Jeremiah Program is Doubling Our Investment in the Twin Cities

Jeremiah Program Doubles Down on Its Commitment to Racial and Social Justice for Families in Minneapolis and St. Paul

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Media contact: Ilaria Lampson, ilaria@rosengrouppr.com, 917-863-7949

ST. PAUL, MN (May 24, 2021)—Jeremiah Program (JP), a national nonprofit with one of the most successful strategies for disrupting generational poverty among single mothers and their children, has committed to expanding its Twin Cities programs in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last May. The organization’s reimagined investment in both Minneapolis and St. Paul will serve over 50% more families, and allow each campus to make its most significant impact since Jeremiah Program’s establishment in Minnesota 21 years ago. Jeremiah Program began in Minneapolis in 1998 and expanded to St. Paul in 2007 to form a dual-campus model.

“This week will mark the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis,” said Chastity Lord, President and CEO, Jeremiah Program. “We have done much deep reflection as an organization, resulting in a commitment to providing community-centered programming through a social justice lens. This includes doubling our investment in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, in order to better meet the unique needs of families in our communities.”

In support of this effort, Jeremiah Program will name two Executive Directors to its Twin Cities operations: Patty Healy Janssen as the Director of the Minneapolis campus, and new-hire, Karla Benson Rutten, as Director of the St. Paul campus, beginning May 24.

“We are thrilled to have two incredibly strong leaders at the helm of our Twin Cities programs during this critical time,” said Trenda Boyum-Breen, Chair of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Community board of trustees. “Patty’s deep historical knowledge of Jeremiah Program and Karla’s equity-driven leadership will center our moms as solution architects, while also engaging the surrounding community in greater support of our mission.”

Healy Janssen has served at Jeremiah Program for seven years, starting as its Director of Development. Prior to that she worked at Visitation School for almost two-decades, working in admissions, marketing and enrollment capacities. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from College of St. Thomas and a Master’s of Business Administration from University of St. Thomas.

Benson Rutten has over 20 years of experience in nonprofit organizations, higher education, and DEI strategic organizational change. She joins Jeremiah Program after serving for almost three years as the Vice President of Community Engagement at Girl Scouts River Valleys, where she fostered relationships between communities of color and community-based organizations throughout Minnesota, and created new and innovative pathways to Girl Scouting for girls of color. Benson Rutten also previously worked at Macalester College as the founding director of Macalester's Lealtad-Suzuki center and as the Title IX Coordinator & Director of Equity. She holds a Master’s in Counseling and Personnel Services at the University of Maryland, College Park and a Bachelor’s in Psychology at Iowa State University.

The organization will maintain one community board of trustees for the Twin Cities campuses, and will continue to operate a unified fundraising model to leverage funding opportunities that are laser-focused on the revitalization of both cities. While the two campuses will maintain strong ties with one another, the increased commitment to each city will enhance professional development service offerings, deepen relationships with local leaders, strengthen programmatic quality and impact, and expand Jeremiah Program’s reach to over 50% more mothers and children.

About Jeremiah Program:

Jeremiah Program is a nonprofit organization that offers one of the nation’s most successful strategies to help families disrupt the cycle of poverty two generations at a time. Using a combination of quality early childhood education, childcare, a safe and affordable place to live, and empowerment and life skills training for single mothers attending college, the program has impacted the lives of more than 4,000+ single mothers and their children since it was founded 20 years ago. The organization currently serves over 600 single mothers and their young children at seven campuses across the country in Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Brooklyn, NY; Fargo, ND-Moorhead, MN; Minneapolis, MN; Rochester, MN; and St. Paul, MN.

Grilling Pizza for Good Virtual Event


Date: July 16th

Time: 5:30pm

What: Ticket price $125 with two ticket options:

  • Pizza delivery ticket: Select this ticket to receive two par-baked Pizzeria Lola pizzas delivered to your home as well as exclusive access to Chef Ann Kim's pizza grilling tutorial on July 16 at 5:30. *Please note: your delivery address must be within a 20 mile radius of Pizzeria Lola (5557 Xerxes Ave S, Minneapolis, MN). Pizzas will be delivered the afternoon of July 16, so plan to be home and put your pizzas in the refrigerator right away!
  • Gift card ticket: Select this ticket to receive a $35 Pizzeria Lola e-giftcard to use anytime as well as exclusive access to Chef Ann Kim's pizza grilling tutorial on July 16 at 5:30. Please select this ticket if you have any dietary restrictions, such as gluten free. We are unable to accommodate changes to pizzas with the delivery ticket. This is also a great option if you live outside of the below delivery area.
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Presenting Sponsor (Dough Level)
Supporting Sponsors (Toppings level)
$1,000 Supporters

Margie Mathison Hance

Richard Sherry

Heather and Jeff Larson

Matt and Bridget Remfert

Leslie and Steve Curry

Dennis Cossalter

Margie Bodas

Questions? Contact Lianna Cotant at LCotant@jeremiahprogram.org or 608-212-8186

Jeremiah Moms Achieve Their Dream and Graduate College

Jeremiah Moms Achieve Their Dream and Graduate College

Despite the Pandemic, 20 Jeremiah Program Mothers Complete Degrees this Spring

Adrienne van der Valk

There are few areas of life that haven’t been affected by COVID-19. For the women of Jeremiah Program (JP), the pandemic has turned everything upside down. With daycare centers closed, layoffs at an all-time high, and schools going remote, the mothers and staff of JP have had to restructure their lives, working together to remain safe while still moving their goals forward.

“I was in the middle of empowerment when COVID-19 hit. The classes really, really helped me improve my positivity and taught me to focus on things that I could change and then make the best out of what I couldn't change.” – Shannen Nicholas

For 20 JP mothers, one of those goals for spring 2020 was persevering to graduate from their higher education programs. And, despite the many challenges the pandemic put in their pathways, that’s exactly what they did.

“There's always going to be barriers, but I always maintained optimism,” says Jazmin Amos of JP’s St. Paul campus, who recently graduated from St. Mary’s University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. “I'm an optimist at heart, so knowing that I'm going to make it through, that's all I needed to know to just get me to where I needed to go as far as graduation.”

Jeremiah Moms Achieve Their Dream and Graduate College

Higher education has been a core pillar since Jeremiah Program’s founding in 1998. All JP moms enroll in a post-secondary program; the emphasis on career-track education is one of the things that motivates many women to join Jeremiah Program—and with good reason. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “College credentials are associated with a host of positive outcomes, including increased earnings, higher rates of employment, improved health, increased civic engagement, and improved outcomes among the children of college graduates.”

As an organization committed to disrupting the cycle of poverty two generations at a time, Jeremiah Program knows that improving outcomes for single mothers improves outcomes for kids—and not just financially. As Jazmin commented about her life as a busy student and mom, “My daughter sees I’m a very proactive individual. She sees that motivation in me and she's channeling that in herself as well.”

Managing the Present, Focusing on the Future

Shannen Nicholas, who lives on the Austin campus, is another spring graduate. Mother to a one-year-old son and expecting a second child later this year, Shannen enrolled in a nursing program to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a labor and delivery nurse. She loved going to school but, before finding JP, found it difficult to meet her family’s financial needs while keeping up with the program.

“My apartment was going up in rent, and I didn't know how I was going afford it and finish school taking care of [my son] primarily on my own,” Shannen says about why she joined Jeremiah. “It was meant to be because I moved here in February, and then mid-March is whenever [COVID-19] hit Austin. If I would have been on my own, still, at my old apartment, there was no way I would have been able to afford that rent. With childcare here on site, from February to March, I was able to continue going to school on campus.”

Boston Graduation4[3]

In March, life became more complicated for all JP moms when childcare centers shut down. For the women who were in the final phases of their degree programs, the stakes felt especially high. Deila Barros, who is part of JP’s Boston campus, completed her degree in business management this spring. Going to school as a single mother had always been a challenge, she says, but this semester tested her as a mother and a student.

“My daughter is going to Boston Public School, so I had to help her [when school went online]. I had a bunch of my homework, and then I also had the little ones asking for things. It became overwhelm, fear, stress,” she recalls. “I still worked. I had to figure out a lot of things.”

Shannen, too, found herself parenting alone full-time during the toughest months of her academic career.

“We did have to switch to online school, so it was pretty hard having my son at home because of the daycare being closed,” she says. “Doing nursing school online, and then trying to finish up with exams and everything like that—it was really, really hard.”

Working With Jeremiah to Get to the Finish Line

Despite the loss of daycare and other face-to-face services, the mothers who participated in this story pointed to many forms of virtual support they received from Jeremiah Program as part of their successes. JP moved their coaching and empowerment programs online, as well as providing early childhood resources for moms who were quickly transitioning themselves and their children to learning at home. Staff also checked in with mothers frequently to assess their basic needs as well as their mental health.

“In the beginning, I was panicking,” says Deila. “I am thankful for Jeremiah because [my coach] helped me. We were able to create a schedule for the kids. Coaching supported me, motivated me. [It was] a resource for my kids, a resource for many other things. It was really helpful.”

Jazmin, too, found herself relying on her coach in the final months of her accounting program.

“My coach, Sierra, was great. Anything that I needed that I talked about, she provided a resource—and I mean anything,” she says. “Just knowing that I have someone to turn to, to talk to, that is going to pull out resources for me and try to accommodate and make my life a little easier was what helped me through this final term.”

All three women also spoke about how they drew on their experience with Empowerment and Life Skills to maintain their focus on their hard-earned diplomas.

“Good planning is what helped me maintain and stay on track for graduation,” says Jazmin, who also began classes for her master’s program while she was still completing bachelor’s degree. “I always made sure that I set goals and I thoroughly mapped out the goal. It's very disheartening to look at a goal in its whole entirety and completing it instead of breaking it down into different steps and taking it one day at a time. Steps help me say motivated and keep me ambitious. I know that I'm doing my part and I'm meeting my goals in a timely manner. It's very difficult to actually just get there without a goal.”

For Shannen, the empowerment course was exactly the boost she needed to stay committed to her program when times got tough.

“I was in the middle of empowerment when COVID-19 hit. The classes really, really helped me improve my positivity and taught me to focus on things that I could change and then make the best out of what I couldn't change,” she says. “It really kind of retrained my brain, in a way, to just apply it to not only school and parenting but just everyday life. It was like almost preparing us for all this craziness going on now.”

Although the graduating moms were not able to attend traditional ceremonies, Jeremiah Program made sure they felt celebrated. The campuses hosted powerful, personalized events that acknowledged the past, present, and future of each graduate and their children. Other mothers joined in, as well as community board members, volunteers, partners, friends, families, and former and current JP staff members.

“It was different because this year we had a virtual graduation [via Zoom],” Deila says of her experience with Boston’s graduation. “All the moms told their stories. It was awesome.”

“Jeremiah Program had a photographer come out and take pictures of us,” Shannen recalls about her Austin experience. “They got us like a cap and gown and everything, because we didn't have one for the community college here because there was no such ceremony. That was really sweet.”

Building on Success

Now that graduation is behind them, Shannen, Deila, and Jazmin are all looking to the future with optimism. All three have persevered in the face of academic challenges, health risks, parenting roadblocks, and prolonged uncertainty. Now, they are taking a breath to reflect on their accomplishments and making the next steps toward the future they’ve created for themselves and their children.

For Jazmin, that means continuing her education. “With a master's degree and attaining a CPA, this will give me the chance to actually open up a side business, besides having just a career,” she explains. “I want to be able to do taxes for small corporations and LLC partnerships, things of that nature. Having a master's degree, getting a CPA, is definitely going to change my life and my daughter's life for the better.”

Shannen is also gearing up for the next phase of her plan. “I do see myself becoming a full-time registered nurse within the next few months after I get my license. I've got to pass an exam and then I'll officially be a nurse,” she says. “I'm hoping to get a job in labor and delivery or with pediatrics at the children's hospital here in Austin, get into my career, and be able to afford a place on my own.”

Although the last few months have been trying, Shannen, Deila, and Jazmin are confident that if they can achieve their graduation dreams during a pandemic, they can tackle anything that may lay ahead. To the moms still on their graduation journeys, Jazmin has this message.

“Stay focused. Don't be discouraged,” she advises. “You're going to have to make some very difficult decisions and they might hurt in some other areas of your life. You want to make sure that you're consistent with your education and you want to finish on a strong term. Stay motivated. Reach out for help if you need something. You're not alone.”

Jeremiah Moms Achieve Their Dream and Graduate College 2

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JP Introduces At-home Lessons for Infant to Pre-K

JP Introduces At-home Lessons for Infant to Pre-K

These creative new resources, covering core education areas are available to any parent, free of charge.

JP provides easily accessible lessons for at-home learning

Jeremiah Program team
June 15, 2020

Children’s brains grow and develop more quickly from birth to pre-K than at any other age. They’re absorbing vast amounts of information, exploring how the world around them works, and learning how they fit into that world. Every moment is a learning moment and an opportunity to build introductory skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.

That’s why it was so important for Jeremiah Program to maintain its quality child development program, along with the rest  of its programming, when the pandemic took hold, and schools and childcare centers were forced to close for the safety of the children. Face-to-face learning between the teachers and children was not possible, but the JP team was committed to continuing to provide the critical learning materials and education that serves as a means to disrupting the cycle of poverty – for mothers and children.

Led by Crystal Ward and Rebecca Putzer, the work to reimagine how the program could be modified and deployed virtually began immediately. By leveraging resources and expertise from all seven campuses across the US, a quality, distance learning program that will benefit all of the JP children, and, for the first time, benefit children and families outside the JP program, was created. With new weekly lesson packets using items that can be found in most homes, JP is providing important information, stimulating materials, and learn-while-having-fun activities and lessons for infant through preschool ages.

The virtual, age-appropriate lessons cover the core areas of Literacy, Foundational Math, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), and Handwriting for the children. The packets do not need to be used in any particular order so parents can easily pick and choose the lessons, both parent/child and independent study options.

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JP Kids to Attend Summer Camps

JP Kids to Attend Summer Camps

Exciting opportunity for JP kids to learn and play

Jeremiah Program team
June 15, 2020

These last few months, our communities have seen unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty, and no one has been more affected that our children. They’ve had to learn to ‘go to school’ at home, been cooped up, unable to play with friends, and even frightened in many cases.

Jeremiah Program is very carefully working through the un-sheltering process, committed to safety and to providing quality child development centers and education to the JP kids. Responding to COVID-19 guidelines for social distancing, we’ve created a two-part plan that limits the number of the oldest and most active children on-site in the child development centers and provides an exciting and new option for our older children.

We’re very pleased to announce that – for the first time – we’ve arranged for JP kids attending our child development centers to attend summer camps at their local YMCA.  This is a wonderful opportunity for these children, ages three to six, to grow their experiences, build self-confidence and participate in activities including kids’ fitness, music, water safety, gardening and cooking.

Not only do these children get the opportunity to participate in stimulating and fun activities, but they’ll be able to do it with appropriate social distancing. The Y’s have large buildings and outdoor spaces that will allow the older and more energetic children to play and learn safely. While the older children are at camp, the younger ones and staff will have even more room at the JP child development centers.

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Propel Yoga

Date: July 21

Time: 6-7 pm

What: Propel, Jeremiah’s young professional group, is hosting a donation-based, one-hour yoga class. There is a suggested $10 donation that will support Jeremiah’s mission to end the cycle of poverty for single mothers, two generations at a time. Once you register, you’ll receive a link to the event!


Jeremiah Program Develops New Virtual Resources

The Future is Now

Jeremiah Program’s new virtual programming is more than a response to COVID-19. It’s an opportunity to provide services to more mothers and children, including those living in remote and rural areas. 


“We aren’t just treading water in this moment. We’re taking everything we’ve learned about disrupting generational poverty over the last two decades and making sure the structures we put in place equip us to support more moms and more kids quickly.” 

When Jeremiah Program president and CEO Chastity Lord wrote these words in an April 23 blog post, she wasn’t speaking rhetorically. Staff specializing in three different focus areas—child development, life-skills coaching, and virtual empowerment—have been laboring in the background for over a month, now, adapting Jeremiah Program’s signature community support and early childhood education pillars so they can continue to serve mothers and children during the pandemic and beyond. 

With Jeremiah Program staff now working from home, service providers from every campus have been meeting virtually via Zoom to design a new future—one that ensures the ability to serve more moms and kids in new communities. The programming they’re developing—and have now begun rolling out—is nimble, forward-thinking, and scalable. Scalability is important because, as Lord noted in her post, “More pockets of poverty are being created in our country than has been seen in our lifetimes.”

Implementing any kind of virtual programming relies on working devices and a stable internet connection; with this in mind, Jeremiah Program conducted a technology audit across all campuses, both residential and community-based. The audit specifically focused on having video capability so staff can see participants face-to-face—not just hear their voices. Through the support of local and national partners, JP has been able to quickly identify and fill technology gaps across all campuses, including purchasing laptops for every staff member and mother who needed one. Now, with stronger connectivity established, Jeremiah Program is taking the next step: implementing its new virtual programming initiatives.

Child Development 

Before the COVID pandemic, Jeremiah Program was already in the process of enhancing program coordination across all campus child development centers. Crystal Ward, an educational consultant who has been spearheading the implementation of this work, says the goal is to think of all Jeremiah Program early childhood centers as collaborative mini-school district. 

“We should be cascading efforts in such a way that allows increased capacity as well as increased collaboration,” Ward says. “And, so, taking all of the CDCs across the Jeremiah Program and thinking about ways in which we can share best practices and knowledge, as well as capacity, across all of our different sites to ensure all children are getting really top quality materials and guidance from their teachers.”

With the onset of the pandemic, collaborative work that was already underway both pivoted and accelerated. The child development staff quickly began writing, revising, and pushing out downloadable curriculum packets for all pre-K age groups. Mothers can use the activities in these packets to keep their children engaged in learning and key skill development using materials they can easily access at home. New activities will roll out every two weeks through the end of June, with feedback collected between batches to support a continuous improvement cycle. Teachers are checking in with students weekly via Zoom. 

“A lot of the day in early childhood is free play and social-emotional [learning],” says Rebecca Putzer, director of coordinated family services at the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. “We’re really trying to get our parents information and education around, ‘You don’t have to sit with your child for eight hours a day and do structured activities.’ That’s not what it’s about. And that’s not what it’s about in the classroom either. It’s bridging the home and classroom life. Luckily, at Jeremiah, we’ve been able to do that already. This is just a whole other layer.”

Jeremiah Program is also planning to post the lessons to the website so educators and parents outside the program can access the resources.

Life-Skills Coaching 

Because community is at the heart of Jeremiah Program, the inability to visit face-to-face posed a major service-delivery challenge for the virtual coaches. Several residence-based staff commented that they were used to seeing moms and kids every day. Many of their check-ins were informal; they had multiple opportunities each week to notice if someone was having a hard time or seemed particularly anxious about an issue in their lives. With this pattern so disrupted, a direct one-to-one translation of weekly in-person coaching to weekly online coaching was not going to adequately meet families’ needs, especially during a time of massive upheaval across multiple stressor areas.  

Coaches are now checking in with moms up to three times a week—sometimes more. At a minimum, each session addresses concerns related to employment status, school responsibilities (including looking ahead to registering for the fall), or any parenting challenges mothers may be facing (including identifying basic needs they are lacking, like diapers and formula). For all moms, especially those who have experienced domestic abuse, mental health issues, or chemical dependency, these touchpoints are an opportunity to connect and assess for any critical needs or safety issues. Depending on the need, a coaching session may involve talking through an unemployment application, troubleshooting how to respond to a child’s behavior issue, arranging to see a doctor for a medication adjustment, or any other conversation the circumstances call for. 

“I try to listen more and talk less in these meetings,” says Amy Klein, family services manager for Jeremiah Program’s Fargo, North Dakota, campus. “I try and make sure to at least hit those three areas [parenting, employment, and education] and then let them take the lead. Because, really, this is about them, and what their needs are, what they need from me, what they need from us as an organization.” 


Empowerment is a 16-week program that all Jeremiah participants must complete before officially joining the program. The curriculum focuses on breaking negative thought patterns, building self-esteem, and empowering women to trust their inherent capabilities to make good choices for themselves and their families. Because women enter and exit the program continually, and because the Empowerment experience builds on itself, transitioning to a virtual model poses some unique challenges. 

More than 60 moms were in the middle of their Empowerment when Jeremiah Program was forced to pause the program across all sites. By mid-May, classes will begin again via e-learning. Under normal circumstances, the Empowerment journey is designed to support mothers during their adjustment period when they are most vulnerable. Now, all mothers—regardless of their time in the program—are experiencing an adjustment period, one that may seriously test the skills they’ve developed in the program. For the admissions staff and Empowerment volunteers, this means building flexibility into the prompts and protocols they rely on during virtual Empowerment sessions. It also means exploring possibilities for sharing the Empowerment curriculum beyond Jeremiah Program so more women can benefit.

“[We have] really been focused on ensuring all moms have the technology they need for e-learning and moving the experience to a virtual platform,” says JoMarie Morris, executive director of Jeremiah Program’s Rochester campus. “Empowerment will look different, but we are excited for the opportunity to try some new program elements along with our core curriculum.” 

Virtual Childhood Development Resources 

Rebecca Putzer and Crystal Ward co-lead Jeremiah Program’s Child Development Center task force, which sprang into action over the past few weeks to create a set of distance learning modules mothers can use to teach their children at home with support from JP teachers. Before the pandemic, the task force was already reimagining what early childhood education could look like across all Jeremiah campuses, work that has now been accelerated and refocused on establishing a “new normal” that is both equitable and high-quality. 

Tell us about each of your roles at Jeremiah Program. 

Crystal: I have started working with Jeremiah for the last couple of months as an education consultant. I’ve spent my career in education as a middle school teacher, as an elementary school founder, and then—for the last six years or so—I’ve done leadership development and new school design. The work that I’m leading with the Child Development Center (CDC) task force and all of the managers and directors is thinking about how we take what has been really a regional approach (we focus on our children and the inner workings of what’s happening in St. Paul, for example) and, instead, looking at [Jeremiah Program] as a small school district. We should be cascading efforts—taking all of the CDCs across the Jeremiah program and thinking about ways in which we can share best practices and knowledge as well as capacity across all of our different sites to ensure all children are getting top-quality materials and guidance from their teachers. Even before COVID, the goal of my work with the task force was to think about creating this network of schools, but also thinking about the vision for 2020 and beyond of how Jeremiah is going to re-imagine early childhood to be world-class in the nation. 

Rebecca: I’ve been at Jeremiah for about 13 and a half years and in my current role for about six as the director of coordinated family services. In that role, I work with our coaching teams that are working one-on-one with the moms and also our Child Development Centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I float between the two campuses: I have a firsthand account of what’s happening with our moms in terms of goals and challenges and things that they’re working on, and then also with our teachers and our center managers. Essentially, my role is to help Crystal on the ground with our early childhood programming, as well as the collaboration across Jeremiah’s other components. As a holistic program, what we can do in partnership with our moms and children? How do we leverage all the talent and resources we have across all of our campuses for the betterment of all Jeremiah families?

How was the first round of virtual learning modules created? 

Crystal: It was really quick actually. Rebecca had a huge hand in polishing those off and making sure that they looked really clean for our families. We used that as our initial template that we’re now revising to give to teachers to then do planning over the course of the next 10 weeks or so so that kids have resources through the end of June.

In terms of planning, we asked, “What are we hearing from our moms? What is a good thing for us to provide to ensure that our kids have something and that they’re hearing from their teachers as well?”

We decided on two major things. One is that teachers are going to check in with their students weekly and hone that connection so that families can ask teachers any questions they might need to ask about some of the content. The second was that we wanted to provide developmentally appropriate materials to children from zero to five. We have different age bands with appropriate age-level activities: for our infants, there are sensory activities, and then for our oldest preschoolers, there’s writing.

For our first week, we honed the expertise of all of our managers and some of the teachers to come up with what would be good for kids to do each week. We also understood that this is a really tough time; families may use these resources, or they may feel like, “I’ve got this under control. We have a rhythm,” versus other moms who are on the spectrum of saying, “I need restructure, I need help.” We wanted to be able to hit a note across the board of where people are at and the needs they have.

Their interactions with school should be roughly 45 minutes. I’m just giving general guidance so that our teachers can take our initial plans and run with them. We’re doing a sprint over the next three to four weeks to have two months of plans completed. We’ll share them across all Jeremiah regions, including the nonresidential sites in Boston and New York City.

We’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback so far. We’re going to start learning how families are feeling about them here shortly. We’re releasing weekly, but we’re planning in, in two-week chunks. This week, two regions are planning for the next two weeks, so we’re not doing it on a week-by-week basis. We want to accelerate it so that we can get the plans out of the way and start utilizing our teachers and the visioning for what Jeremiah Program will be in the future.

Rebecca: It has been a sprint, as Crystal said. One guiding piece: We did use the Early Childhood Indicators of Progress, which helped us nail down and solidify our highest priority development areas for each age group. Our intention was to help build parent awareness surrounding all of the learning happening already with their children each and every day.  A lot of it is appropriate expectations for early childhood education because much of the day in early childhood classrooms includes free play and social-emotional [learning]. We are attempting to get our parents information and support to alleviate additional stress or unrealistic expectations. You don’t have to sit with your child for eight hours a day and do structured activities. That’s not what it’s about. And that’s not what early childhood education looks like in the classroom either. It’s just bridging the home and classroom life for children. Luckily, at Jeremiah, we’ve been doing that all along for our families, even pre-COVID, as part of our wrap-around services and two-generation model. This is just a whole other layer. 

Crystal: We’ve also been thoughtful about what families already have at the ready for kids, so the activities are stuff like fill the bathtub and throw toys in there, right? And like do things like that with our youngest kids. Because of the additional layer of support of having moms at residences, we know what resources they have. Like everybody has a tub, for example. Everybody can go downstairs and get materials from the CDC to do construction or cutting or mixing of different dyes and things like that. Except for the small population of community families, we’re able to ensure that they have the resources that they need.

What is the plan for incorporating feedback?

Crystal: We have a plan to send out a survey, but also ask our teachers, “How’s it going?” Each week, teachers are going to send a roll-up to their managers and directors of what’s happening with each child and the requests from moms. We understood that this has had to happen very quickly. As a designer, it’s counter to what I know is good practice: to not involve the end user in our design. We would have loved to have moms on the task force initially to help us design these things, but with COVID and the crisis and the pandemic, that additional ask of them was something that we were trying to tread lightly on. What we really want our moms to do is just tell us, “What do you need?” A lot of them are in survival mode, and so asking them to spend two hours a week helping us felt insensitive.

And so instead, what we plan to do is ask moms, “We’re going to start designing what the future of early childhood looks like. For those of you that have the capacity and are interested, we want you to join our design teams.” And if they can’t join, what we’re going to do is provide small touchpoints for them to be able to give feedback along the way so that it’s truly informed by our families and not just from the brains of people who aren’t living and breathing the experience of our moms and kids.

Are you exclusively sharing these modules with Jeremiah Program moms or are you releasing them to a wider audience?

Crystal: We’ve already started sharing them with people who are asking. A couple of my friends have young children, but their daycares are not providing anything, and I’ve shared the plans with them and they’re really excited about it. Initial feedback is really strong. I think it would be something for us to think about how we might even be able to put this on our website and have people come access the resources because, at this point, it’s really about everybody. Teachers are always open to share their resources, and as a community of practice, we really want to be open. I think that’s something that we could discuss. There could be a plan to share it in a more formalized way. 

How did you approach blending academics with social-emotional learning? 

Rebecca: Going forward, each week we’ll have a theme to help us not duplicate the same stuff and also keeps children engaged. But the social-emotional part is really challenging, and one attempt at helping is a parent guide that we are creating. It will hopefully help with support related to, “How do you talk to your children about what’s happening now?” This stuff isn’t necessarily written into early childhood education materials, but it’s situational and it’s happening now. Questions would also be happening if children were in classrooms as teachers are talking about current events and teaching children about the things that are happening around them. So, a lot of the social-emotional content is going to come through in the packet of materials as questions parents or caregivers could be asking their children, different things they could try to talk about in terms of topics. Mostly encouraging a dialogue with their children and being open to questions, talking through feelings, and acknowledging that this is a tough time for many people. 

Once we launch the teacher check-ins with children and families, that will hopefully also help. Relationships are a large part of learning. The hope is that teachers will eventually be able to do small group time so that classmates will be able to interact with each other virtually. We’re going to have to get creative in many ways because a lot of the social-emotional pieces and learning moments just happen naturally, in terms of initiating play and figuring out the world around you. Our parents and caregivers are going to take the lead in this area as they interact with their children, but our teachers will be there to help along the way as well.

I guess the short answer to that questions is that we don’t have one complete solution for social-emotional development at this time, other than we recognize that it is vital in early childhood education. We haven’t done virtual learning programming until now and are still a work in progress. I’m confident that we will get our families high quality, well-rounded programming.

Crystal: With the other task forces [have] real lines of sight into how to support moms in their own emotions and wellbeing so that they can then support kids. One of the things that I know the coaches have been talking about is just general supports for them. They’re communicating, cascading back communication to us about how we might help alleviate some of the tension points that moms are feeling. Even though this is a stark and strong move away from what normal probably feels like for a lot of our families, I think we do come from the vein of feeling as though families are not only just partners, but they’re their child’s number one teacher. The idea that our teachers are there as support to our families is indicative of the type of partnership that Jeremiah wants to have with families. It’s really about just knowing the kids individually. A lot of our teachers are super excited to be checking in with families and checking in with kids, but they’re also tailoring what these [modules] to specific children. When our teachers get ahold of them, I think we’re going to see a lot of innovations and really thoughtful additions to what they’re going to provide for kids.

How is Jeremiah Program making sure participants have the right technology to be able to participate in the virtual programs?

Crystal: Chastity’s been a real front-runner on this. She has talked about not seeing this pandemic and the situation we’re in as incremental shifts, but thinking about it as changing the game and how we literally operate and the things that we provide. So Chastity is not trying to look at the end of when shelter-in-place is lifted. She’s saying, “What does this mean for changing the scope of what we do altogether?” Because COVID is going to change what we do, how we interact, what’s acceptable. The normal that we knew is not going to be the normal we walk back into, and technology is a huge piece of that.

They’ve been able to secure 50 Lenovo laptops from Rasmussen College. What we did early on was send out a survey to all the teachers to ask what their technology needs are, including whether or not they had reliable WIFI, as well as access to some type of device that has a camera and a microphone and the ability to type so that they could plan. We have already distributed a number of laptops and are going to get to WIFI hotspots to our teachers. The next step in the process is for us to take the extra computers and distribute them to our families so that everybody—teacher, family, and staff—are connected 

Chastity had the foresight to say, “How do we get our hands on some technology early ?” and she was able to get a lot of those resources. We have an abundance right now because most people have it at home, luckily. But for the folks that didn’t, we were able to send that out to them very quickly. 

How do you see these modules and this modality being part of Jeremiah Program after the pandemic passes?

Crystal: I believe that where we’re headed is actually a more holistic, whole-child approach of what distance and virtual learning could look like. The resources are an immediate fix. It’s something that we can tangibly give to families, but I’m really excited about the promise of thinking about: If we can never go back to a CDC as we know it, what does this mean? What does this mean for how we interface as an organization with our families? The idea of getting into the headspace of: How might we think about the future of early childhood not being confined to the four walls of a child development center? How might we utilize technology to increase alignment and learning between families and our school? How might we see children and their individual interests as the guiding principles for the things that we use in our classrooms and amongst all of the JP regions? 

The work of innovation and the work of redesign requires us to leave behind a mindset that we already know. The exercise of having to think a new and thinking of something that hasn’t been done yet is going to take some time. It’s also going to take some inspiration for folks to feel that there is a new normal that we can design. And there’s a lot of benefit in doing so because we understand that schools are inequitable. They have been for hundreds of years. And if we have the opportunity to redesign, why not redesign with the idea that we have the opportunity to give our children the very best? It’s no longer about a geographical zip code. It’s no longer about a subset of teachers in that region. Everything that we can imagine we can actually make possible with the advent of this idea that we no longer have to operate school in the way that we’ve always known it.

Jo Marie on Covid-19

Interview with Jo Marie on

JoMarie Morris is the executive director of Jeremiah Program’s Rochester-Southeast Minnesota campus, Jeremiah Program’s newest campus; programming began 18 months ago, and the residential campus is scheduled to open its doors to 40 families at the end of summer 2020.

How did you come to learn about COVID-19, and when did you understand it was going to have such a major effect on Jeremiah Program?

I came to learn about it because I’m on the Community Services Advisory Committee for Olmsted County where Rochester is situated. One of the leaders on that committee is the Director of County Public Health, and pretty early on we received a short briefing about: This is out here. So, I had a little bit of groundwork, but there was nothing from that first discussion with our Director of Public Health here that would have led me to believe we would be where we are today. I don’t think that any of us knew or thought that we would be in the situation we are today.

What were some of your biggest concerns for Jeremiah Program families when things got really serious?

One of the primary concerns is trying to keep families stable until we can open up this campus so they have a safe place to live. We’re desperate, like many parts of the country, for safe, affordable housing; many of our families are in vulnerable housing situations. So, the first thing for me was: “Are we going to be able to still open the campus this summer? What can we do to make sure that our families are going to be safe until that happens?” 

Remarkably, it’s still pretty on schedule to open later this summer. It’ll be probably a few weeks later than we were [planning], but again, it’s a day-by-day situation.

We’ve had a little bit of an issue regarding getting supply materials for the campus. Warehouses are shut down across the country. So, we’re doing a lot of shifting and pivoting as we try to move things forward as quickly as we can. The project managers are honest with me that if someone on site is tested positive for COVID that the site will immediately be shut down. 

What were some of your biggest concerns for Jeremiah Program staff?

My staff has been amazing. They have risen to the occasion. They found ways to provide more support and guidance for our families, finding creative ways to do it and really working beyond their job descriptions to make sure our families are safe. I couldn’t be more proud to work with my team and the teams across the country. Everybody’s really come together to make that happen.

I very much worry about my staff. Most of them are working remotely, but again, they’re doing as much as they can to reach out to our families and making sure they are getting what they need as far as food and immediate resources for their children, support when they’ve lost their jobs.

Chastity and the teams together have created these task forces around resources for families [that] have been really crucial to keeping our families stable. We’re all working really, really hard and committed to our families, but also giving each other grace to take care of ourselves and our families, too, which is a hard thing to do.

How has your job specifically changed?

A lot of work with the [virtual programming] task force and more robust communication with my team, so that we can pivot and be even more fluid than we have been in the past. Just to make sure that everybody’s going to be safe—both that staff’s needs are taken care of and our families’. That has changed. I’m a little bit more focused on immediate needs and shorter blocks of planning. What do we immediately need to do, but how does that relate to how we continue to grow our program and move our organization forward at the same time? I’m really proud of how the leadership team has, in a time of crisis, taken the vision of the organization and launched initiatives that will make our organization much stronger in the future.

What are some examples of resilience you have witnessed, either in the families that you support or with your staff? 

Because we don’t have our campus open yet, we don’t have what’s called a Resident Council, but we have a Participant’s Council. So, all those women who’ve completed Empowerment, and been accepted into the program and getting ready to move onto the campus, they form a Participant Council where they establish their own leadership. They do their own elections. We teach them a summary of Robert’s Rules [of Engagement] and get them comfortable forming that organization and becoming a voice for themselves as a partner with us to move our programming—and what we’re doing with Jeremiah—forward.

We just started this last fall, and the women in our program already have really run with it. They have done amazing things as a Participant Council. When we had the situation with COVID and we weren’t going to be able to have Life Skills classes (we have this Participant Council scheduled in with our Life Skills classes), immediately they said, “No, we want to do it anyway, and we want to find a way to do it virtually because we want to make sure we’re able to support one another and continue to partner with JP staff as we’re getting ready to move on the campus.”

And, so, they did. Every single one of those participants found a way to engage virtually. Every single one of them was on the call and talked about how they could support one another, what their concerns were, how they could express their concerns to the staff, and work with us in growing the program. It was incredible for me to hear that. It was really early on, too; I would say that was in the first two weeks or so of us starting to do virtual coaching and engaging with our participants virtually. It just shows that whole empowerment piece: “We built a sisterhood. We’re going to support one another. We’re going to be a partner with Jeremiah staff in our programming and our goals.” I just loved that.

How do you think things will be different at Jeremiah Program after this pandemic?

I think it’s really going to provide an opportunity for our coaches to develop and align even more our protocols for virtual coaching and shared resources and best practices. And I really think that’s going to be a springboard, or a strong foundation, for growth, for serving our families with enhanced coaching platforms—different, various coaching platforms that are going to have more versatility and ultimately strengthen our coaching structure and philosophy. I also think it will improve our ability to be more fluid and have more robust program evaluation. I think there are a lot of opportunities we can glean from this time, as difficult and as stressful as it has been.

I’m a Minnesota farm girl who grew up in a rural area. The other opportunity that I see: I think this will lead us to more opportunity for serving more families, especially those families that are in rural areas and don’t have the access that some people are fortunate to have.

What do you want people to know about how this pandemic is affecting single mothers in poverty?

Our program participants are among the most vulnerable to start with; adding the pandemic on top of that makes them even more vulnerable to things like homelessness, domestic abuse, a multitude of other things. They’re already living on the edge and making it day by day. 

The other thing that I’ve learned in working with our program participants is the majority of them are very isolated. They just don’t have a lot of community and family support, and that is one of the key pillars for Jeremiah: providing that community and wrapping of them up in both the sisterhood and the support from the teams and the larger community. I’ve really seen that that’s made all the difference in the world for our families. We have to be vigilant in continuing to provide that community and doing it in different ways during this pandemic, so the women aren’t continuing in isolation and the significant mental health vulnerabilities that come with that. 

Karina Van Meekeren on Covid-19

Interview with Karina Van Meekeren on

Karina Van Meekeren is the family program development and admissions manager for Jeremiah Program’s Rochester campus in Southeast Minnesota. 

What were your biggest concerns for the families you work with when the pandemic first began?

The worry and fear for our families overall. Being able to connect with them and give them resources and offer support throughout the whole thing. What was it going to look like for so many different areas? When it first started, we didn’t know. People were freaking out over toilet paper. What was the diaper outlook going to be like? What was the formula outlet going to be like?

We don’t have a residential campus yet. It’s in the process of being built. And, so, one of the biggest things also was: Is our construction going to continue? Are the families going to be able to move in this summer? We have so much riding on that. For most of our families, the timeline is critical. We cover all of Southeast Minnesota, so we have 11 counties and we have families in five of those counties right now. It’s difficult because they’ve put in notice or they’ve let their landlord know that they’re planning on moving, and now that may be prolonged.

What were your biggest concerns for the staff you supervise?

Some of the staff were afraid about losing their jobs. We tried to reassure them from the beginning; I knew that we would have definitely enough work to go around, working with our families and ensuring that they were taken care of and meeting their needs. But that was a fear for sure. And I would say just figuring out the go-forward plan with so much uncertainty was difficult.

Now, we’re settled in and we know what we’re supposed to be doing and what it looks like. But how long is this going to last? It’s a lot of unknowns. 

How has your job specifically changed since the pandemic began?

In the beginning it felt like we were trying to make sure everybody was going to stay busy by working from home, not realizing the [work]load of keeping our families calm and trying to get them through this in a manner that didn’t seem chaotic. Truly, the family coaches and myself probably doubled our caseload because we have so many families that we’re touching base with two and three times a week instead of once a week. 

I am on multiple committees that are now meeting and trying to mitigate the go-forward plan. Last week I think I hit a wall and I really was frustrated. Now, this week is good again. I feel that’s just how it might be right now for everyone; like it or not, we’re on a roller coaster. And that’s ok, too. Whatever people are feeling through this—it’s all valid and it’s all ok.

I feel really tied to my computer every single minute of every day. I don’t have a good office chair at my house that I’m now sitting in for 10 hours a day. I just have my laptop; I don’t have my big monitor. I don’t have like a great setup. I’m hunched over and on the phone and on the computer all day every day. I’m not used to that. It’s just making those adjustments that you didn’t think of.

What kinds of support are your clients needing when you check in? What themes are you noticing?

For the moms who have lost their jobs or are temporarily laid off, it’s getting unemployment. It’s getting in the systems that are overloaded. That part is difficult. We’re doing some budget planning with them, like, “Okay, well this is one month for sure, but let’s plan for two months just in case. Where can your budget go down a little bit?” There are a lot of food supports in Southeast Minnesota, so that part hasn’t been as difficult. And we have a lot of businesses that are offering free food during the day, which is a huge, huge help. 

For the moms who are in recovery, community plays such a big part of their sobriety, so not having that is really difficult. Online meetings are definitely not the same as in-person or meeting with your sponsor. Mental health is a biggie—getting appointments with doctors because maybe they need a med change right now because their depression has skyrocketed or because their anxiety has gone up and they’re not sleeping well. No doctors want to give med changes virtually. They want to see you in person. Those availabilities are few and far between.

And then also navigating the kids being at home all day. The moms [are] now going to online learning if they’re enrolled in school. They’re not used to having kids around all day and trying to do their schoolwork or their homework. It’s madness. 

I’m either seeing families that we’re needing to connect with multiple times a week, or it’s completely the opposite and they have isolated themselves are finding it hard to get out of bed. So, we just focus on, “Let’s do one thing today. Let’s get that one thing done, and that’s going to be a success.” 

What examples of resilience or mutual support between the moms have you seen? 

We have 27 active families right now between our two Empowerment courses and our life skills participant group, and those have been wonderful. They also have a Messenger group with each other that we’re not involved in, and they’re incredibly supportive right now of each other through that.

We have several pregnant moms who are really worried about what the pandemic is going to look like. We had a mom who just gave birth this week, and that was so very different than what she’s experienced before with her other child. The support from each other through that has been really, really good. I think some of them are feeling a lot closer with each other than they did before. 

How is Jeremiah Program supporting moms in response to the crisis?

Jeremiah had a plan in place. There was good communication right from the get-go. They put together committees, although we didn’t wait for the committees to have action; we took action locally first. We sent out gift cards to our families and had interaction with them right away, just knowing that committees take time, even the best committees. But the committees have been really good at doing what needs to be done and meeting deadlines to get products to our families.

The Child Development Curriculum committee has done a phenomenal job putting together packets per age group that we can get for our families. It helps them with staying on task and keeping the children busy while the moms are able to do their schoolwork themselves. 

There is also a committee to [get] technology … in the hands of some of the families, because that’s an issue. We have some who don’t have technology capabilities, whether it be from bandwidth or internet or no phone service. So, we have a committee that’s been working on that too, and they’ve addressed some of the needs really quickly. 

What do you want people to understand about how the pandemic is affecting a single mothers in poverty?

Single moms in poverty—not always, but typically—don’t have another support system. We have moms who are struggling in dealing with difficult decisions right now: “I could continue at my job at the grocery store, which is really needed right now, but I’m the only person for my little one at home. And, so, if I get sick, then what?” Or “What if I end up in the hospital?  I don’t have anybody to take care of my child. So, do I not go to work? Or do I go to work and risk both of our health every single day?” There isn’t someone else.

Do you have any thoughts about how you think things will be different going forward after the pandemic? 

I think it will be a new normal; what that looks like, I don’t know yet. Our program has such a foundation in the community of it and the togetherness of it. Changing that could change different components of our program. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I know that we’re going to look at different ways of doing things, and that’s okay. These times in our life are changing times, and that’s a good thing. We can go on a different path and end up in a better place that we didn’t even know was possible.