ADVERTISEMENT

Nekey Oliver and her son Giovanni on the swings.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Nekey Oliver and her son Giovanni on the swings.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

For more information about the Jeremiah Program, see www.jeremiahprogram.org.

Single moms get a helping hand

  • Article by: JULIE PFITZINGER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • May 9, 2011 - 8:38 AM

Like most college juniors, Ashley DuBose is looking forward to what life has in store when she graduates from St. Catherine University next year with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. At some point, she'd like to fulfill her dream of becoming a middle-school math teacher, but recently the field of actuarial science has attracted her attention.

It is not only Du Bose's future on her mind, but also the future of her little girl, Camrynn, 18 months old. Shortly after her daughter's birth, Du Bose, 21, was accepted into the Jeremiah Program and the two now live in a two-bedroom apartment on its St. Paul campus.

While Du Bose is taking classes (she currently has a 16-credit course load and is maintaining a 3.8 GPA), Camrynn is enrolled in the on-site child development center at Jeremiah.

"My daughter gives me purpose each day," said Du Bose, who is also pursuing a singing career. "As her mom, I want to point her in the right direction and give her the love, guidance and positive influences she needs in her life."

The Jeremiah Program opened its Minneapolis site in 1998 and the St. Paul campus in 2007. All of the single mothers accepted into the nonprofit program must be enrolled in either two-year or four-year postsecondary education and on a career track; most also work part time. Their children must be under age 5 when they enter the program -- the average stay at Jeremiah is three years and most mothers are in their early to mid-20s.

All of the women are at or below the poverty line (they pay one-third of their monthly income for rental of their on-site apartments), and many come from unstable family backgrounds.

Empowerment for moms

Nekey Oliver's first two years as a mother to son Giovanni, now 4 years old, were often chaotic. When Oliver, 23, became pregnant during the first month of her first semester in college, she left school and worked overnight shifts at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. After Giovanni's birth, she re-enrolled in college, but they moved between the family home of the baby's father and the home of Oliver's father. Finding stable child care was a challenge.

After completing the 16-week "Empowerment" classes required for all Jeremiah participants, Oliver and her son moved onto the Minneapolis site last July.

Now a junior majoring in sociology at the University of Minnesota, Oliver is contemplating a career in marriage and family therapy, partly because of her experience with the Jeremiah Program.

"This is a very motivating and positive environment for me and my son," she said. "It means a lot to me to surround myself with positive people, and being here, I found I don't have to prove myself. You just get to do you. I can focus on school and on Giovanni."

Lessons for life

One component of the Jeremiah Program is a mandatory Life Skills course that meets twice a week. Classes focus on subjects such as financial planning, nutrition, co-parenting and stress management. (Both Du Bose and Oliver are co-parenting with the fathers of their children, when possible.)

"I've learned about different parenting styles and tools that I need to be a better mom," said Du Bose. "The topics are always interesting and relevant to our lives. I just feel like there is a great team of people here who want us to succeed."

Vickie Williams, executive director for the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, is involved in the admission process for every young mother accepted into the Jeremiah Program (there are currently 77 women between the two sites).

"When I hear their stories and then watch their journeys during the time they are here, it is almost like a miracle happens," said Williams. "Resilience is real and it is powerful on so many levels.

"These young women become so optimistic for their futures because they feel like they are part of something much bigger than themselves."

  • Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.
  • Have an idea for the Your Family page? E-mail us at tellus@startribune.com with "Your Family" in the subject line.

© 2014 Star Tribune