Kristie & Rey

When former Richfield, Minn., resident Kristie Garcia, 22, discovered she and her son could have a better life, she didn’t give the eight-hour weekly round trip to Fargo a second thought. Garcia, one of the newest residents of Jeremiah Program Fargo-Moorhead, participated in a special 12-week Empowerment class designed for single mothers who are motivated to lift themselves from poverty.

“When I first started Empowerment, I was still going through a lot of emotions and anger about my son’s dad, who has not made an effort to be in Rey’s life,” Garcia said of her 14-month-old son. “The class helped me have the right mentality and gain support from other women who were dealing with similar challenges. The drive was not as important to me as beginning a new journey that would be better for my son and me.”

The Empowerment class is a first in a series of steps for single mothers enrolled in Jeremiah Program. Focused on two generations at a time, the comprehensive program prepares determined single mothers to excel in the workforce, readies their children to succeed in school, and reduces generational dependence on public assistance. The Fargo-Moorhead campus, which opened in January 2018, is the fifth Jeremiah Program location to develop.  Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn, the organization also has programs in St. Paul, Minn; Austin, Texas, and Boston, Mass., Rochester, Minn and Brownsville, NY.

The Fargo-Moorhead campus features 20 furnished apartments designed to support single mothers, who are required to work part-time or volunteer, attend college full time, and work toward a career-track education while participating Jeremiah Program’s weekly coaching and life skills classes. Community spaces also available to campus participants include a community/multipurpose room, library, interior gymnasium and outdoor playground. The ground floor features a licensed early Child Development Center that can serve up to 52 children ages six weeks until starting kindergarten.

Garcia, who learned about the program from another Jeremiah Program participant at the Minneapolis/St. Paul campus, applied at the Fargo-Moorhead campus because earning a bachelor’s degree for radiological sciences is far less expensive in North Dakota. She is working toward a career as a diagnostic sonographer and would like to specialize in obstetrics.

After completing the mandatory 12-week empowerment course, Garcia moved into a fully-furnished apartment at Jeremiah Program’s Fargo-Moorhead campus and found part-time work at the M-State bookstore while her son Rey attends the on-site child development center at the Fargo-Moorhead campus.

“I honestly don’t know where I would be without this program and the support of donors and agencies who helped build it,” Garcia said. “I feel like I have grown so much as a person already and I am so happy to be in a program that has put my son and me on a better path. I feel like I finally have a fresh start and a place to call home.”

Human Rights Commission Award

 

Jeremiah Human Resources Intern, Nadia Mohamed will be awarded the 2018 Human Rights Award from the City of St. Louis Park’s Human Rights Commission on Monday, March 18. According to the St. Louis Park city website, the Human Rights Award recognizes individuals, groups, organizations or businesses that have made an outstanding contribution toward increasing understanding and cooperation between people of different backgrounds in St. Louis Park.

“This is just the beginning for Nadia,” said Michelle Price, Jeremiah Human Resource Director. “She’s bold and brave and she wants to make her mark in the world and I am just so very happy she’s on our team.”

Nadia teaches diversity workshops at the Lennox Center in St. Louis Park as part of their Adult Enrichment Program. Also, Nadia hosts and facilitates events about the Muslim Religion for St. Louis Park residents. The diversity education work she has been doing in St. Louis Park came out of a need she was seeing in the community

Diversity education is Nadia’s passion and what brings her joy. She loves to talk about the things that make many folks uncomfortable — race and religion — and she earnestly works to build bridges of understanding.

Congratulations Nadia!

Governing Board Member Insights

Advancement Director Debra Wilken recently chatted with board member Sandy Santana. Sandy is the Executive Director of Children’s Rights, a New York nonprofit. Here is one of his insights on being involved with Jeremiah Program.

What inspires you about being involved with Jeremiah?

My background.  My parents were Dominican immigrants, we lived in poverty in Harlem.  My dad was always working 2-3 jobs, always trying to make ends meet.  Making the monthly rent payment was a struggle.  But we were a privileged family, because we had each other, and our family stayed intact.

I can’t imagine the challenges Jeremiah moms face, trying to make it for themselves and their families by themselves.  Jeremiah’s support of single women inspires me, as well as what is being done for the children.  Reach them early, and you change their life trajectory.  I love that you can change for the better the next generation, and the next.

I always knew that I wanted to give back.  I went to law school, then paid off school loans and helped my parents.  There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to pursue a public interest career.

 

Whitney Wright Exceeds Expectations

From Volunteer to Jeremiah Rockstar

Whitney Wright began her service to Jeremiah Program as a volunteer four years ago. She assisted with childcare and volunteer coordination for weekly empowerment classes as well as annual event planning and logistics. In 2017 she was hired as the Event & Volunteer Coordinator and recently moved to Events, Volunteer and Annual Fund Manager for Fargo-Moorhead.

During her time with Jeremiah, she has led the development of a signature fundraising event that exceeded expectations for giving and attendance two years in a row.

 

In addition, the program’s volunteer force has grown from 95 to more than 600 in less than two years. In her new role, Whitney will lead the management and implementation of the events and annual fund, including the strategies, tactics, and initiatives to reach annual fundraising goals.

Prior to joining Jeremiah Program, Whitney held office manager roles for Sandman Engineering and Sanford Health.

March Volunteer Spotlight

Meet Lydia and Mac Soldano

Our March Volunteer Spotlight is for a mother and daughter team, Lydia and Mac Soldano. They are rockstars in our Cook for Kids Program, providing meals for our Jeremiah families before empowerment and life skills classes as well as providing childcare during each class. This dynamic duo has also gone above and beyond to show some love to our amazing teachers in our Child Development Center, organizing breakfast tacos and treats for a Teacher Appreciation Day. Let’s hear more from Lydia and Mac:

How did you hear about Jeremiah Program?
Through our volunteer group, National Charity League, Inc.

How long have you been volunteering at Jeremiah Program?
About three years.

What do you love most about volunteering at Jeremiah Program? 
We enjoy seeing the kids during class time and having fun on the playground, but our biggest love is planning and preparing meals for the families in the program.  We always make enough for us to eat at home, so it’s like we are sharing a meal with Jeremiah.

Please share a favorite memory/funny story while volunteering. 
We were working in the classroom and there was a fire drill.  We loved how everyone worked together to get out of the building and how sweet it was for all the kids to get big hugs from their moms.

Please share a fun fact about you.
We have visited all 50 states and their capitals.

Thanks again Lydia and Mac. We love that you volunteer as a family to help our Jeremiah families. Y’all are truly wonderful!

Are you interested in volunteering with Jeremiah Program? Check out the opportunities and fill out an application. Thanks for considering lending a hand.

 

Embrace Your Story; Guide Your Future

By Gloria Perez, Jeremiah Program President and CEO

I wake up each day with a tremendous sense of gratitude. An attitude of gratitude is not something I’ve held my whole life, though I remember being coached to give thanks at the side of my bed when I was a little girl. My current gratitude practice is something that I’ve increasingly cultivated since I first came to Minnesota more than 35 years ago.

At the age of 18, I feared that if I stayed in San Antonio, steeped in an environment of an economically challenged neighborhood and a tight-knit family, I might never explore life possibilities. There were stories I believed about myself aside from the comfort in my identity as a Mexican-American Catholic girl from the Southside of San Antonio. There was more to who I could be in the world.

Tragic events and growth

When I was 4 years old, I was hit by a car. It was a traumatic experience for my family. My memories focus on two things: One, being very afraid before I went into surgery because they would not allow my mom to stay with me in the Emergency Room. Two, feeling very fortunate to be alive. I vividly remember people saying things like “She is so lucky to be alive!” or “God wasn’t ready to take her; she must have a very special purpose in life.” Regardless of what God intended, I believed the stories I was told.

At some level, even as a child, I believed my life had a purpose; I knew I was lucky to be alive and it influenced my view of myself.

When I was 10, my dad died of cancer. While my dad had been sick for a few years, his illness was not something that we talked about. But as you might imagine, my sisters and I sensed that something was wrong. Shortly before my dad died, he told me that things happen in life for reasons we cannot explain. He said it was not my place to question why things happen. He told me God has a plan. My job, he said, was to figure out my life’s purpose…God would take care of the rest.

Looking for direction

The subsequent five years were incredibly hard on our family and the harder things became the more I yearned to get away. My mother did her best to keep all of us on track but that is not what happened. Slowly but surely my sisters fell in with the wrong crowds and they ended up not continuing their education.

Being the youngest, my mom doubled-down to help me stay on track. She started attending night school and would take me with her to make sure I completed my homework. I loved being on a college campus and kept pondering “What was my life’s purpose?” It was that year of accompanying my mom to college that I decided I would go to college so that I could have a career in a helping profession.

Even though I started to feel like I might know my life’s purpose I was still focused on my shortcomings. Although I did fine academically, I was not on the starting team for basketball and I was not one of the cool kids. The story I told myself was that I was not smart, I was not athletic, and I was not cool.

I started to feel inadequate and insecure. The reality was irrelevant; what really mattered were the stories I told myself. Because I was not feeling good about myself, I started to make bad choices.

The summer before starting high school my mother gave me an incredible opportunity which turned my attitude around. I was a strong vocalist joined a co-ed music group at the local Catholic boy’s high school. At the end of the year the choir was going to tour Eastern Europe as part of a peace initiative through the school. My mom said if I was disciplined enough to maintain my grades, practice and earn money for the trip, she would let me go. So I applied myself in all areas and spent countless hours daydreaming about what life would be like after the trip.

My enthusiasm for what was possible started to overcome my insecurities. I started to create a new story about myself. I told myself that even though I was not good at sports or popular, I was cool in my own way because I was going to get to go to Europe with a group of high schoolers….and I was the youngest member of the group.

The trip was an amazing experience and it opened my eyes to a whole new world. While I thought I was poor compared to most of the kids at my school, when I saw the poverty in some of the villages in Romania and Bulgaria, I felt very fortunate to have my life. Not only did I have a loving family, but I also had running water, adequate housing and clothing, delicious Mexican food and I lived in a country that gave a voice to the people. The story I told myself was that I was very blessed. I was blessed to have a supportive mother, a good education and the opportunity to learn and grow.

While I was given these amazing opportunities, the other young people around me – my sisters, the neighbor kids, my cousins – were not experiencing the kind of success my parents, family, and teachers talked about.

The story I told myself is that there was something in my environment that obscured the hopes and dreams of people I admired. And from my vantage point, if they were feeling hopeless and resigned to an unfulfilled life, I too was at risk of losing hope. So I changed my environment to change my outcome.

The leap of faith

While I knew moving to Minnesota would be a culture shock, I told myself that I needed the physical distance from my home. I began attending the College of Saint Catherine in St. Paul. However, after leaving San Antonio, I sorely missed the Latino community.  It took me about a year to get connected into the Latino community in St. Paul. Before I knew it the elders and civic leaders were welcoming me, encouraging me to get involved and ultimately mentoring me.

Through volunteerism, academic pursuits and mentoring by community leaders, I learned: how to run a business, about community organizing, about the roots of systemic inequities and about how nonprofits work to improve the lives of people and communities.

Minnesota career

While I started my career as a small business owner, I kept volunteering and building my skills as a leader by joining boards in the community and being a member of civic groups. After getting married and having two children; and working more hours than I’d like to admit, my husband suggested that I consider a career change. I didn’t think anyone would consider me a viable candidate to run a nonprofit but I discovered that my business and civic experiences gave me transferable skills. In 1995 I was hired as the Executive Director of Casa de Esperanza, a domestic violence agency headquartered in St. Paul.

For me, it was a perfect fit because I had volunteered there over several years, beginning in college. Working with the women at Casa and being of service to families in crisis was an amazing growth opportunity and I loved the immersion in the Latino community.

In 1998 when I learned about the Jeremiah Program Executive Director position, I was awestruck by the ambitious mission and I felt a personal connection to the work. I loved that Jeremiah was focused on determined single mothers that want to go to college. If my mom had had support to go to college, after my dad died, she would have jumped at the opportunity to be mentored and supported.

Without a doubt, Jeremiah Program has been a place where I’ve learned some important leadership lessons. Jeremiah mothers come to Jeremiah with dreams and hopes. They believe they have a purpose. They push through their fear and extend their trust to Jeremiah staff and to an educational and work system that has not traditionally worked for them.

Jeremiah children are, by far, the most inspiring part of the work for me. When you meet a child, you can see their potential and inner beauty. I want to make sure all children have a solid foundation so they can be their best selves. I want all children to have stories about themselves that give them hope, strength, and resiliency.

What story do you tell yourself about your life’s purpose? While we cannot control what happens in the world around us, we can control our thoughts about ourselves and we can give meaning to the events around us.