A Community Effort Breaking Ground for Future Prosperity

Jeremiah Program Rochester-Southeast Minnesota Groundbreaking Ceremony

After five years of collaboration and fundraising, the community rallied to celebrate a future campus dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty for single moms and their children.

A burgeoning crowd enjoyed a sunny morning at the building site for Jeremiah’s seventh campus. The first campus began in Minneapolis in 1998 and expanded to five states with Rochester being its newest location.

During the program, speakers highlighted the importance of the project and the many hands involved in bringing it to fruition.

A spark of an idea

Paul Fleissner, Olmsted County Housing and Human Services deputy administrator, discovered Jeremiah Program when he heard President & CEO Gloria Perez speak at a conference in Washington D.C.

“There were very few sessions that I said ‘We need this in our community.’ Who would have thought I’d have to go to D.C. to find out about a program that was started only an hour away (in Minneapolis)? I was obsessed with this project for five years,” said Fleissner.

The Jeremiah Program groundbreaking is a highpoint for Fleissner that couldn’t have happened without many players. He pointed to community support needed and noted that Jeremiah Program doesn’t go to every community who asks. Before any commitment, a community must show strong collaborations and willingness to do the hard work not only to start the program but to support it for the long haul.

“Launching people out of our poverty system is not easy,” said Fleissner. “This program has trackable results. Kids and moms will reach their potential. Multi-generational programs work – they get results.”

It takes a village

Minnesota Housing Commissioner, Jennifer Ho understands the hard work behind a groundbreaking.

“Every supportive housing community is an act of faith because of the complexity of the deal,” she said. “Generosity of the community shows what happens when we come together for something good.”

One community group investing heavily into Jeremiah Program’s newest campus is Families First of Minnesota. Executive Director Jon Losness joked about how they got involved.

“If you know JoMarie (Jeremiah Program Rochester-Southeast MN executive director) then you know, what JoMarie wants JoMarie gets,” said Losness.

It took only one meeting for Families First to decide to get involved with the early childhood education portion of Jeremiah Program. Losness said it fit perfectly with what they are already doing with children and Headstart programming.

For JoMarie Morris’ part in the ceremony, she couldn’t say enough about the broad range of partnerships that made the groundbreaking possible. She pointed around the audience and reminded them of all they have done and will do to help two generations succeed and find prosperity and hope for the future.

Hear more from several media outlets who covered the groundbreaking ceremony.

Betsy Singer with KAAL TV did several interviews:

Deputy Admin Paul Fleissner

Mom in program

Commissioner Jennifer Ho

Sisters of St. Fransis

Post Bulletin

KIMT 3 News

FOX 47


Victoria’s Story: Worth Fighting For

Family, faith and determination: these three tenets have defined Victoria’s journey. A single mom to her son, Dominic, she describes Jeremiah as the catalyst for transforming her life.

“Looking back I never thought I could be where I am today,” Victoria said. “Jeremiah changed that. Everything that’s hard is worth fighting for. Before coming to Jeremiah, I was homeless, sleeping on floors, and taking buses in the rain with my baby. I fought my way here. I knew it was where I was supposed to be.”

Thriving at Jeremiah

During her two and a half years at Jeremiah, Dominic has thrived in the Early Childhood Education Center, moving from infant to toddler and now to the young preschool room. Victoria credits the center teachers for challenging Dominic and readying him for kindergarten and beyond.

Victoria’s family has always supported her, especially her grandmother and brother. Her brother spoke about Victoria at her recent graduation from Jeremiah, giving her credit for the hard work she has put in toward her Dental Office Support Certificate and the perseverance it takes to create a different life for her and Dominic.

Faith and family

Faith has carried Victoria through difficult times, helped create lasting bonds with other Jeremiah moms and even helps her co-parent with Dominic’s father and step-mother.

“It’s all for our son,” she said. “We want to be better as a family for Dominic.”

Victoria has many aspirations for the future, including going back to school, perhaps for her teaching license.

“My heart has always been with kids,” she says. “Doors are opening for me to work in a school.”

Victoria is strong, resilient and surrounded by an incredible support system of family, friends, Jeremiah staff and fellow residents. She has big goals, the foundation and tools to get her there and the hope and perseverance to carry her and Dominic forward.

Farewell Remarks for Gloria Perez

Message from Michael O’Connel, Jeremiah Program Founder

“Seek the well-being of the city to which I have sent you in exile. Pray for it to the Lord. For in seeking its well-being, you are seeking your own.”

This quote from the 29th chapter of the prophet Jeremiah marks the conception of an idea in the fall of 1991.

The idea that was conceived then, is now a national, if not an international, beacon of hope for lower-income, single-parent families. The idea had a long seven-year gestation, aided and guided by hundreds of eager and generous female and male “midwives”, “doulas”, until it was born on New Year’s Eve 1998 in Minneapolis

This child called “Jeremiah” was born to a mother named Gloria, who like her own mother, had to struggle to raise her own family, having lost her husband at an early age. But Gloria did it, with the help of a village, an ever-growing village of generous volunteers here locally in the Twin Cities and nationally; spreading to Fargo, North Dakota, Austin, Texas,  Boston, Massachusetts, New York and soon too Rochester, Minnesota—and destined to be in many other places in the US and beyond.

Gloria is a leader, I believe, chosen by God, a “b’shert”, a Yiddish word that means “meant to be.”

Gloria helped to rear this child with her undying belief that mothers always struggle to raise their children and never do it alone, but always with a village of relatives and friends. Some single mothers with very challenging circumstances must have special help to enable them and their children to have a future full of hope.

Gloria has always believed that these special mothers—whom we call sheros—and their children could succeed with the support of her equally struggling sisters—known as the “sisterhood”.

Gloria never saw herself as the indispensable leader. She always understood that she had to seek out many other people with their vision and talents to accomplish this job. Jeremiah was created, at times with great struggles, and sometimes with competing ideas, but that is characteristic of the birth and rearing of all children.

Gloria has always understood that life is radically relational—that all human enterprise is interdependent. Any human endeavor must recognize that the sharing of many gifts is a fundamental determinant of success

Gloria is a gifted listener. She gets it why God gave us two ears and one mouth. She wants to know what you think and how that can make the greater good happen.

Gloria, after 20 years, it is time to let your child go and trust that she and her children will succeed in the world. We have now come to that time of turning that child over to others who will understand they too must give back of the gifts they have been given.

Gloria, you have been the valiant, gifted, generous mother of Jeremiah.

We thank you for all that you have done to raise your child, along with the village, to bring more hope to more struggling mothers and their children! In the future, thousands of Jeremiah children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will thank you for your loving care and dedication.

We end with another quote from Jeremiah the Prophet, and a prayer of thanksgiving to God for you and a blessed hope for your future:

For I know well the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your well-being, plans to give you a future full of hope. Jeremiah 29:11.

Via con Dios-Go with God, Gloria.

Farewell from Jeremiah Program

Gloria Perez remarks from her party on June 26, 2109

What a wonderful evening! Thank you ALL for being here for this celebration and for being part of my Jeremiah Journey. I am honored by your presence and I hope you know that your partnership is at the heart of the successful results of the organization. Together, we have had the privilege to walk alongside countless women and children who are living into their potential. My heart is full!

I am humbled by the warm and supportive words you’ve all shared. Thank you Jenny Edstrom, of Little Box Social and Peter Germann, of Germann Consulting Group, for making the video possible!

Michael, John, Ashley, Ethelind and T. Mychael, thank you for all honoring me with your words and presence tonight.

I want to give a special thanks to the Governing Board of Directors and amazing friends (volunteers and staff) who planned this celebration. You sure know how to make a person feel appreciated! If you could all stand; I’d love for everyone to join me in thanking you. You picked a lovely venue for a party. Thank you Westminster and Tim Hart Anderson for making this possible.

It is a special honor to have my eldest sister Sylvia and my mother, Nora, here with us tonight along with my husband John, adult children and their spouses (Cece and Jose, Eli and Maddie, Liz and Jack and my grandchildren Oliver and Murphy (Rob & Leah could not be with us tonight). Their love and support, and that of my entire extended family, has been critical to my development, has led me to this work and the work I do in the community; they have fortified me over the years.

Reflections on my time at Jeremiah

Even though I am a Latina transplant from Texas, I think I could be considered one of the biggest fans of Minnesota. From the day that I arrived in Saint Paul, I have encountered so many people willing to help me be my best version of myself. Here in the Twin Cities, and especially among the Jeremiah enthusiasts across the country, I have found kindred spirits who believe, as I do, in the words of Paul Wellstone, “We all do better when we all do better.”

As I reflect on the last 21 years, my mind is filled with so many wonderful memories that fall under that banner- we all do better when we all do better.

In the early days, when we were a team of three staff, I used to interact with moms and children on a daily basis. And interspersed between holding a child or hearing about a mom’s day I worked alongside many of you as we strategized about how to inspire the community to join our effort; we’d even strategize about how to keep the women inspired as they parented, worked, attended school, attended Jeremiah trainings, and managed their complex lives. Through it all, I can honestly say that I have ended each day in awe and gratitude for all those interactions. I’ve been challenged, supported, inspired and delighted by what we’ve been able to accomplish together.

A few memories

· I remember Lori Baron approaching me about a clothing closet for the children in Minneapolis. We all know how quickly they outgrow outfits! People would say to me “What a great idea to have a children’s clothing closet!” It wasn’t my idea but I knew it was a good one.

· And when the board said we needed to create a signature fundraiser, Sue Hayes stepped forward with her network of friends, other supporters joined too and the rest is history. Karen Miley, Sue Hayes and I set an initial goal of $15,000 and the honorary chair, Kit Schmoker, said she would not help unless we increased our goal. We conservatively doubled the goal to $30K and we netted something like $80K. That was all you!!

· And I remember our first board chair, Doisey Landry, joining me at a Resident Council meeting where we talked with the women about the responsibility they had to each other and the organization for the safety of the community. Several years later, during the downturn in the economy, we were talking about budget cuts. The women suggested we reduce our operating costs by eliminating onsite security…. they certainly didn’t want us to eliminate a coaching position or increase the child: teacher ratios. They suggested we expand our hospitality services (filled by volunteers) and better leverage technology. That was all them!

· People will sometimes ask about how we expanded to Saint Paul. I’ll never forget that Fr. John Malone, Pastor Susan Peterson and Rev. Linda Loving cornered me at the grand opening of Phase II of the Minneapolis Campus. They told me Jeremiah was needed in Saint Paul and they would be willing to make that vision a reality. Through their leadership and other supporters, I was introduced to Terry Devitt, Norb Conzemius, Frank Sunberg, Susan Sands and so many other community leaders. The Saint Paul Campus is now 11 years old and I know it would not be a reality without that initial group of people activating their networks and sharing their expertise to get the building built.

It is a team effort

I won’t review how we made entree into every new community but I hope you see the theme of team effort- someone tapped someone, who tapped someone, who tapped someone.

A significant part of my joy and energy comes from mobilizing diverse people who share a similar conviction that all people are worthy and when given an opportunity to grow and develop, they will rise to the occasion. Deep inside you know that “we all do better when we all do better!” I love that about all of you!

Like any 21-year-old organization, Jeremiah Program has had its share of growing pains over the years. It is because of dedicated and talented staff and volunteers that we’ve been able to overcome our challenges and thrive. I’ve always said that Jeremiah is a team effort and if I were to call you each out by name we’d be here all night. My key message is that this work cannot be done by one individual and I have deep gratitude for the impact you have all had on Jeremiah Program’s work and on me.

I’ve always said that all we want for Jeremiah women and children is what we would want for ourselves. And to that end, a key opportunity of the program is mentorship, an opportunity to partner with an experienced and trusted advisor to help the women be their best selves.

Michael O’Connell (Read his remarks to Gloria here) has certainly been a mentor for me as have all the past board chairs (all 12 of them). I do want to specifically thank Karen Miley, Susan Sands, Patti Tototzintle, Sandy Vargas, Kim Vanderwall and Peter Germann for consistently investing their time and talent in me over the years- for sharing their wisdom, for listening to me, challenging me and for believing in me. And believe me when I say “Even though I try I am not always my best self!”

After 21 years at Jeremiah my relationships with you have multiplied and grown in ways I would not have imagined.

· I am heartened to know we have such capable and passionate executive directors, staff and trustees in each of our campus communities. YOU are the front-line champions that are making dreams possible for our families.

· I would not have imagined that I would now know, as adults, some of the preschoolers, from those early years, who are now in college and are forging their own paths in the world. What a gift to see them grow and develop!

· I only dreamt that Jeremiah would become a national example of a high-quality 2Gen program. It is a reality!

This journey of mine began in San Antonio, Texas, with my parents and two sisters. Upon reflection, growing up seemed to have more than its fair share of challenges but through it all, my mother’s strength, determination, faith and relentless belief in us is what has made it possible for me to stand before you today. Thank you, Mom, and thank you, Sylvia, for being sources of strength and inspiration. Your love and determination are your legacies for me.

Vision for the future

As I embark on this new phase of my life, I’ll bring with me life-long lessons in leadership, collaboration, humility and empathy; and, I will treasure the Jeremiah relationships that have given me so much joy over the years. I will miss our amazing Executive Leadership Team and the little office pranks, and planks (yes, a little daily exercise is conducted in the national office). I will miss the boisterous laughter of my office-mates and the visionary meetings with the board and consultants about which community we will next explore. I’ll miss the campus tours and the occasional conversation with a mom, a volunteer or a staff member.

But more importantly, I will have great comfort and pride in knowing that we all have a future full of hope. I know Jeremiah Program will prosper and I too will be better for having been on this journey with you.

In closing, I am privileged and overjoyed to pass the baton of CEO to new leadership, who, along with all of you, will nurture the Jeremiah vision and partner with families, foundations and municipalities from around the country to continue making Jeremiah a place for transformation.

Again, thank you for being here today and thank you to the board for establishing a fund (in my name) for Jeremiah Alumni. Our investment in them is an investment in the future because we all do better when we all do better.

Announcing New Jeremiah Program President and CEO

Chastity Lord takes the helm in mid-September.

Today, Jeremiah Program announced Chastity Lord as its next President and CEO. Lord is a dynamic leader who has dedicated her career to disrupting systems of inequity through a social justice lens. Currently Chief Operating Officer at Color Of Change, a national social justice organization, Lord brings a unique blend of practitioner and national leadership experience to her new role. Her official start is mid-September, and Lord has already begun working with the board transition committee to outline key strategic priorities. She will replace Gloria Perez, who has successfully led the organization for two decades.

“We are energized by this forward movement,” said John Potter, Jeremiah Program Governing Board Chair. “After nearly a year of sustained progress on our strategic plan and an engaged search effort, we are excited that Chastity Lord will join us bringing the experience and attributes of a transformational leader that we were seeking.”

Lord has extensive experience and success in nonprofit leadership, including her role as Regional Vice President at The Posse Foundation where she played a critical role in Posse doubling its national footprint and oversaw the program codification and fundraising of sites in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and DC.

The timing of this transition compliments Lord’s deep experience scaling organizations similar to Jeremiah Program, which began with a Minneapolis residential campus in 1998 and has expanded to seven sites in five states including nonresidential models.

As a leader in two-generation programming aimed at disrupting generational poverty for single mothers and their children, Jeremiah allows Lord to continue dedicating her career to disrupting systems of inequity through a social justice lens.

“Jeremiah resonated with me on a deeply personal level, as a first-generation college graduate who grew up poor with a single mom and a lot of housing instability,” said Lord. “Education was the lever that disrupted my own family’s cycle of generational poverty.”

“Because of its successful model, Jeremiah is in a unique position to frame a national conversation about the investments required to disrupt cycles of generational poverty, while simultaneously illuminating what systems and structures lead to it,” said Lord.

One immediate goal is to increase Jeremiah’s visibility and voice.

“One of my key priorities is to ensure that anyone who is committed to disrupting cycles of poverty and dismantling the systems and structures that lead to it, know the work of Jeremiah Program,” Lord said. “I want them to know who we are, what we are about, and about our twenty plus years of impact. We will have to broaden our tent of supporters and champions as Jeremiah Program seeks to demonstrate transformative impact at a larger scale.”