By: Matthew Davis
A single parent, Maria Sinchi, 26, didn’t know how much support the Church offers single mothers and children through various nonprofits.
“It’s really nice and empowering and just encouraging to us to know that these resources are available,” said Sinchi, a parishioner of St. Stephen in Minneapolis. “It’s really cool what these women are doing.”
Sinchi and more than 90 other people heard from five female panelists March 12 about how their nonprofits help mothers and children out of poverty. The forum, hosted by the Catholic Community Foundation, was the third event in its Giving Insights series exploring different ministries and organizations that Catholic philanthropy can impact.
“Every one of these women up on the panel, they help their clients every day gain a sense of confidence, a sense of worthiness and sense of value,” said Anne Cullen Miller, CCF president.
The event was held at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, from where Sinchi graduated four years ago. Sinchi said her parents supported her when she became a single mother at age 15, and she went on to complete a degree and work in corporate customer service.
The panelists’ respective nonprofits offer support to single mothers when support from family or friends doesn’t suffice. The organizations’ work ranges from supporting pregnant women to helping them obtain work and housing.
Attendees interacted with the panelists by answering poll questions via text. St. Catherine University President ReBecca Roloff, who moderated the panel, presented the answers to the questions.
“The numbers are quite stunning. One in seven children [are] born in this country into poverty,” Roloff said, citing Children International, a Kansas City-based humanitarian nonprofit. Another statistic showed that 54 percent of children of parents who don’t have a high school degree live in poverty, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, a New York-based research organization.
Those statistics don’t factor in the number of mothers having abortions annually, an issue panelist Nancy Utoft addresses in her work. The executive director of Abria Pregnancy Resources in St. Paul, Utoft and her staff work with mothers in unexpected pregnancies explore their options and help them during their pregnancies. The help doesn’t stop when the baby is born.
“When a woman chooses to parent her child, we surround her with the resources she needs to be the best mom she can be and be the best woman she can be,” Utoft said.
Panelists also included Julie Kelley of Haven Housing, Gloria Perez of the Jeremiah Program, Lucy Zanders of Theresa Living Center and Joan Demeules of St. Catherine University.
Haven Housing, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, offers shelter and long-term housing for women and children facing poverty. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet founded it as Ascension Place in 1981. The program became an independent nonprofit two years later and expanded to offer emergency shelter and permanent housing. Women often come to Haven Housing from emergency situations such as drug addiction or sex trafficking.
“Trauma awareness is now the most important aspect of the work that we do,” said Kelley, Haven Housing executive director. “We developed our trauma awareness program so that we can have the biggest and longest lasting effect on them.”
Theresa Living Center in St. Paul offers housing services to women and children transitioning from homelessness. An independent nonprofit originally founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1987, the center gives women and children a temporary place to stay while helping them find an affordable place to rent.
Zanders, the executive director of Theresa Living Center, works to see the clients move from case management to home ownership. She helps clients along that path in incremental steps.
“What I try to do is have them [the clients] establish goals that are really obtainable and would give them [a] sense of self-accomplishment for them and their families,” Zanders said.
The Jeremiah Program, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, helps mothers get an education, work, and housing to build a stable family. Michael O’Connell, a parishioner of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis and a former priest, founded the program in 1993.
“I think what we began with as an organization is really high expectations with supports,” said Perez, president and CEO of the Jeremiah Program.
St. Catherine’s Access and Success program, run by Demeules, the director, offers a bridge to help mothers pursue a college education with support systems and outreach, which includes assisting teen mothers.
“We don’t say, ‘Come to St. Kate’s,’” Demeules said. “The message that we give is, ‘You really need to get some training or education, and it’s really hard and yet, it’s really worth it.’”