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Mothers struggle

Mills College Weekly

During the week, Underwood Apartments resident Amy Lentrichia
takes her three and a half year-old son, Eliseo, to his preschool
co-op, where she volunteers. While Eliseo is in school, Amy spends
the day with her youngest son, one and a half year-old Gabriel,
whose insatiable curiosity led him, one day, to almost eat
poisonous berries that are growing outside their home. In the
evening, Lentrichia attends her classes at Mills while her husband,
Larry, stays home with the kids.

Mothers like Amy, and their families who live in the Underwood
apartments, face enormous challenges to not only raise their
children while obtaining an education, but to make sure their needs
for adequate housing, affordable daycare centers and schools, and
support through financial aid are met.

In mid-October, the increasing deterioration of Underwood
apartments led to a community meeting of concerned Underwood

“When I moved into my apartment,” said Underwood mom Liz Roland,
“there was wire sticking out from the walls, no working smoke
detector, no Carbon monoxide detector at all, the screen coming off
my heater, a window screen that had completely fallen off, and tree
branches were rubbing against my windows.”

The concerns raised at the meeting prompted a walk-through by
several departments including Public Safety, Housing Management and
Dining Services. The broken smoke detectors, screens and broken
heaters were immediately addressed with many more repairs to be
made. In addition, carbon monoxide detectors are being installed
and a pilot program of Internet access is being implemented.

But the latest additions and repairs, listed in the follow up
memo from administrators and sent to Underwood residents, created
some skeptics.

“Personally, I think it would be a miracle if they complete all
their said repairs any time soon,” said senior Colleen Brennen,
“but we shall see.”

However, according to director of housing, Karen Maggio,
Underwood apartments are completely legal and retrofitted.
Underwood is “safe and affordable, not a luxury apartment,” she

“We are on the right road but there is a limit to what is
financially feasible with the building.”

Lentrichia compared Underwood to low-income housing. “There is a
lot of stress and burden and not a lot of support. I think it is a
hard place to live.”

Nevertheless Maggio envisions eventually having Underwood torn
down and building brand new family housing on the sight.

While housing remains a concern for the mothers at Underwood,
for many quality and affordable childcare is also top priority.

Mills laboratory elementary school houses the Geranium Cottage;
a daycare environment devoted to children of Mills’ students.
Currently, three children of Mills’ students are enrolled at
Geranium Cottage, which has a limit of 23. Three out of 120 are
enrolled at The Children’s School.

Junior Jeannette Copperwaite, who transferred to Mills this
semester and is living in Underwood, sends her three year-old
daughter, Daisy, to Geranium Cottage.

“I couldn’t be happier with Daisy’s first preschool experience,”
said Copperwaite. “She has a good rapport with her teachers.”
However Copperwaite added, it is also very difficult to afford.

Unfortunately, Brennan’s experience with trying to get her two
and a half year-old son Aiden into the school was unsuccessful.

“The Children’s School is elitist and caters to a rich crowd.
Geranium Cottage is supposed to be the option (for Mills moms) but
it is not affordable. My child has been on their waiting list since
before he was born,” she said, “not that I could afford it if they
called me anyway.”

Suzanne Di Lillo, director of the children’s school, aimed to
put the enrollment and affordability factors into perspective. “We
are a very small school. We want to pay a living wage and have
snacks and materials…” she said.

She added that the cost of preschool is 15 percent below median
tuition at roughly $1,000 dollars per month. Elementary school is
21 percent less than the average price of tuition at $8,645 dollars
per year.

Mills’ students get a 20 percent discount on tuition at Geranium
Cottage, she noted.

Also, financial aid is available, although it is very limited
she said. Parents do all of the fundraising and rely heavily on the
money generated at the annual auction in November.

“The reality of society is that private quality education is not
free,” Di Lillo said. “Is it fair? No.”

In the meantime many Underwood mothers dream of bonding together
to create group childcare in the evenings.

Martha Braithewaite moved from Vermont to Underwood this
semester with her two and a half year-old son Isaiah. She said that
she sees a lot of informal childcare but would like a more
organized support system.

Moire Bruin, assistant dean of students, recommended that moms
turn to the Mary Atkins board, the organization of resuming
students aged 23 and older who have a space in the Student

“I want to see Underwood and Mills moms get addressed and have a
venue,” she said, suggesting they work with Mary Atkins to create
the time and place to meet.

Furthermore, “perhaps there is a way to also arrange some kind
of supervised activity for children near peak times during the
semester midterms, and finals,” said Copperwaite.

Zvarik suggested that Mills consider implementing a program like
the one at Wilson College in which R.A.’s would compile a list of
volunteer student-sitters.

Not only did they not expect to be paid, but also they received
credit for community service. At one time, Zvarik said, she had
access to over 20 free baby sitters.

Along with the issue of obtaining affordable childcare is the
concern of most mothers to secure adequate financial aid for

Rose Gardener, the assistant director of financial aid explained
that the Federal Application for Financial Assistance (FAFSA) form
collects information on the number of dependants an applicant

Based on income and number of dependants, financial aid is
determined for moms.

Gardener added that there is a consideration for moms who are
having trouble making ends meet.

Because childcare cost is a necessary expense, it can be built
into the cost of tuition.

She said, “submit a request in writing that explains the special
circumstances,” and the Financial Aid office will use their
professional judgment.

From her experience, she said, often times mothers discover they
need financial assistance after it is too late to apply or have
applied but need more assistance.

In these cases, outside scholarships are available and can be
found through web site scholarship searches.

In particular, moms should do scholarship searches with

Despite the many challenges Underwood mothers face everyday;
they have an appreciation for the unique community they and their
children are a part of.

“There are many wonderful and rewarding aspects of being a mom
as a student, and we all have our own unique joys and struggles to
speak about as well,” said Brennan.

“Underwood is a strong community of networking moms.”

Copperwaite said, “I am grateful to be able to live on campus
with my daughter.

As a broke, almost divorced mother, this is virtually the only
way I can give her a safe, comfortable, pleasant place to live
while I pursue my degree.”