SEMINOLE, Fla. — A new grant from the Department of Education will help nearly 100 students at St. Pete College get access to childcare, alleviating financial burdens many parents face while trying to earn a degree.

"I had to stop working to be a stay-at-home-mom, and that in itself was hard because I never saw myself staying at home taking care of the house, cleaning, taking care of the baby,” Nicole Grabarz said. “I always wanted to work. I feel more fulfillment via working."

Grabarz and her husband, Frank, are full-time students at St. Petersburg College. They are also new parents to 6-month-old Keira.

“We absolutely love her,” Frank said.

The new bundle of joy has brought a lot of happiness to the couple, but it also put a lot of financial pressure on them to make decisions between work, school and childcare.

“We looked at prices for daycares around the area, and it's pricey for a baby her age, six months old, so we couldn't do it financially with a mortgage, two car payments,” Frank said. “I've even contemplated dropping school to get a full-time job with the skills I learned when I was in the military...to bring in more money.”

The couple hopes assistance from St. Pete College will prevent having to choose between work and education. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist presented the college with a $323,000 check as part of the federal "Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools" program. This will allow St. Pete College to give full-time students vouchers to enroll in local childcare programs.

According to St. Pete College, more than 60 percent of students with children who took a survey said limited access to childcare due to costs was a major factor in determining of they could stay in school.

“Scholarship shouldn't be lost because you have a child to care for, and this is only another way we could be of help to make sure those parents get the additional help that they deserve,” Rep. Crist said.

St. Pete College President Tonjua Williams was also on-hand for Wednesday’s check presentation. She said the value of helping students outside of the classroom cannot be understated. “Our students struggle with housing, food issues, mental health, emotional health, transportation and childcare. We cannot let those barriers keep them from achieving their dreams and moving from poverty to prosperity.”

The renewable grant will provide more than $1 million to the school over a period of four years. SPC will work with the Juvenile Welfare Board, Lutheran Family Services Head Start and the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County to implement the program.    

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