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.
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.
Interview with Amy Fargo on
Amy Klein is the Family Services Manager and Jeremiah Program’s Fargo, North Dakota, campus, where she also serves as a family coach for the resident mothers.
When did you first realize the COIVD-19 pandemic was going to affect your life and the lives of Jeremiah Program families?
It was March 15th because that’s when our governor canceled school for the week. To be quite honest, I thought, “This isn’t going to last long. It’s going to be a week and we’ll be back and running, back in business.”
We had childcare open on the 16th and that was the last day that the child development center was open. Then, moms were wondering, “Are we opening up on the 23rd? What’s happening?” It became more serious when there was an email from Chastity that basically said, “We don’t want to open these child development centers too soon when this pandemic hasn’t really even hit some areas.”
It’s been surreal for everyone involved; I don’t think anybody ever thought something like this would happen in their lifetime. We work with 18 women in the program, and they’re also thinking that same thing: This is just completely surreal—and is this really happening?
What was your biggest concern for the families you work with when this first began?
Two of the greatest benefits we offer to these moms is safe, affordable housing and affordable, reliable, and outstanding childcare. I knew in my heart that if they weren’t able to pay their rent for the month, they weren’t going to get kicked out. We would figure out something. So, the housing piece wasn’t a concern. But they are still enrolled in college, now online. A lot of [the moms] are still working, and then we had to shut down our child development centers. Then, my concern went to, “Are they going to be able to continue working? Are they going to be able to continue school because their kids are going to be with them all the time?” Those were my two biggest concerns.
How has your job has changed since that time?
Where my office is, all moms used to go past me in the mornings when they drop off their kids and when they pick up their kids. I would see them all a lot. I feel I have some very good connections with the moms; I probably talked to some of them two to three times a day. I think that was the biggest shift for me: There are really no face-to-face meetings recommended at this point unless we’re six feet away. That was probably the biggest shift for the residents as well, not being able to pop in, talk to me, ask me a question, have me help them with something.
Are you doing coaching over the phone?
I’m having meetings over Zoom at this point. I was kind of worried about it, and the first few minutes are kind of awkward, but then you start talking and chatting and it’s fine. The biggest distraction for the mom’s is having their children right there. They are busy and want to see who is on the iPad or phone. Normally if they had to talk to me about something or if they needed help with something—with school or paperwork or anything like that—their kids would have been in childcare. Now, those kids are with those moms almost 100 percent of the time.
What kinds of supports have you noticed your clients needing?
The moms in our program are doing really well right now, all things considered. Most moms were able to get their taxes filed right before this happened, so financially they were doing okay. Even some who have lost their jobs are eligible for unemployment, so I’m helping them with that, if needed.
I keep asking them every time we get done [with] a meeting, “How are you doing on supplies? How are you doing on food? Is there anything that we can help you with?” Between their taxes and the stimulus money they have received, most are doing okay right now. If this goes two or three months more, that may not be the case.
If an individual has mental health issues, I think this is much harder for them than it is for those who are not experiencing any mental health issues right now. This pandemic and the quarantine is pretty tough on them: just being cooped up in their apartment, not feeling like they can leave, being scared to go out for fear of getting the virus, and having all of their normal turned upside down. Some individuals really rely on that stability and that routine, and everything just got flipped. The hardest thing is: Nobody has answers. Nobody knows when everything’s going back to normal. Nobody knows when daycare’s going to reopen. There are more unknowns than answers right now.
How is Jeremiah showing support for staff?
I have one word: valued. At a time when companies are forced to lay off employees because of these very uncertain and financially challenging times, Jeremiah Program leadership has stepped up and ensured that our jobs are secure.
Most people are working from home, which is a blessing. If you or somebody in your family has immune deficiency issues or whatever the case may be, to be able to have that option to be able to work from home is great appreciated.
They’re strategically thinking, “How can we make this work? We are asking you to work from home, but you still have to do your job.” So, that entails the virtual coaching, virtual Empowerment, and meetings. My direct supervisor is very understanding and very willing to listen, always has an open ear to concerns or questions.
What worries you most about the pandemic?
My biggest fear is one of our Jeremiah families, one of our moms, getting the virus. What if it ended up spreading through the building?
I’m kind of with everybody else: “How long is this going to go on? When can we get back to our new normal? What kind of impact is this going to have long-term on people?” There are just so many unknowns.
How do you see things being different in the future?
I think the way we interact as a society will change drastically. People may always have that fear of something like this happening again and will be mindful of what they are doing and how they are doing it. I feel that Jeremiah Program will have more programmatic pieces offered virtually, from coaching to Empowerment as well as life-skills classes. I personally think at the beginning this may be a little challenging because this will be something new, another change in the way we do things. One thing I worry about is that there won’t be those personal connections—or as strong of connections—going forward. However, people and views evolve and change every day and soon this may be the new normal. I do feel that we will be able to have a greater impact on more women in our communities by being able to offer classes virtually. It’s the right direction to go because who knows if this will ever happen again. If it does, we will be ready.
Interview with Victoria on
Jeremiah Program participant Victoria spoke to us from Boston, Massachusetts. Now working from home while also homeschooling her son, Victoria reflects on time management and other skills she’s relied on while she and 7-year-old Victor are sheltering in place.
When did you first realize that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to affect your life?
I was hearing about COVID-19 through work and my mom; she’s always watching the news. I was just watching—monitoring—how big it was getting, and I actually pulled my son out of school the same Friday they announced that, the following Monday, they were going to be closing the schools.
How has it affected your life? What is different now than two weeks ago?
Victor has a hard time transitioning from one place to another or one thing to another. I knew it was going to be a challenge for him to transition from having his structure at school and already being used to what morning-until-the-time-I-pick-him-up-from-school will look like. And I noticed that, through this, it wasn’t just him having this issue; I actually had it. I think I still am working on my issue with transitioning.
I prepped where I would work from home, and I created a structure for Victor to focus on while we’re not in school. I did all that, tested it out for two weeks, and I still find that we’re both struggling. My house is a pretty decent size, but I think that having the outside world be part of your everyday is important to us. It doesn’t matter how structured I made it or how fun I made it for him to be able to go to school at home; it’s not the same. There are pieces to it that not even a well-structured format can make better.
I’m trying to work on my anxiety and my depression, being home and all. And he has a train as a brain, so it’s continuously going and going. How do you slow that down for a child who has ADHD?
How have you addressed what’s going on with him, and how has he responded?
Before I pulled him out [of school], I had to have the conversation: “You’re not going to see your teachers. You’re not going to see your classmates for some time.” And he broke down. He was crying throughout the whole way home, and it didn’t matter whatever came out of my mouth to explain to him why we were doing this. It was so devastating. It was horrible.
But, right now, he works with his teachers. They do FaceTime twice a week for an hour, and then one day a week he gets to see his classmates through Google classroom; that just started last week. The structure was challenging because I’m Mommy. He’s probably like, “Why do I have to do all these things with Mommy if I’m so used to doing it at school?”
So, I think it is helping him, bringing in his teacher on this, and having her talk and encourage him to follow Mommy’s rules, follow the structure, kind of helped a lot actually. So, he’s doing a little better with it, especially the days that his teacher is going to talk to him or he’s going to see his classroom.
He’s still Victor. I can see it in him. He still asks, “What are we doing today? Where are we going today? Can we go out?” He’s still very hyper, running back and forth all over the house. It is sad to see, to have to tell him no, especially when it’ll be for the simplest things, like going outside and finding spring. It’s really challenging.
What skills do you find yourself relying on at this time to get you through?
Last week I decided that, besides Victor, I need a structure as well in terms of what personal things I can work on when I’m not working. I’m doing work from nine to four, and so I started listening to TED Talks—I downloaded the app on my phone—and I try to listen to that every morning when I wake up, while I’m getting ready to start work. I also am working on my lifelong goal planner a lot. I also added a book to read.
I have to kind of ease into getting into it because I’m a procrastinator. So, even if I have a list of things that need to be done, it’s hard to actually get into the motion of doing them. I did create two DIY projects during the time we were home, so that was a little fun.
How has Jeremiah program been here for you since the pandemic began?
I’ve talked to my coach. Me and my coach are still checking in over the phone. We decided to do it once a week versus twice a month, so that’s been really helpful. We check in, and she asks, “What’s new?” or “What are things that I’m doing to work on my wellbeing while we’re in this?” She gives me tips, like, “Try it this way if you see that that’s not working.” And, so, that’s been really helpful.
I’ve talked to a couple of the moms of the program. We’ll just talk over the phone and tell each other stories about what’s driving us crazy, what’s working, what’s not, all that good stuff.
I’m part of the Participant Council at Jeremiah Program. I’m one of the chairs, and we actually had a meeting set up, so I completely canceled it just because it’s really hard to work on agendas and topics … when we’re all going through this so differently. I am planning on checking in via email and just opening the floor to anyone that wants to share. And the [program] has been great in terms of sending out reminders and updates on the COVID-19, so that’s helpful.
We’re moving to a virtual platform in terms of coaching and stuff like that. They did cancel a lot of the non-mandatory part of the program just to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and our family.
Do you see the pandemic affecting your future plans at all?
When I first pulled my son out [of school], I was only planning on working from home for two weeks. Boston Public Schools announced that school’s going to be closed; as of right now, I think it’s [until] the first week of May. So, I’ve already canceled a lot of things. I had a professional development training I was going to go to in Minneapolis, so I canceled that. So, yeah, it’s changing. Whether that’s my future of next month or whatever the case is, it’s changing a lot, even the way I talk when I’m in meetings. When thinking about the near future, there’s no way to be so certain about it because I don’t know what’s happening or what’s gonna change. And that’s a scary feeling to feel that way—that something like this can affect everything.
I do, however, want to point out that, thank God, none of my family is sick. Me and my son are healthy in most parts. I try not to think that long into the future because it’ll make me more depressed. I take it day by day.
Is there any support that you’re not getting that you feel like you need?
No, I think that our community—and this is including Boston Public Schools, the mayor, other organizations like [the] Department of Public Health and the CDC—they’re all working together. I’m actually connected to like a newsletter from City of Boston where I get continuous alerts about the COVID-19. And I just feel like everything that’s happening right now, that the community is doing by banning certain businesses from opening, encouraging people to stay home—to practice social distancing and stuff like that—I think that we’re doing a really great job and staying alert and sharing resources.
There’s tons of people that, from the kindness of their heart, have offered support in any way, like to FaceTime and Victor and stuff like that while I’m trying to get some work done. So, I think that this actually has made the community get a little bit closer to each other and help each other out, which is an amazing thing to see.
Is there anything you can identify that you have learned through Jeremiah Program that has equipped you for this moment?
Time management is a big one. The last four years I’ve taken a lot of workshops on time management and how do you just get the work done. … I think listening to myself or just spending some quiet time understanding my feelings. I’ve found myself doing that a couple of times. That’s probably why I feel like I’m so calm right now is that I’m in tune with what I’m feeling and my anxiety, and I can tell when my depression is getting worse. Being able to practice being in your own skin during that feeling has helped.
Resilient & Determined—JP Responds
We’re in unprecedented times for our communities and our nation. While all of us are facing the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and trying to adjust to a new normal, I know that you remain concerned about the moms, children, and staff of Jeremiah Program that you have faithfully supported and encouraged.
Jeremiah Program will not let any of our families down.
No Jeremiah Program families will lose their secure housing and have to worry where they’ll sleep. And we’re ensuring that all of our properties are maintained and able to absorb the increased number of hours families are at home.
Our moms will have to continue their educations virtually for the time being, and they are at great risk of losing their hourly, low-wage jobs. We will make sure that they have access to the internet and necessary computer equipment to continue their classes, work remotely if possible, and look for new jobs if necessary.
In accordance with local school board decisions and federal guidance, we’ve closed our childhood development centers until we’re told it’s safe to reopen them. We’re exploring early childhood enrichment opportunities that can be provided remotely by our teachers and are committed to finding solutions for our families in this challenging time.
Our family coaching sessions are critical to the success and mental health of single mothers working their way out of poverty. We will continue those sessions virtually or by phone and ensure that every mom can take advantage of them. We are also actively exploring virtual options to reimagine and deliver our critical Empowerment and Life Skills programming to new and current moms.
We already know that our moms and children are determined and resilient. They’ve shown that by becoming a part of the Jeremiah Program. Our staff is determined and resilient too. We will have to be innovative and resourceful, but with your help, we will follow through on our commitments to our families who rely on the proven programmatic services we offer.
You can help by making a donation today to ensure that we have the resources to continue our vital work helping single moms disrupt the cycle of poverty. They need us now, more than ever. Thank you for all you’ve done to support the women, children, and staff of Jeremiah Program. I promise to keep you updated as we navigate this national crisis. Be safe and well.
President + CEO
PS: Volunteer-led activities are on hold and non-essential staff will be working from home. To continue to support our families, our buildings will be open and staffed by two essential employees Monday-Friday. Finally, we’ve launched a web page where we will post updates regarding our COVID-19 response.
Interview with Isabella on
Isabella talks about some of the political and economic dynamics that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed.
Isabella explains her hopes for how life will be different after the pandemic has ended.
Isabella, 23, is currently sheltering in place with her 18-month-old daughter at Jeremiah Program’s St. Paul campus. Although struggling with social isolation, Isabella remains focused on her future and her hopes for how the pandemic could positively influence humanity.
How are you doing, personally and emotionally, in the midst of the pandemic?
I feel like I’m holding up pretty well. I’m trying to see the bright side of this situation. The fact that, for the last three weeks, I’ve had uninterrupted time to spend with my daughter has been one of the upsides of this, and I actually am really appreciative for that. I do have some days where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m just sitting here in the house!” But I’m able to snap back from that pretty quickly.
When did you first hear about COVID-19, and when did you first realize that the pandemic was going to have an effect on your life?
I remember I was in class for anthropology; we were doing an assignment about current events and someone brought up coronavirus. That was the first time that I heard about it, and it seemed really distant at that point. When it really started feeling it was going to affect my life was about the time that I when on Spring Break, about three weeks ago.
I started socially isolating really early, just because I have a young daughter. I was more concerned about her at first, so I wasn’t really going out. I started taking it seriously right away and just trying to do my best to not contribute to the spread of things. It was scary. I mean, it took me two weeks to actually go outside for fresh air. Now, I’m trying to find the balance between staying safe and not shutting myself off from the world. That’s kind of been the struggle with me—finding that balance—and it feels different on different days sometimes.
It’s just hard to have the lack of social human interaction, adjusting to FaceTime calls. I have to fight the urge to just pick up my stuff and go have a board-game night with friends. It’s not just, “Stay inside the house.” It’s literally like, “No, stay away from other people as much as possible. Limit your contact, stay home as much as possible.” And then, of course, it’s the idea of, “How long is this going to go on for?” Personally, I think it’s at least a few more months. And so, I’m just preparing myself, having that mindset of “keep positive, move around when I have the chance.” I open my windows every day for a few hours, even if it’s chilly, because I need fresh air. Just adjusting, but also preparing myself for how this will affect life moving forward.
I really am trying to see the bright side of everything. It’s really interesting that there have been articles being published that are showing the environmental effects of this—that the planet is finally getting a chance to breathe because our traffic has gone down. As weird as it is to say, there are some good side effects to this, and I know it’ll pass. And then, after this, how will we reflect on that and do better for each other and for the environment?
Has the pandemic affected your employment?
I was just in school when this all happened. In a sense, it kinda did because a week before it really started getting serious is when I started looking for jobs again. So now going out in public and now not having the daycare–cause our daycare is closed–kind of has halted the job searching process. Honestly, I might have to hold off because, ultimately, my daughter is my main concern, and I would hate to do anything that put us in jeopardy because it is just us. I applied for cash assistance and some benefits; maybe we’ll get that and it’ll help in the meantime.
What skills you find yourself relying on at this time?
I’m digging into my bag of coping skills when it comes to the mental health stuff because of the lack of social interaction. I’m such an extrovert. I’m a talker. I just like to see how people are doing. I love to be around people. And, so, I’ve been reaching into my little bag of tricks. One, seeing the bright side of things. Two, when I am feeling lonely and shut off from the world, I try to reach out to friends on FaceTime. I just want to see how people are doing. And I’m trying to develop new skills, to make the most of this time. I got a whiteboard for my daughter that I stuck to the wall, and so having a little place where I can teach her homeschool—I did that. I got a book shipped to me from Amazon, just this huge thick book of really fun toddler activities that cover gross motor skills and fine motor skills and numbers and letters, So, just trying to fill the time, but in a productive way.
How have Jeremiah Program and other moms in the program been then there for you since the pandemic began?
I have one mom that I’ve connected with over the past few years here. We’ll check on each other. She doesn’t come over; we don’t do anything physically around each other, but we’ll message each other on Facebook and be like, “Hey, how are you holding up? How are you doing?” And that’s just really nice to have that genuine relationship with her.
Jeremiah has also been doing their best to be a support to the moms. There is still at least one staff member on campus during the week, so if we do have questions or have immediate needs, we can go to them. They actually just came up with an emergency needs form, and they’re trying to do their best to come up with donations, too, so that moms who need diapers or anything that is a necessity that they can’t get right now—because they’ve lost their job or are inside with children—they can fill out that form and see if it’s available to us.
We’re all just trying to figure it out. We’re all still getting used to this idea, this new normal, that’s going to be in place for a few months at least. I do think that Jeremiah is trying their best to come up with different solutions and different ways to be there for us.
Your daughter is pretty young. Does she understand what’s going on?
She will be 18 months on the eighth. The most that I can do is, walking down and through the elevator and stuff, I’m like, “Nope, don’t touch things!” And that’s kind of the extent of that conversation with her because she doesn’t understand.
My sister the other day made a remark like, “Isn’t it so crazy that she has no idea what’s happening right now?” This is history and she just doesn’t have the capacity to register this right now at her age. Actually, I’m thankful for that because that’s another worry that I don’t have: “How is her mental health?” She’s not going crazy. She’s not worried about that. She just wants to have a good time and she loves that Mommy is here with her all the time right now. If anything, this whole situation has strengthened our bond because I’ve literally had three weeks uninterrupted with her.
How do you think things will be different going forward after this is over?
I would hope that this is a wakeup call to people to just be there for each other. I think it’s really interesting what has been unearthed through this situation. The restaurants that are coming together to serve food for the homeless. And just in general, the politics right now of how working-class people are being treated, with grocery store workers even being called emergency workers right now.
Who gets to stay home? It’s all the people with all this money, and the people that the general world hasn’t appreciated are the ones that are keeping society afloat right now. So, in that regard, I hope that people can treat each other nicely and just be more appreciative of the things that they have, because—ultimately—it’s a privilege to stay at home. It’s a privilege to socially isolate yourself. Not everyone has the opportunity to be at home right now because they have to provide for their own families and for themselves. And, so, I just hope that the political climate around that changes once this passes. It shouldn’t take such a drastic thing to happen for people to come together and support each other.
This is one of the biggest things to happen in my lifetime. I think that this generation of people who are living through this and growing up through this, there might be some social aftermath. I have this analogy in my head, for example. The Baby Boomers and the people who went through the Cold War, they might have different fears than we do because of the environment that they grew up in. So maybe, for them, if they hear sirens, that’s a little triggering because it reminds them of this thing that they went through, versus maybe for us, growing up through this, maybe the way we interact with each other might change and people might be germaphobes in the future because of just what we’re going through now.
I think this whole event and all of this that’s happening right now is serving as a reminder to, “Hey, slow down. Take things slow. Really love each other.” And the way that we have been living maybe isn’t the best way to be living just in terms of the energy that we have for each other and kindness. And I think that in these dark times is when people really come together, and I just really hope that that continues after this all goes away. So, even though it’s scary and sad, and there’s going to be a lot of loss and all the losses that have happened, I think we can definitely come out of this much stronger, and hopefully everyone can see that and make good choices for the better moving forward.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and content.
Interview with Alyssa on
Alyssa talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic may influence norms in education and employment going forward.
Alyssa reflects on the fact that, as a single mother, she has already encountered many of the hardships brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alyssa is a mother of two who lives at Jeremiah Program’s Austin, Texas, campus. She spoke to us about the realities of navigating the limitations placed on her by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the situation reminds her of periods of instability she’s survived in the past.
How have the last few weeks been for you? How are you holding up?
We’re doing okay, as much as everybody else who is still healthy and just kind of stuck at home.
For me, personally, not a lot has changed, I guess. I’ve been experiencing a lot of these similar things as far as limitations on what you’re able to do without childcare or limited food resources or limited employment and money and things like that. That’s not a big new thing for me—to have to navigate unemployment or Medicaid or food stamps or getting to the grocery store without anybody to help you watch your kids. I think the only new challenge would be I’m trying not to take my kids to a grocery store.
But all the other things, even though it seems crazy, I feel actually capable of navigating it because it’s not something new to me, personally. I’m not feeling panicked because I know that I’ve been through something similar, if not worse in some circumstances. Thankfully, our threat of health right now is lower than some individuals’, though it is still there that we can catch the COVID when we’re out and about, and that would be terrible. Besides that particular issue, the rest of it—not being able to have childcare and not being able to go to work—those things I’m more familiar with.
When did you first hear about COVID-19, and when did you first realize that this pandemic was going affect your life?
I guess maybe in January. I listen to NPR news a lot when I’m driving, so I’ve been hearing about some things happening in China and the issues with the doctor who had been trying to alert the Chinese government about this. Even as things started to pick up as far as cases of illness and then deaths in China—because of things that constantly are occurring in our world, on our planet—a lot of times it’s easy to think, “Oh, that’s happening over here in this part of the world.” I just was listening to the news and things were happening, and I was like, “Okay, Italy…” And I just still thought, “There’s just a couple of cases of people who are traveling that are coming into the United States. This still isn’t going to be something that’s going to shut down everything,” you know?
I was at the grocery store on the Thursday before they declared everything is closed. I think they closed schools for spring break early, and for that week I already had a plan for Spring Break of the kids being home, me being out of work, and what that was going to look like for my schedule. So, even then, I didn’t even feel like I was impacted. It was just a regular Spring Break week. We don’t go out a lot or socialize out and about a lot, so it took a while for it to really feel like, okay, this is happening to everybody here right now.
What skills do you find yourself relying on at this time to get you through?
Definitely just inner peace and patience and knowing that things can get crazy but, fortunately, I have set up a nest to brace for things like—not quite like this, but for difficult circumstances. That’s why I’m here at Jeremiah Program, because I’ve encountered things like spotty employment, low income or gaps in income, or lack of childcare, or school closures and things like that.
I don’t have a lot of family support, which is why I’ve chosen to be at Jeremiah. So, Jeremiah has connected us with a lot of those resources. They still send us, “Here’s how you file for unemployment,” or “Here’s how you file for any health benefits or food benefits or resources with food banks and diapers,” and things like that in our community. Jeremiah has already set up that sort of communication with us so that we have access and are reminded where to look for these things. Having been with Jeremiah Program for a while now, too, I feel like I’m prepared in that sense of where to look for resources that I might be needing at this time.
What is going on with your job?
I was working for Austin Independent School District, the school system here. I was working at my daughter’s school, and then that closed, though. Now I don’t have a job. And it was just a temporary hourly position. I was a teacher aid; it was just by contract, so that’s ended now. They might not even go back to school at all for this semester, and that was the length of the contract. So, I’m unemployed now. Again. I had just gotten that job in February because it worked well with my daughter’s schedule. So, now she’s out of school and I’m out of the job. And then our childcare closed here, even at Jeremiah Program. So, my son is also at home.
How have you addressed this with the kids?
They don’t really seem phased at all. They just get to be at home all day with Mom, so that’s great. Other than that, I don’t want them to feel alarmed or upset or that there’s something serious going on outside. We talked about washing our hands and how to stay clean and sanitized when we’re going out, don’t put your hands on your face and put your hands in your mouth. You know, the regular stuff we try to work with kids on being clean and careful for their health. That’s kind of an ongoing conversation throughout any parent’s life with their child, especially toddlers. They love licking everything and touching everything when they’re out. So, that’s just been a regular conversation that was emphasized, I guess, and saying something like, “There’s a sickness, a really bad sickness going on right now, and we want everybody to stay safe and stay healthy, so we have to be extra careful to not spread our germs or to get any germs.” We’ve talked about what are germs and what’s the difference between a bacteria or virus? And watched a couple little online videos. There are these kid videos about the Amoeba Sisters, and they talk about viruses and bacteria and what does it do and how does it work. So, talking to them about it like that, I guess—like an educational reminder to be clean and stay healthy.
Is there anything else you would like to say about just how this time has affected you?
I do want to give another shout out to the Jeremiah Program for being there. They’ve provided snacks and toys and some household products, and some donors are trying to reach out to give gift cards and things like that. Even our childcare teachers have set up a YouTube account for the kiddos who miss their teacher; they can go on and hear her read a story or talk about their regular circle time and things like that. They’re definitely trying to help take care of us, even if it’s from a distance, and do provide phone [and] online coaching if we have a problem they feel that they can help troubleshoot.
How do you think things will be different going forward after this pandemic?
I just feel like it will never be exactly the same as it was before. There are some things that will inevitably change, like distance learning and distance jobs, working from home or doing education from home, whether it’s youth or college level; everybody is now adjusting.
I was already in a program that allowed me to do my college online. So, for me, I’d already made the adjustments for that kind of lifestyle, and I can work with that kind of learning. But that learning style isn’t for everybody. There might be a lot of people who had never tried it before that now have been forced to try it. Same thing with universities. Now that they’ve had to implement this program more widespread, they might maintain it better or be more open to the idea of people earning degrees at a distance or doing some sort of schooling at a distance from home. So, I feel like that is going to change.
And then also with employment, maybe because they’ve been forced to keep people home, that might make it easier in the future for people to work from home if they have a disability or something like that. If we were able to make it work during COVID, I don’t see why certain jobs wouldn’t be able to make it work in the future for people who really need it. I think that would be a positive takeaway for how the world might change after this.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and content.
Interviews with Victoria
Victoria talks about how being in Jeremiah Program has helped her evolve her relationship with her son.
Victoria reflects on how she has grown over her four years in Jeremiah Program.
Victoria is a 27-year-old student, community advocate, and mother to seven-year-old Victor. A four-year veteran of Jeremiah Program in Boston, Massachusetts, Victoria views herself as a living example of how extended social and academic support can transform the lives of women who, like her, have tremendous ambition but need additional structure to help turn their drive into action.
How did you become a part of the Jeremiah Program?
It was actually through my job. I work at Sociedad Latina, a youth development organization. I had a coach through my job because I was an alum of the program, and I worked with my coach looking for different higher education institutions that were flexible with their courses. I stumbled upon Endicott College and met with an advisor there who connected me to the Jeremiah Program.
Which aspect of the program do you feel has made the biggest difference for you? Why?
I think the aspect that made the biggest difference is the community feeling. When I first started, I was this single mom not knowing what I was getting myself into. My son was three years old, and I knew nothing of being a mom let alone a student. So, going into the Jeremiah Program, I was introduced to this community of other moms and staff. We built a “safe zone” where we can talk about our frustrations and our difficulties and our day-to-day journey as mothers. Being able to build that community where it is safe to be imperfect and struggling at times, I think that’s the most impactful part of my journey.
In your experience, what are some of the biggest challenges single mothers face?
The biggest challenge is the lack of self-esteem when it comes to advocacy. When I first started, I didn’t know that I knew what was best for my child. Through the program, the workshops, conversations with staff, and with the professionals we’ve come in contact with, I learned that no one knows what my child needs more than myself. And, so, Jeremiah Program and myself worked really hard in opening myself up and building my communication skills. That is something that I’ve [also] seen in other participants; single moms in the program have difficulties feeling comfortable enough to advocate for their children.
Talk about your coach. What kinds of things do you and your coach discuss?
My coach is a beautiful person. She’s very open-minded. She provides me with a safe space to express myself and check in, whether that’s about Victor’s school or work or my education. She gives me the space to say everything I need to get off my chest. My coach works with me in terms of setting goals to accomplish or to tackle any obstacles that come along the way, whether that’s at work, school, or as a parent, and helps ensure that I get back on track.
What are you studying in school? What are your long-term education and career goals?
Right now, I am working on a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. I’m actually graduating this May and will be continuing with a master’s program on social work. I want to work in a nonprofit or an organization that’s working with minorities and the community on a day-to-day [basis]. I know that my heart lies there.
What has been the biggest challenge for you since you’ve joined the program?
The biggest challenge for me was time management. Juggling parenting and work alone was too much at times, and then adding a program that required me to think about my future, setting goals, creating action plans, and holding me accountable for them just felt like a second job. Little did I know that what I was learning at Jeremiah Program was going to help being a college student, mother, and a full-time employee less stressful to manage.
What has been the biggest change for you since you’ve joined the program?
Another change would be that I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I know what I want for myself and for my family, and I am more comfortable going after it. The Jeremiah Program helped me tremendously with communication skills and being able to speak in front of people, whether that’s teachers, professionals, doctors. And they’ve also helped me understand that I’m not only a mom; I am many other things. I now understand that there’s more to me than what I do and that I should value myself first and love myself first to be able to give that to anyone else, including my child.
How has your perspective on parenting changed since you’ve been part of the program?
When I first started the program, my son was very hyper, always having temper tantrums, glued to my leg. I did not know how to handle his behavior issues at times. Being in the program for this long, I find myself less overwhelmed with him developing his personality. [It] has brought him to a better place where he can now express his frustrations, and we can hold back-and-forth conversations to work on our relationship.
Before, I didn’t know that was possible. I thought it was, “I’m the mother, he’s the child, and he has to do what I say.” I’ve always seen it that way, but I think that, through the program, I’ve developed a different type of relationship with him. He’s more than just my child; he’s my best friend. He is someone that looks up to me and vice versa. And we learn from each other.
What do you feel passionate about?
I am passionate about learning. I think that’s one reason I pursued higher education. I’m always open to learning new things, hearing other people’s perspectives, helping others, and sharing information and resources. That’s where my passion lies.
What do you think are the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty?
For starters, minimum wage and the cost of living don’t quite balance out in any way, shape, or form. I can only speak as a single parent, so I think reducing the restrictions on childcare and [offering] better childcare assistances would be beneficial. Having different organizations or communities that are helping each other out, providing the resources that one needs to be able to succeed is another possible help. There are so many ways that you can tackle it, but again: It’s all about sharing information, helping each other out, and tackling down obstacles together. It takes a village, basically.
What do you wish more people knew about what it’s like to raise children as a single mother?
It’s not impossible to raise a child as a single parent. However, there are obstacles that come along the way, but you have to face them head-on in order to move forward. I’m not drowning myself in depression or feeling like I can’t go on with my life. I think that my son or the situation that I found myself in seven years ago—being a single parent or raising my child on my own—kind of opened my eyes and made me grow up.
First of all, I want better for myself in order to provide a better life for him. He is my number one motivator to get up every single day, and go to school and work, and make sure he has everything he needs to be successful at school—and gain the skills that I need to be able to advocate for him and for myself and live comfortable lives.
People make it seem like single parenting is a burden or it’s something undoable. But the reality is that I’m doing it every single day, and so [are] all the single moms at Jeremiah Program. We share struggles and we share hiccups along the way, but we’re still getting up and we’re still doing what we have to do. If we can do it, anyone can do it. You just have to be motivated and you have to have that community of people surrounding you, motivating you, encouraging you, and helping you along the way.
Is there anything—about your story or about the program—that we haven’t talked about that you would like people to know?
The Jeremiah Program is not just a place where you take your kid or you learn what type of foods you should be feeding them or receiving hand me downs, et cetera. I’ve been in the Jeremiah Program for four years, and I have come a long way from when I first started to where I am now. If every mom—whether they’re single moms or not single moms—if every family had the support team, or the structure, or the support that Jeremiah Program has provided me, I think there are more chances of them entering a career that can actually sustain them and their family.
… I consider myself lucky to have been a part of the Jeremiah Program and have done all the things that I’ve done within these last four years because I am now in a space where I can really see myself growing. I’m making enough money to support me and my family on our own and even helping others. I am filled with knowledge that I want to share with others, and really looking forward to a future of more growth.
People don’t understand how crucial it is to have these types of organizations in our community—especially in minority communities—and accessible to all.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Interviews with Valerie
Valerie explains how her life has changed since joining Jeremiah Program.
Valerie talks about the biggest challenges she sees single mothers face and how having a coach helps her overcome them.
Valerie is 31 years old and lives in Rochester, Minnesota. A mother of three, Valerie joined Jeremiah Program with the goal of refocusing her life on her family and on her calling: helping women who, like herself, have faced the dual challenges of addiction and mental illness.
Why did you choose to join Jeremiah Program?
I became a part of the Jeremiah program so I could go back to school and pursue a degree in human services to help people that struggle with mental health and chemical dependency issues. In addition to that, to be able to set a good example for my children by being stable and available to help others in need in my community.
I’ve struggled with mental health and chemical dependency issues since I was 13 years old. I’ve been in numerous treatments focused on chemical dependency, but until I had a chance to get my mental health addressed—which was the underlying issue and which brought me to self-medicate with chemicals—I wasn’t able to be successful in any length of sobriety until both areas were addressed.
In your experience, what are some of the biggest issues single mothers face?
Some of the biggest challenges that I see single mothers face are financial hardships: being able to support a child on a single income, not being aware or lack of community resources, and not having a good support system—family or otherwise. I think one of the most difficult things if you’re a single parent and your child is sick, or you’re sick, is having to take off work, having to make that call on whether to go to work sick, or possibly losing your job.
What aspect of the program has made the biggest difference for you?
The one aspect of the program which has made the biggest difference for me, personally, is to have a coach that helps me prioritize, work on goals, holds me accountable, and supports me when I’m struggling or overwhelmed.
My coach has been very supportive, encouraging, and patient with me. One thing I tend to do when overwhelmed with tasks is to procrastinate or put off to the last minute and, at times, give up on the task altogether. So, to overcome my procrastination, we have been meeting weekly, setting goals, and doing at least two-to-three tasks that I have to do together.
What goals are you working on currently?
Some of the big goals I’m working on currently are getting my driver’s license so I can work as a peer recovery specialist for a program I graduated from. The design of the program and its purpose is to help pregnant mothers with chemical dependency issues and possible child protection involvement.
What changes have you notice in yourself since you joined the program?
The biggest change for me since joining the Jeremiah Program has been working on being responsible as an adult, being responsible as a mother and a woman that struggles with mental health and chemical dependency issues, and setting goals and completing tasks to be able to go back to college and become self-sufficient.
What do you enjoy the most about being a mother?
One of the things I most enjoy as a mother is seeing [my daughter] Grace grow and learn different things. One thing that’s very important to me is for Grace to share and be kind to others. [Seeing] her doing this on her own without me prompting her makes me the most proud and happiest. My dreams for my children are to love others and have a relationship with God and to not have the same struggles with addiction and mental health as I’ve had.
What do you think are the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty?
Some of the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty [are] having access to education, second chances, and opportunities that you may not normally have. To be able to work through different poverty barriers—which can be legal, criminal, financial—and having a good support system and community resources.
What do you feel passionate about?
I feel passionate about helping women in recovery who struggle with chemical dependency and mental health. I know the importance of having someone with similar experiences and beliefs walking alongside myself to help overcome different challenging times throughout life. I believe, now, that the different painful events throughout my life are the different experiences I needed to go through in order to develop the character, knowledge, heart of compassion, and strength that I have to help people in similar circumstances and to be able to love and accept people where they are at in their life.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.