H.O.P.E. is taking down the barriers and shattering the myths about what single parents can achieve.
Do you know the saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”? I take that phrase to mean that our children are greatly influenced by our own choices, personalities and situation in life. So, what does that mean for low-income families and single parents? Does it mean that those children are destined to remain stuck in that situation without any means of creating better opportunities? I sure hope not considering the increasing income disparity in the United States which would keep more and more parents and children stuck in an endless loop of poverty. So, how do we break that cycle? One tried and true method is education. As so wisely said by Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And yet, access to education isn’t as easy as it used to be, especially as a single parent. And I know as a divorce coach and single mom myself, there isn’t equal opportunity in this country.
According to The Single Mother Guide:
- Single mothers often spend over half of their income on housing expenses and a third on child care, leaving them with less money for educational expenses.
- Nationally the annual cost of center-based infant care averaged over 40% of the state median income for a single mother. About 32% for a school-age child.
- In Oregon, Massachusetts (my state) and New York, a single mother of an infant ages 0-3 would have to pay more than half of her income for day care at a center.
- Child care subsidy, if eligible, is hard to come by. In 2013, 19 states had wait lists or had frozen their intake for child care assistance, with wait times ranging from 90 days to two years.
Kenita Pierce-Lewis knows these statistics firsthand. She became pregnant during her sophomore year of college. Committed to her education, Kenita applied for financial assistance to help pay for child care and yet quickly discovered that it was only available to single parents enrolled in training or certificate programs – NOT college. Unlike so many single parents in her situation, Kenita remained in school, but had to live and raise her son in one of Atlanta’s worst neighborhoods. She was dedicated to providing a better life for her son, so she switched from pre-med to nursing and finally to healthcare administration, which would give her a faster path to upward mobility. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree and having a second child, Kenita worked her way up the ladder to become an Executive Director in Training of a hospice management company. After many long years of hardship and struggle and now with over a hundred employees to manage, Kenita had made it. Most single parents don’t. Only one-third of single parents ever complete college. Kenita didn’t rest on her laurels though. Based on her own experience and those of so many of her employees, Kenita came up with the idea that would become the non-profit organization H.O.P.E., Inc., which stands for “Helping Other People be Empowered”.
Without any previous knowledge or experience in creating a non-profit organization, Kenita created a holistic program that provides much-needed financial assistance for child care and housing, financial training, counseling and success coaching for single parents (both moms and dads). Focused on providing help around basic needs, Kenita designed H.O.P.E. to increase quality of life for single parents and their children while lowering overall poverty levels in the community. She expects H.O.P.E. to lower single parent college dropout statistic rates, increase educational opportunity and academic success for parents involved in the program and increase economic self-sufficiency for participants, while satisfying daily needs.
Requirements to qualify for the program include:
- Must be a single parent with one or more children living in the household
- Enrolled in a two- or four-year accredited college
- Maintain a B-level grade average or above
- Work part-time
- U.S. citizenship
H.O.P.E. was founded in 2009 and started accepting applications in 2011 with just 2 single parents. In four short years, there have been 23 program participants with 16 graduates and 7 single parents currently in the program. While H.O.P.E is designed to assist individuals, the overall vision is to help single parents and their families break the cycle of poverty and become hopeful, self-sufficient and increase their contribution to society.
And so far, H.O.P.E. graduates have done that and more. Katurra applied to H.O.P.E. at just 20 years old. She was in college and newly pregnant, without a supportive family or a car to help her find part-time work. As a H.O.P.E. participant, she received counseling and financial assistance to help her with rent and child care expenses, while she attended college and worked part-time. H.O.P.E. also helped her find an internship, which became a full-time management position once she graduated from college with her Bachelor’s degree. She is now in enrolled in a Master’s program, working full-time and owns her own car and home. She is also now a H.O.P.E. donor. H.O.P.E. has many success stories, such as Katurra’s, that proves their model is not only viable, but sustainable.
Currently, applicants find H.O.P.E. through internet searches and the organization’s partnerships with local colleges and universities. While H.O.P.E. has helped single parents outside of their home state of Georgia, it has only been through one-time emergency assistance. Kenita hopes to expand H.O.P.E. nationally since there aren’t any other programs like it in the United States. She would also like to expand their services to offer participants and their children safe, clean and affordable housing. Yet, the need consistently outweighs the financial support that H.O.P.E. receives through its current donor base. H.O.P.E. is currently looking for corporate sponsors to help fuel the accelerated expansion of the program on a national level.
H.O.P.E. shatters the myth that the poor are lazy, unmotivated and “takers” from the system. It shatters the myth that all single parents are on welfare, resigned to their fate in life. It shatters the myth that single parents don’t want more for themselves and their children. H.O.P.E. doesn’t hand out degrees or pay for tuition. It just provides single parents with the time and money to ensure basic necessities for themselves and their children in order to earn an education – an education that will open the doors of possibility that have always been closed. And by helping single parents, H.O.P.E. is helping children and entire communities see what can be achieved. H.O.P.E. is creating role models. H.O.P.E. is creating opportunities and upward mobility. H.O.P.E. is creating futures.
Christopher Dodd famously said, “Our nation's children are our greatest asset and our most precious treasure.” And I can’t help but agree. By helping single parents, we are helping the children that represent our country’s future. Please support H.O.P.E in its efforts to provide ALL of this country’s children with the futures they deserve. Please share H.O.P.E.’s story and consider contributing to the positive change it is making in the world.