The Jeremiah Program
Author: Alyssa Nishek
Photographer: M. Schleif Photography
The Jeremiah Program began twenty-two years ago in Minneapolis, Minn., when a diverse array of community members became concerned with the increasing number of children born to single mothers living in poverty. Now, through a two-generational model, the Jeremiah Program has made it their mission to end the cycle of poverty for single mothers and their children. With seven facilities across the nation, including one in our home base of Fargo, N.D., the Jeremiah Program has been able to successfully reach over 4,000 mothers and children.
Statistics on the Jeremiah Program members:
The Jeremiah Program’s Fargo-Moorhead location boasts twenty apartments for use by single mothers, a Child Development Center, library, conference room, community room, and office space.
Qualifications of the members in the Jeremiah Program include:
The first step for any mother hoping to enter the Jeremiah Program is completion of a 10 week, now virtual, Empowerment course. This course provides an opportunity for mothers to discern what their next step is.
Lonnie Pederson, Executive Director at the Jeremiah Program’s Fargo-Moorhead location, spoke on the course saying, “Empowerment is a place to potently pause, self-reflect, remember the strengths within, discern and consider what’s next on the path forward, dream boldly about what’s next, and a place where community is forged. There is nothing more powerful than co-journeying with someone who is sharing your experience as a single mom.”
The Jeremiah Program has, ironically, found their outreach expanding in the wake of COVID-19. Shifting the required courses to virtual learning has allowed them to offer the classes to single mothers nationwide. In the current Empowerment course Fall cohort, there are 93 single mothers nationwide, 10 of which are members of the FM location. Pederson, serving as leader of the Jeremiah FM team for two years now, explained, “From the beginning they know they’re part of something larger, the Jeremiah sisterhood is really national in scope.”
Lonnie Pederson commented on the new organizational changes saying, “We can enrich our virtual online learning and curriculum so that moms who are at home raising their children as a single parent can access those materials.” The Jeremiah Program provides all mothers with the needed technology to participate.
Following the completion of the Empowerment course, mothers work closely with family coaches at the Jeremiah Program to get enrolled in collegiate programs of their choice. It is common for mothers at the same time to also move into the provided apartments on the Jeremiah Campus, but some choose to stay at their current place of living if it is suitable and safe. There are currently 14 families residing in the onsite apartments.
The onsite apartments come fully furnished for the incoming families. There are currently fourteen families living onsite.
Megan Thompson, the Admissions/Program Coordinator at the Jeremiah Program, works in close partnership with Cass County Public Health for referrals to the program. Thompson also meets with faculty and staff of the FM area colleges for referrals.
As the Family Services Team, Megan Thompson and Amy Klein, meet with each mom on a minimum bi-weekly basis. Klein serves as the Family Services Manager, coaching the moms living onsite. Thompson works with the incoming moms who are going through Empowerment. As family coaches they provide resources, community referrals, and lend a hand with coordinating all aspects of mothers’ lives. Coordination involves aspects such as navigating through financial aid, enrolling in classes, and employment searches.
Megan Thompson is currently working with a mother living on the West Coast, who is finishing up the required Empowerment course virtually. She will be moving to the Fargo location in December and beginning college courses in the Spring semester. This is just one example of how going virtual due to COVID-19 has expanded the program’s outreach!
Once in the program, mothers are required to attend the Life Skills courses which the Jeremiah Program offers throughout the academic year. Life Skills courses include topics such as parenting skills, healthy relationships, and healthy cooking. Local organizations have even gotten involved, for instance, last Fall US Bank offered a series of ten financial literacy sessions!
The Child Development Center (CDC)
Kristen Nelson, Child Development Center Director at the Jeremiah Program’s FM location, spoke on the intention of the center saying, “Before they’re in our program, a lot of the kids were living with family members or in programs that were unsafe or not quality. Our philosophy is that every kid regardless of circumstance should have access to a higher quality early childhood. That way everyone gets the same chance when they get to public school and at success.”
The CDC (Child Development Center) at the Jeremiah Program admits children ages 6 and under. It is open from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM on weekdays to provide childcare services while mothers are occupied with work or school. The CDC also welcomes children of other community members.
The goal of the CDC is kindergarten readiness. The fully equipped teaching staff use a creative curriculum, based on environment and routine. They believe children learn best through play and focus on social/emotional skill development. Nelson stated, “We have a lot of kids who have the kindergarten skills. They can count, tell shapes, numbers and letters, but if they don’t have the social/emotional skills it doesn’t matter what they know because they won’t be able to be in the classroom.”
During the age of virtual learning, the single mothers benefit greatly from the Child Development Center provided by the Jeremiah Program. The center provides them with the personal time they need to earn a college education at home. Breakfast, lunch, and a snack are prepared by an onsite cook at the CDC and provided for the children. The pricing for childcare services is based on income. Many mothers qualify for childcare assistance through Cass County.
Ashley Havig interviewed for the Jeremiah Program during the Summer of 2019. At the time, the twenty-nine-year-old mother of one was residing at a Christian Sober Living facility in Fargo. During which, Ashley’s five-year-old son, Ashton, was living with her mother in their hometown of Rolette, N.D., for the past two years.
Ashley was enrolled in Empowerment the following September and fully moved into the Jeremiah Program by December of 2019. Within a month of moving in, Ashley got her son back and the pair began their new journey. The Jeremiah Program set them up in their own onsite apartment while Ashley enrolled full time at M-State in Moorhead, Minn.
Ashley spoke on her initial experience saying, “I really enjoyed the Empowerment class. I’ve told tons of people here that I wish it were a year-long course; just to meet up with each other and vent and learn more about each other.”
Ashley continues to meet with a family coach at the Jeremiah Program on a bi-weekly basis and enjoys how the program holds her accountable. When asked about her favorite part of Jeremiah, Ashley told us it would have to be that it allows her to be among other single moms who are trying to reach the same goals. She enjoys the sense of community it provides.
“I’m just really glad I came to this program. I feel like if I went from the sober living to having my own apartment on my own, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today; especially with school, the parenting aspect, the friendships that I’ve made. I’ve done quite a bit of growth since I’ve been here,” said the soon-to-be college graduate.
Ashley currently works as a Behavior Tech at a recovery center in Dilworth. She will graduate from M-State this December and plans to further her education at MSUM with hopes of becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor.
At the end of our time together, Ashley smiled brightly saying, “If I look back 3-4 years ago, I would have never pictured myself being where I’m at today. I got my license back, I got a car, got my own apartment, I’m going to school, and I got my son back!”
Post Jeremiah Program
Mothers are given a 6-month period following their college graduation, so they have support during their transition into the community. However, we were told the first several graduates have been ready to spread their wings much sooner. As part of the mothers’ graduation, the Jeremiah Program teams up with Down Home to decorate and furnish their new apartments or homes. Jeremiah’s partnership with Down Home, a Fargo-Moorhead based non-profit, is one they are entirely grateful for.
Thinking of ways to give back this holiday season? Here’s how you can get involved?
Prior to COVID-19, the Jeremiah Program served as a wonderful place for volunteer efforts. Evening childcare services, meal/food donors, tutors, front desk volunteers and special event workers all played an important role in the Jeremiah Program’s outreach.
Area organizations, such as Microsoft, have been regular volunteers at the program in the past. Various local businesses, like Red River Dance, have taken the time to come in to do projects and events with children of the Jeremiah Program.
Although in person volunteering is not currently an option, there is still a need for Welcome Baskets and Diaper Bank donations!
Donations may include:
Donations can be simply dropped off at the facility. Contact Megan Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions on how you can lend a hand!
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