Telling HerStories: Helping others, help themselves

Published By: ChaNaè Bradley March 20, 2024

Faye Singh, retired Fort Valley State University 4-H career development program leader, shares her experience at Fort Valley State University.

Forward thinking and community activism propelled Faye Singh to be a change agent who secured resources and inspired people to believe they could improve their lives.

Born to a hard-working father who labored as a coal miner in West Virginia, the now-retired Fort Valley State University (FVSU) Extension 4-H career development program leader, valued education and uplifting those around her. This came from her upbringing, something both parents instilled early.

“When people would be sick in the community, my mom would go out and help. She would take us (Faye and her siblings) also. She would say, ‘Whenever you can, help someone who can’t help themselves,’ and we did that,” Singh said.

Singh fondly recalls her father asking his kids to help gather vegetables from the family garden. They would load them into her radio flyer wagon and take produce to people in need.

In addition to helping in the community, Singh’s father wanted all his children to get an education.

“My father would always tell his kids that you must do better than me and your mom did,” Singh said. Her parents both finished high school but did not attend college to help their families.

Singh’s desire to help those in need coupled with her desire to pursue higher education drew her to the field of social work. Likewise, her high school teacher Mrs. Hazzard, who served as a mentor, encouraged her to work hard and go to college.

“When I graduated high school, my high school teacher (Mrs. Hazzard) told me I was bright enough to go to college and do well,” Singh said.

As a result, Singh attended West Virginia State College, now university, and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. After college she married Dr. Shamsher Singh. In 1969 he accepted a position as a political science professor at Fort Valley State College.

For four years, Singh worked various jobs in the Fort Valley community while obtaining her graduate degree. In 1973, Dr. Houston Stallworth, dean of the College of Agriculture, asked her if she would be willing to work for Cooperative Extension.

“I think he was impressed with the work I was doing with the community action agency,” she said. Honored with his request, that same year she started her career at Fort Valley State College (FVSC) as a training and education coordinator. In this role she worked in the areas of community development, leadership and civic engagement.

“Most of my work was centered around leadership development and teaching people how to work with city council to talk about the needs of the community,” Singh said. “Our goal was to work with community leaders who were indigenous to their area. We wanted to get people in the community to attend city council meetings and be proactive, not reactive.”

One of the highlights from her work in the community included bringing the Farmers Home Administration (FHA) to the campus.

“County program assistant and agents would bring their clients to campus, and they would learn how to apply for loans through FHA helping them purchase homes or repair their existing homes,” she said.

For seven years Singh worked in community development for Fort Valley Cooperative Extension, helping citizens become homeowners and training them to become advocates for the needs of the citizens through leadership development. When her administrator retired, Singh transitioned into a 4-H and career development role at the college.

“We worked with young people in the community to keep them from dropping out of school. We would bring them by busloads on campus and engage them through workshops, teaching them that if they wanted to do better, they had to finish high school,” she said.

Her work also exposed students to Fort Valley State College as an option after graduating high school.

Singh worked with children 5 to 8 years old, pre-4-H age. They were called 4-H Sprouts

“We would have professors come during the day and teach the students on their level. We had many projects, programs, along with arts and crafts. We would take them on field trips to expose young children to opportunities,” she said. Many of the youth had never been outside of the county where they resided. Singh said bringing them to the campus was a new experience.

“Several of those young people came to camps we offered every year,” she said.

Some ended up attending Fort Valley State, graduating, and becoming employed in careers within their local communities.

Many of the programs they offered to youth were grant-funded. The pursuit of external funds was a continuous effort among Singh and her colleagues to provide opportunities.

“We had a grant from the National 4-H Council centered around bringing young people out of their counties and referring them to attend college at the University of Georgia or Fort Valley State,” she said.

One of the most memorable experiences of her career included her involvement in the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission. Singh was asked by the National 4-H Council to become the program leader for the summer of 1992.

“I was picked to go on assignment to stay in Washington, D.C. for six months to give leadership to that conference. Mrs. King was there,” she said excitedly. Singh and her FVSC colleagues also took a busload of youth from Georgia to participate in the conference.

As she reflected on her career at the university, Singh said she hopes that she is remembered for helping others and providing opportunities to better the lives of students and their families.

“I tried to help someone other than myself. I tried to go out in the community and bridge the gap between what people didn’t have and what was possible for them to have,” Singh said.

She also values the opportunities Fort Valley State College offered her to serve.

“Fort Valley State gave me a real unique opportunity to work here. I just felt so blessed and so proud to be a part of this institution,” she said.

Singh, who retired in 2003, spends her time serving in her church, traveling, volunteering and enjoying her family.