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It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has been tough on millions of mums.
Trying to juggle work amid lingering childcare uncertainties has left many mothers frustrated in the third year of the pandemic.
While the tough choices between work and parenthood have come as a shock to middle- and upper-income women, low-income women were already dealing with these trade-offs before the national health crisis hit, according to Chastity Lord, CEO of Jeremiah Program, a non-profit organization aimed at helping single mothers and their children overcome poverty.
“A lot of our mothers knew the system wasn’t working before the pandemic,” Lord said.
“The system stopped working for 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 has brought to light the “poverty tax” faced by many single women, which threatens their job stability and ability to pursue higher education.
“Single mothers with young children matter,” Lord said. “They are an incredibly large group in our country, and disproportionately single mothers are at or below the poverty line.”
The Jeremiah Program works to break this 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; Vegas; Rochester, Minnesota and Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
To date, the organization, founded 24 years ago, has helped more than 4,000 single mothers and their children.
The Jeremiah program aims to help women attend college and graduate. To help them do this, they have access to personal coaching, childcare and early education, safe and affordable housing, and training on topics such as financial literacy, positive parenting and Mental Health.
The typical mother who takes part in the program is around 27, has one or two children and is looking for a way to start over, according to Lord.
All participants are registered with the school, which is a requirement. More than 80% are people of color, including 50% who are black and 25% who are Latina.
The program, which is primarily privately funded, finds candidates through media advertisements and works with community organizations.
The program begins with 12 weeks of empowerment and leadership training, where participants design a plan for what they want to accomplish in their lives.
“Creating this space for this type of commitment and this type of dreaming is truly an incredible first time for many of our moms,” Lord said.
Andromeda Vega, 26, was struggling to juggle nursing studies and life as a new mother when she first heard about the Jeremiah program.
She moved into the program’s campus in Austin, Texas in August 2019.
Enrolling in the Jeremiah program helped her get her college work back on track after giving birth to her now 3-year-old daughter in 2018.
By the time Vega leaves in 2025, she predicts she will have earned three degrees. This includes an associate’s degree in health sciences which she has already completed, an associate’s degree in nursing which she is due to complete in December, followed by a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Additionally, the program has also meant stability for her 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 mothers in the building have formed a community to help each other.
This includes helping Vega get her daughter to school when she can’t due to her 12-hour clinic days at the hospital.
If Vega hadn’t enrolled in the Jeremiah program, she wouldn’t have been able to make nearly the same academic progress. She would likely still be in a toxic relationship and struggle to make ends meet, she said.
Enrolling in the program has helped her take a step back and reassess her life, which she says will have lasting effects even after she’s gone.
“I now have a different outlook and standards of what I want in my life and what I can live without and what I want for my child and myself,” Vega said.
Additionally, for each semester of college she completes, the program places $100 in a 529 college savings plan for her daughter.
“She’s three years old and she has a savings account for college,” Vega said. “Even to say that’s a big deal, because my mom didn’t even have a savings account growing up.”