- The pandemic highlighted gaps in the social safety net for low-income single parents.
- One program for single mothers who are at or below the poverty level helps them pursue higher education.
- "I have a different outlook and standards now of what I want in my life," one participant says.
It's no secret the Covid-19 pandemic has been tough on millions of moms.
Trying to juggle work amid ongoing child care uncertainties has left many mothers frustrated into the third year of the pandemic.
While tough choices between work and parenting were a shock for middle- and upper-income women, low-income women already faced those trade-offs before the national health crisis hit, according to Chastity Lord, CEO of Jeremiah Program, a non-profit organization focused on helping single mothers and their children overcome poverty.
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"Many of our moms knew the system wasn't working before the pandemic," Lord said.
"The system ceased to work for middle class and upper middle class folks, where they couldn't throw money at it, and so it became a national conversation," she said.
The dilemma shed light on the "poverty tax" many single women face, which threatens their work stability and ability to pursue higher education.
"Single moms with small children matter," Lord said. "They represent an incredibly large group in our country, and disproportionately single parent moms are at or below the poverty level."
Jeremiah Program is working to break that cycle of poverty for single mothers in nine U.S. 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-Saint Paul.
To date, the organization, which was founded 24 years ago, has helped more than 4,000 single mothers and their children.
Jeremiah Program focuses on helping the women attend college and graduating. To help them achieve that, they have access to personal 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 around 27 years old, has one or two children, and is looking for a way to start over, according to Lord.
All of the participants are enrolled in school, which is a requirement. More than 80% are people of color, including 50% who are Black and 25% who are Latinx.
The program, which is mostly privately funded, finds applicants through media advertisements and work with community organizations.
The program begins with 12 weeks of empowerment and leadership training, where the participants design a blueprint for what they want to achieve in their lives.
"Creating that space for that type of engagement and that type of dreaming really is an incredible first time for many of our moms," Lord said.
Andromeda Vega, 26, was struggling to juggle pursuing nursing education and life as a new mother when she first heard of Jeremiah Program.
She moved into the program's Austin, Texas, campus in August 2019.
Enrolling in 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 anticipates she will have completed three degrees. That includes an associate's degree in health science she has already finished, an associate's degree in nursing she is due to complete in December, followed by a bachelor's degree in nursing.
What's more, the program has also meant stability for her daughter, who attends school at the child development center in the same building where they live. The school's staff works with Vega to improve her parenting skills, while the other mothers in the building have formed a community to help each other out.
That includes helping Vega get her daughter to and from school when she cannot due to her 12-hour clinical days at the hospital.
If Vega had not enrolled in Jeremiah Program, she would not have been able to make nearly the same academic progress. She would probably also be still in a toxic relationship and struggling to make ends meet, she said.
Enrolling in the program helped her step back and re-evaluate her life, which she anticipates will have lasting effects even after she leaves.
"I have a different outlook and standards now of what I want in my life and what I can live without and what I want for my child and myself," Vega said.
What's more, for every semester of school she finishes, the program puts $100 into a 529 college savings plan for her daughter.
"She's three and she has a savings account for college," Vega said. "Even saying that is such a big deal, because my mom didn't even have a savings account growing up."