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Education

New Pittsburgh nonprofit aims to help single moms get college degrees and build housing near campus

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Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA
Diamonte Walker is the leader of the new Pittsburgh Scholar House nonprofit.

After years of prioritizing community needs in economic development, Diamonte Walker is shifting her focus to helping single moms obtain a college degree.

Walker led the Urban Redevelopment Authority as the deputy executive director since 2019. She was known for her focus on equitable investment, and was the first Black woman to hold such a high-level position at the agency.

Walker said she wasn’t looking to leave the post, but felt called to lead the new nonprofit, Pittsburgh Scholar House, as a way to disrupt poverty and enable economic mobility. In Pittsburgh, 78 percent of households headed by single mothers are in poverty.

"We need to see that number precipitously decrease as degree attainment is achieved,” Walker said. “We should see the face of our neighborhoods change. We should see some of the protracted health disparities that we see as it relates to maternal health. And we should see those numbers start to be chipped away.”

The nonprofit is a subsidiary of a Louisville, Kentucky-based program which houses families in a development adjacent to a university campus. The Pittsburgh program also aims to also build a housing development, though a location hasn't been decided.

According to Pittsburgh Scholar House materials, the residential program is intended to help a population that has “experienced poverty, unstable housing and, most often, domestic violence.”

Walker’s goal is to break ground on a Pittsburgh multi-family housing development in 2023. In the meantime, she’s in the process of hiring case managers to evaluate the needs of families, and searching for an administrative office where she hopes programming like tutoring or daycare assistance will start.

“There really has to be an individualized assessment of the family and what their needs are, and then you work to pair them with those supports,” she said. “So I think that the Pittsburgh Scholar House is a platform that will have a lot of different programs that are designed to intervene. But the number-one focus is on reducing the barriers that impede the family from completing the four-year degree.”

Walker said she was drawn to the work because of the Kentucky model’s use of a “two-generation strategy” — one that focuses both on helping students receive a degree and meeting the needs of their children.

That approach "has repeatedly demonstrated successful academic and life outcomes for families,” she said. “Those outcomes translate to addressing the solvable, but real challenges adult learners with children face when pursuing higher education.”

The nonprofit is supported by the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education, which is made up of the 11 colleges and universities in the city. The group began collaborating in 2019 to establish such a program to help support students.