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Saturday, December 10, 2022

How a nonprofit is helping single moms break the cycle of poverty

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It is no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on millions of mothers.

Trying to defer work amid ongoing childcare uncertainties has left many mothers in their third year of the pandemic frustrated.

While the difficult choice between work and parenting was a setback for middle- and high-income women, low-income women faced those trade-offs even before the national health crisis, said Chastity Lord, CEO of the Jeremiah Program. According to the U.S., a non-profit organization focused on helping single mothers and their children overcome poverty.

“Many of our mothers knew the system wasn’t working before the pandemic,” Lord said.

“This system stopped working for the middle class and upper middle class people where they couldn’t throw money at it, and so it became a national conversation,” she said.

The dilemma highlights the “poverty tax” faced by many single women, which threatens their job stability and ability to pursue higher education.

“Single moms with little kids matter,” said Lord. “They represent an incredibly large group in our country, and disproportionately single parents are at or below the poverty level.”

The Jeremiah Program is working to break that cycle of poverty for single mothers in nine US cities.

The list includes more than 1,500 single mothers and their children in Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Brooklyn, New York; Boston; Fargo, North Dakota; Las Vegas; Rochester, Minnesota and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

To date, the organization, which was founded 24 years ago, has helped over 4,000 single mothers and their children.

The Jeremiah program focuses on helping women go on and graduate from college. To help them achieve this, they have access to individual coaching, child care and early child education, safe and affordable housing, and training in topics including financial literacy, positive parenting, and mental health.

The typical mother participating in the program is about 27 years old, has one or two children, and is looking for a way to start all over again, according to the Lord.

All participants are enrolled in school, which is a requirement. More than 80% are people of color, with 50% being black and 25% Latinx.

The program, which is mostly privately funded, finds applicants through media advertisements and works with community organizations.

The program begins with 12 weeks of empowerment and leadership training, where participants create a blueprint for what they want to achieve in their lives.

“Creating the space to have that type of engagement and that type of dream is really an incredible first time for many of our moms,” Lord said.

Andromeda Vega, 26, was struggling to pursue a nursing education and life as a new mom when she first heard about the Jeremiah program.

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She moved to the program’s Austin, Texas, campus in August 2019.

Enrollment in the Jeremiah program helped her get her academic work back on track after giving birth to her now 3-year-old daughter in 2018.

By the time Vega leaves in 2025, she estimates she will have completed three degrees. This includes an associate’s degree in health sciences that she has already completed, an associate’s degree in nursing that she is scheduled to complete in December, followed by a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

In addition, the program also means stability for their daughter, who attends school at the Child Development Center in the same building where they live. School staff work with Vega to improve her parenting skills, while the other moms in the building form a community to help each other.

This includes helping Vega pick up and carry her daughter to and from school when she cannot go because of her 12-hour clinical days in the hospital.

If Vega had not enrolled in the Jeremiah program, she would not have made nearly as much academic progress. She said she would probably still be in a toxic relationship and struggling to meet her needs, she said.

Enrolling in the program helped her step back and reevaluate her life, which she anticipates will have a lasting impact even after she leaves.

“I now have a different perspective and standards for what I want in my life and what I can live and what I want for my baby and myself,” Vega said.

In addition, for each semester of school he puts $100 into a 529 college savings plan for his daughter.

“She’s three and she has a savings account for college,” Vega said. “It’s also such a big deal to say, because my mom didn’t even have a savings account growing up.”

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