The Jeremiah Program, which has helped more than a thousand Minnesota mothers and their children lift themselves out of poverty, is taking its formula nationwide.
Thursday, the Minneapolis-based nonprofit will welcome its first clients in Austin, Texas, where it plans to build a campus in collaboration with local partners.
This fall, it hopes to buy a parcel of land in Fargo, where it has been working with community groups to build the Minnesota model.
It also is exploring a collaboration in Boston. That’s on top of a replica Jeremiah Program in Ohio that’s been up and running for years.
“It’s very gratifying, very exciting, to know that the mission is being embraced,” said Gloria Perez, the Jeremiah Program’s president. “The years 2013 and 2014 are a period in which Jeremiah is reaping the benefits of conversations started four and five years ago.”
The Jeremiah Program opened its doors near the Basilica of Saint Mary’s in 1998, when 18 families moved into its apartments. Over the years, it developed a model for combating intergenerational poverty that has won national recognition. The nonprofit has received calls for years from leaders in other cities, wanting to learn the magic formula.
That formula includes safe, affordable housing for the family; quality early education for the kids; “life skills” training and a career track college education for mom — all linked to businesses, volunteers and the broader community to support the families along the way.
A Wilder Foundation analysis of the model released this year showed that for every dollar invested in the program, there was a $4 return. Those savings took the form of less reliance on public assistance, increased taxes paid by the parents, and lower spending on special education and other services for their children.
Austin is first
On Thursday, four young women will move into new apartments in Austin. The Jeremiah Program has worked with the Texas community for several years, after a retired social worker with relatives in Minnesota contacted them to learn what it would take to get the program off the ground.
Since then, it opened up a local office, hired staff, and partnered with a Texas housing developer — the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation — to build four duplexes. The top floors of each will hold Jeremiah Program families, who will participate in nearly the same program as their counterparts in Minnesota.
Next year, the Austin program will really take off, when construction starts on a Jeremiah campus building that will hold 35 two-bedroom apartments and an accredited child development center designed to serve up to 60 students.
Austin was a good fit, said Perez, because it had leaders who were ready to take on the challenge. That’s part of the winnowing process, of deciding which cities might be good replication sites.
Perez said she couldn’t attend Thursday’s ribbon-cutting. But she sent her mother and sister, who live in San Antonio, in her place. Joked Perez: “I’m personally well represented.”
Meanwhile in Fargo, where the project also now has staff, Perez said her nonprofit is currently negotiating for a location to build a campus.
In Boston, the Jeremiah Program had been contacted by Endicott College, which hopes to be a key partner in the mix.
The replication strategy has been the same in all locations. First, there are initial conversations, gauging the community’s interest and its ability to find leaders to run with it. Next is the “exploration” stage, deciding whether the community itself is a good fit.
“We want to make sure there are good-paying jobs and a strong postsecondary education system that the women can participate in,” Perez said. “There also has to be a demonstrated history of philanthropy and volunteerism. In the Twin Cities alone, we had more than 1,200 volunteers last year.”
Then comes the “predevelopment” stage, during which organizers evaluate whether the city has the financial and other resources to get it off the ground. That leads to fundraising, “the most difficult part,” said Perez.
The move outside Minnesota is part of a strategic plan by the Jeremiah Program, which also has a St. Paul location. Several years ago, it created a national board of directors to focus on helping other communities build the Minnesota model. Next year, the nonprofit will launch a fundraising campaign to support expansion plans, Perez said.
Through it all, the project will need to maintain a balance between running Minnesota programs and growing a national presence, said Perez, noting “It will be really important not to overextend ourselves, our leadership or our financial resources.”
“But the time seems right.”