From poverty to prosperity: How the Jeremiah Program helps single moms reach their potential
But she kept at it. Having a 3-year-old who depended on her gave her courage to ask her professors for extra help. Today, she holds a 3.79 GPA.
“I know what I am working for,” she said. “I am showing my son that in our family we do hard things.”
Being successful at school gives single mothers better work options and self-confidence. “They start to believe that they are worth something, that they can take care of themselves,” Perez said.
Watching their mothers succeed is good for kids, too, according to Perez. “We want the children to see early on the role modeling of their mothers literally getting up and going to work and going to school and being active community members when they are young," she said. "We feel like that makes a lasting impression on those kids.”
Cuspard’s ability to dedicate time to school depends on her access to childcare. “Daycare is a big concern for our moms,” Perez said. “As mothers, our children are our first priority,” and it's hard to focus on school work when you are worried about how your children are being taken care of, she said.
Prior going back to school, Cuspard sent Benton to a daycare near her work. “While he was much-loved at that facility, I worried that he may not be getting the structure he needed,” she said.
Jeremiah Program's daycare uses a nationally recognized curriculum. “My son is blossoming,” Cuspard said. Every day the kids get naps and do educational activities, she explained. “The structure is really good for Ben. Our life is hectic and "having predictable schedule helps him a lot,” she said.
But structure isn’t the only benefit of this daycare. “Benton is being exposed to things that as a single mom in school I can’t afford, but things I want him to have,” Cuspard said.
She appreciates time his teachers take to write her a note every day about what they did and how her son behaved. “It makes me feel like I know what is going on, like I am involved even when I am not always there,” she said.
Benton isn't the only Jeremiah kid benefiting from this daycare program. An independent study of Jeremiah children found that 95 percent pass their kindergarten readiness tests. It's an impressive accomplishment, considering that most research suggest only about 30-40 percent of low-income children enter school "kindergarten ready."
Hope for the future
Cuspard is just at the beginning of her time with Jeremiah Program. How her life will unfold remains to be seen, but the stories of women who finish the program show how life changing a bit of support can be.
Take, for example, Tiffany Meeks, a single mother who graduated from the Jeremiah Program in 2000.
“Before I came to Jeremiah, I was unstable, irresponsible, homeless and full of heartache and disappointment," Meeks told Perez. "But Jeremiah Program planted a seed of hope in me that I would be able to pursue my education and have a safe living environment for me and my daughter.”
After completing her bachelor's degree, Meeks took a job with the University of Minnesota Carson School of Management. As she worked her way up the ranks, she's been able to provide for herself and her teenage daughter, Natalie, in a way she never imagined possible.
But the ability to provide hasn't been the only good thing to come from Jeremiah Program. About six months ago Meeks sat in an auditorium, beaming with pride, as Natalie walked across the stage to receive her high school diploma. In one generation, her family's trajectory has completely changed.
"My daughter graduated from high school," Meeks said. "Her situation will be so different from mine."
While Perez is confident that her organization’s model for addressing poverty works, she acknowledges concerns about program costs. The average participant and her children are in the program for three years, Perez said. Providing housing, child care and support services for that time period isn’t cheap. Using funds collected from private donors, Jeremiah Programs spends around $25,000 per year, per family on services.
Perez maintains that the results Jeremiah Program gets prove it is a good investment. Research from the Wilder Institute found that every dollar invested in Jeremiah Program families returns $7 to society at large, both by reducing the family's dependence on public assistance and by increasing the economic prospects of both mother and child.
“By extending ladders of opportunity to single mothers and their families, we can make a dent in child poverty, educate and equip children for tomorrow’s workforce, and increase our economic competitiveness,” Perez said.