasn’t easy.
She picked up a couple of volunteer jobs at a hospital and YWCA, and later began working part time at the YMCA and a church preschool. Even after an abysmal experience trying to enroll at a new university, her college dream remained undeterred, and she found Lipscomb.
“I kept telling God ‘I know you’ve got to be working on something better for me, because I’m not giving up,’” she said. “Then a few days later, I came across Lipscomb University during my online search."
After visiting the campus, Singleton said she knew Lipscomb was the place for her, and she began classes in 2016.
“I have loved every minute of my classes, my professors and my fellow students,” she said. “I’ve grown so much, and learned a lot about myself from being pushed out of my comfort zone as a non-traditional student. I have developed such compassion for people and where they are in this life.”
The balancing act of family, work and school was going well until another life curve appeared this year in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, Singleton lost her two part-time jobs due to the shutdowns.
As the fall semester approached, Singleton worried about the funds to pay for her two remaining classes.
“I kept praying to God ‘I know You have me in this season, and I am so appreciative of how far You’ve brought me in this journey all these years,’” she said. “I needed to tell God it was OK. That I am so close to my dream only because of Him, and if it’s to be that I have to wait another semester, that will be ok. I’ve waited this long, a few more months will be OK.”
While out running errands one day with the kids, Singleton received a life-changing phone call from Ted Meyer, interim director of Lipscomb Online.
Meyer told Singleton she had been awarded a scholarship to cover her final two classes. All she had to do was provide her textbooks.
“I immediately started crying because I was so happy,” she said. “But for me, the best thing about that call was that my kids got to witness God at work again in our life, and that He will provide if we do what He says we should do. If we work hard, have faith and do what is right, God will bless us in His own time.”
Singleton is grateful to God for the Longs and their generosity. The Longs fully believe in the importance of a Christian education and encourage others to support Lipscomb’s Opportunity Scholarship Fund.
“A Christian education gives you a different outlook on how to use your abilities as you go through life,” Billy Long, who also is a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, said. “You understand there’s a bigger purpose in life. It was great to meet Renarda and really gratifying to hear her goals of helping those less fortunate.
“Private education is not an easy thing to receive, and many students just need a little funding to help them,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to have funds like the scholarship fund.”
“You can take money and invest it in a lot of things, but when you invest in the lives of students, you’re really affecting the future,” Rebecca Long said. “You’re using your money for Kingdom work; it’s bigger in the long run and lives beyond any immediate payoff.”
Meyer echoes the Longs’ sentiments of supporting student scholarships.
“Gifts, grants and scholarships are very important to non-traditional students as most are working full time with families and have other obligations,” Meyer said.
“At times they will run out of financial aid based on how long they are trying to complete their degree. A lot of times a non-traditional student does not have anywhere to fall back to complete their degree, and it means so much to them when someone reaches out to assist—as in the Longs’ and Renarda's case," he said.
Singleton is one of 75 students who have benefited from the Opportunity Scholarship Fund since it was launched this academic year.
“Resources such as the Opportunity Scholarship Fund are critical in providing that little bit of extra financial help students need to attend Lipscomb,” John Lowry, senior vice president for advancement, said. “These types of resources are what has helped Lipscomb experience a record enrollment this year when other institutions experienced serious enrollment decline.”
Lowry said Lipscomb has experienced a significant increase in applications for fall 2021, resulting in greater need of scholarships to offer prospective students.
“Affordability is often a primary challenge students have to overcome. Availability of scholarship funds helps keep Lipscomb affordable and competitive as their top college choice,” he said. “Donors to the Opportunity Scholarship Fund are key partners in helping us convert applicants into enrolled students at Lipscomb—and those students then become Lipscomb alumni and Christian leaders who are needed in today’s world."