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JP Empowerment and Leadership Program

 

JP Moms Write The Next Act: Expanded Empowerment and Leadership curriculum celebrates agency, identity, and the story of self.

Imagine your life is a theater, and you are on stage. Who’s in the front row, cheering you on? Who sits closer to the back to prevent distraction? Who has lost the privilege of being in your audience?

Every mother who joins Jeremiah Program engages in this thought exercise as part of their Empowerment and Leadership experience. Empowerment is a 12-week foundational course for moms preparing to embark on their JP journey. The weekly classes provide space for women to reflect on their personal stories, explore their identities, build community, and disrupt false or limiting narratives about single mothers as they begin writing their next act.

2021 marks an expansion of the signature curriculum, which has been part of JP since it launched in 1998. Several variables shaped the new Empowerment course, including COVID-19, new strategic anchors within JP, and a more robust feedback loop with the participants.

“[Empowerment], for me, opened up the door to explore, ‘What does it mean to be lovable, valuable, and important?’..." - Libby Sanders, Empowerment Facilitator

“Our North Star is, ‘How do we learn from the experiences of the moms who have been through it?’” says Archana Patel, JP’s vice president of parent programming. “Current moms who are experiencing it in this moment, as well as alumni moms who now can look back with perspective and say things that [they] thought were not relevant and things that [they] thought are some core strengths of the curriculum that have really been sacred.”

Libby Sanders, who graduated from JP in 2011, is a Jeremiah Program Alumni Fellow and a new Empowerment facilitator.

“[Empowerment], for me, opened up the door to explore, ‘What does it mean to be lovable, valuable, and important?’ which I needed to hear, at the time,” she remembers. “Looking back, I realized there was an invitation into myself, which was cool. But one of the things that I always felt was missing was the opportunity to go deeper. … I would understand, ‘It’s important to use I statements,’ but I didn’t understand who I was.”


Sanders, who is now a medical social worker, is among several alumni moms whose input influenced Empowerment’s updated content, pacing, and facilitation model. Moms enrolled for the Spring session will cover fewer topics, but dive deeper into each one. They’ll explore life skills and learn about systems of oppression that limit choices for single mothers. They’ll work with facilitators whose identities and experiences align with their own. And—because the program is currently virtual—they’ll build relationships with other moms from all over the country.

Jamaica DelMar is a doctoral student at Minnesota State University Moorhead and a single mom who has been an Empowerment facilitator since 2018. “Some of the pieces I saw missing from the old curriculum are definitely there now, like about identity, about society, and how we’re shaped by societal norms,” she says. “Sometimes people think that single moms aren’t strong for some reason, but we’re the strongest people I know. How can we be proud of who we are and how we show up in the world despite what the dominant culture says we should feel?”

Life Is a Theater is an example of an original Empowerment exercise that’s been updated to go beyond setting boundaries around individual behaviors and relationships.

“We all have a theater, that’s true. But we didn’t all build our theaters,” explains Sanders. “What does it mean to have systemic input on our theaters that we can’t control? Those are the conversations that are happening now.”

An Asset-Based Approach

Many changes to the Empowerment and Leadership curriculum reflect larger investments that JP is making across multiple program areas, such as centering social justice, engaging in critical conversations about race and identity, and expanding leadership to meaningfully include mothers and families.

“We believe our moms are whole individuals and that they are coming to us with an incredible path ahead of them,” says Sharin Park, JP’s director of parent programming. “That’s the biggest opportunity with JP. We are committed to curating amazing experiences that really allow moms to be the architects of their solutions, sitting at the table where the decisions are being made.”

As an organization committed to disrupting the cycle of poverty two generations at a time, JP leaders are keenly aware that single mothers are skilled in navigating the day-to-day realities of being poor; no one knows more about what is needed to unblock pathways out of poverty and change punitive policies steeped in gender and racial bias. Empowerment not only invites moms to become the architects of their futures, but also engages them in building the future.

“I recently read, ‘Genius is equally distributed, but opportunity is not,’” says JP President and CEO Chastity Lord. “When you’re talking about the nontraditional leader—in our case, female-led households, disproportionately women of color—there is an assumption that something is missing. One of the beautiful things about Empowerment is that leaders are given the opportunity to explore and reflect on the idea that you don’t need to be fixed. What is needed is an opportunity for you to translate the value proposition of your experiences and your responses to them. This is about providing our moms the space to dream differently and compose a life and career that is audacious and aspirational.”

 

“Sometimes people think that single moms aren’t strong for some reason, but we’re the strongest people I know.” – Jamaica DelMar, JP Empowerment facilitator

Community at the Core

For many JP moms, Empowerment itself will change the audience in their metaphorical theater. The program is a source of support and community they may not have had previously; relationships and community-building are explicitly built into the new curriculum.

“When moms come to us, one of the most common reasons they seek out JP is not only the housing. It’s not only the support that they get from their coaches. It’s also about having a place where people believe in them,” says Patel. “We want the Empowerment and Leadership curriculum to be that first community that they build, where they are seen and see each other, and know that they have a place to go back to as they pursue ambitious goals for their education, career, and families.”

Another way the new Empowerment and Leadership curriculum emphasizes community is to decenter the role of the facilitators. The women will now have more space to explore and reflect on their histories, parenting experiences, college journeys, and dreams for the future, all in the company of other JP moms.

“The old curriculum had a lot more step-by-step ‘say this, say this,’ where [the new curriculum] seems to have a lot more flexibility,” says DelMar. “I’m excited about that because it’s not a one-size-fits-all. You can have a completely different group, and each woman in the group is completely different from each other. Even if they might share some of the same experiences or have kids the same age, each woman comes to JP their very unique selves.”

The identities of the facilitators are changing, too, with JP actively seeking to bring alumni, single mothers, and women who reflect the experiences of moms in the program.

“Part of me being a facilitator is the fact that I’ve gone through the program. I’ve walked similar journeys. I have a very personal relationship with what it means to come to a program in the middle of either being pregnant or parenting in a world that’s really hard,” says Sanders. “It was hard 12 years ago for different reasons, and it’s hard now. Being in this position truly feels like I’m able to combine my passion and my purpose and everything I’ve been working for.”

Seeking facilitators like Sanders and DelMar and trusting new participants to influence their Empowerment experience are two of many ways Jeremiah Program is reinforcing the message: You’re already a great mom. Become a JP mom, too.

“Their power is there. It’s not something that we are filling into them,” says Patel. “[Empowerment] is about accessing the wisdom that they already have and being intentional about how they use that to chart their journeys. These are tools that our moms will use to matriculate, persist and graduate college. It’s about composing a life that allows them to not just seek a job, but to build a career.”

Written by Adrienne van der Valk

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