Ashley M. Richter’s kindergarten-aged daughter comes home every day and asks her mother if she can please “play with her workbooks.” In other words, this bright, young girl requests homework after she returns home from school. Richter’s daughter has a love for learning, sparked from her time living at Jeremiah Program, where she received a quality early childhood education and watched her mother strive to work hard toward her college degree.
Before coming to Jeremiah Program, Richter was a young, single mother, commuting one hour to school, holding a steady job to make ends meet, saving time for study groups and coursework and trying to find time to spend with her daughter.
“When I first found out about Jeremiah Program, I had just transferred from community college to a four-year program at the University of Minnesota,” Richter said. “I applied right away.”
Before Richter and her daughter could move into Jeremiah Program’s campus, she had to complete empowerment training, the organization’s signature pre-admission program, that gives women tools and strategies to deal with the stress and challenges of life as a working mother. It is designed to transition women from a place of helplessness and self-doubt into “power mode.”
“It was another thing to add to my schedule, but I knew it would be worth it,” Richter said. “During that time, I was also interviewing for internships in my industry. I felt like I had no experience, little to offer and that it would be difficult to get hired as a single mother. The strategies I learned through the program were essential in getting me through that process successfully.”
When she moved onto campus with her daughter, who attended the child development center on site, the impact was immediate, Richter says: “Jeremiah Program basically put my daughter back into my life.”
Founded in Minneapolis, Jeremiah Program has been working to remove barriers to success for single mothers and their young children for more than 20 years. The program started in 1993 when Michael J. O’Connell sought to engage the Minneapolis community, bringing together leaders from business, education and philanthropy to help break the cycle of poverty for single mothers.
The first Jeremiah Program campus opened for 18 families a few years later, providing an affordable, safe space for mothers to live, acquire life skills and pursue a career-track college education, while their children received quality early childhood education.
Jeremiah Program’s president and CEO, Gloria Perez, has seen transformation in the lives of the women they serve by creating a system that empowers single women to succeed on their own. It gives them a supportive community they might not otherwise have had, and connects mothers and their children with the educational, housing and other resources they need to get a good-paying job and work toward economic security outside of the program. Perez said the program unlocks the full potential of these mothers, instilling hope and confidence and equipping them with tools and resources for financial security.
“We can help young single mothers see the possibilities for themselves and their children to become self-reliant,” Perez said. “If we can meet them where they are in these communities and connect them with their local assets and networks, we can really change the cycle of poverty for these families.”
Jeremiah Program is committed to help women tap their “core strength,” recognizing their value, regardless of the barriers they have faced. Upon graduating the program, women enter the job market from a place of strength and ready for the whole family to thrive.
Jeremiah Program’s success lies in wraparound supports and a two-generation approach that builds up mothers and their children, who receive quality early learning experiences with on-site early childhood care and education. Jeremiah Program’s team consists of dedicated early childhood education teachers who truly partner with mothers to ensure they have the information and tools to help their child’s learning, growth and development.
With a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Jeremiah Program is working to strengthen its business model so the program can expand, including developing an evaluation tool that will help to continuously improve empowerment training. Other communities will be able to use this model to reach and engage mothers and families effectively.
Perez said, “Jeremiah Program is removing barriers for families as they build their skills for self-reliance. This program can have a ripple effect. We have seen that beyond the direct investment in mothers and their children, we are strengthening communities overall.”
Richter and her daughter lived at Jeremiah Program for more than a year. During that time, she graduated from the University of Minnesota and pursued a career in the industry for which she attended school. When they moved out of campus and into a home of their own, Richter received support from Jeremiah Program to help navigate her child’s educational future, including choosing the right school and ensuring that her love for learning never faded. In fact, her daughter entered kindergarten prepared and eager to learn, one of only three students who were already able to read.
Richter left Jeremiah Program as a great and informed advocate for her child’s education. Ultimately, she graduated from the program not only with the credentials, skills and network to pursue a stable career and support her family, but also determined, confident and certain that she has irreversibly changed her family’s future for the better.