Kevin Riordan: It takes a village to raise this college student

Tom Hundley with (from left) sister Patrice, 20; his former babysitter, Debra Chatman; his mother, Patricia; and his godmother, Susan Simmons.
Tom Hundley with (from left) sister Patrice, 20; his former babysitter, Debra Chatman; his mother, Patricia; and his godmother, Susan Simmons. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 04, 2013

Tom Hundley's family has a fresh take on the old notion of working one's way through college.

Hundley, 22, needs to raise $27,000 to finish his last two undergraduate semesters at Howard University, which cost about $35,000 total.

That's why his mother, sisters, aunts, godmother, and cousins are making, baking, and selling dinners-to-go at Pennsauken's Homestead Youth Association on Sept. 13.

Hundley is soliciting donations in writing and online, and friends and family are pitching in as best they can; so far, close to $5,000 has been raised. Aid from Howard is $3,000 per semester, he says.

"Our entire community is invested in Tommy in one way or another," says the Rev. Dennis Blackwell, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, in Woodlynne.

"We believe that next year at this time, he will be back in school," the pastor adds.

Says Lloyd Freeman, a Haddonfield attorney and proud member of Howard's Class of 2006, "In one day, I must have had five people send me the [fund-raising] flier, so I tapped into my network in the Howard Alumni Club of Greater Philadelphia."

I sit down with Hundley at the dining-room table of his home in the Cherry Hill's Woodcrest section. He's shy but personable, a serious young fellow who does not relish talking about himself.

"This has become a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be," he says.

Our interview quickly becomes a family affair, as we're joined by his mother, Patricia; one of his three older sisters, Tiphany Delgado; aunt Debra Chatman; and godmother Susan Simmons.

"We don't have any money," Delgado says. "But we're going to cook our hearts out and pray, pray, pray."

"Quitting," Pat, 61, says, "is not an option."

The senior Thomas Hundley's death from heart disease in 1995 left her a widow with five children - of whom young Tom and his sister Patrice, 19, a Seton Hall University junior, are now of college age.

A health services administrator with Mercer County's corrections department, she's been their sole support; when I ask about her income, she says with a laugh, "Not enough."

Apparently not: At the end of the spring 2012 semester, she was notified she was ineligible for additional assistance through a federal student loan program called "Parents Plus."

The program, which accounted for more than half of her son's financial-aid package from Howard, had already lent her $25,000 for Tom's education, with payments deferred until after graduation. Program officials apparently judged her unable to repay any additional debt.

"We exhausted every appeal," Pat says.

"Right now I'm considered a former student, but I have enough credits to apply [for admission] as a senior," Hundley says.

"I don't want to transfer out. I don't want to lose any credits," he says, adding that he has completed 93 of the 130 credits required for graduation.

I left e-mail and voice-mail messages with two members of the university's communications staff Friday, but they were not returned.

Hundley, who hopes to be back in class for the spring 2014 semester, has been working full-time as an assistant at a Cherry Hill law firm specializing in disabilities.

It's at about this point in the conversation that I realize Hundley is himself disabled. His left arm ends not in a functional hand but in a fistlike lump; he has adroitly not drawn attention to this congenital defect - but hasn't kept it hidden, either.

"I don't really notice it until other people do," he says, adding wryly, "sometimes I put my hands in my pockets. It's a nice pose."

His seriousness quickly returns.

"There aren't words to say how grateful I am. . . . It's nice to know that other people want you to make it," he says. "I just want to prove everybody right."


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.philly.com/blinq.

For information about the fund-raising for Tom Hundley's college education, go to http://www.gofundme.com/3ldpgg.

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