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Embrace Your Story; Guide Your Future

By Gloria Perez, Jeremiah Program President and CEO

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

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

Tragic events and growth

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

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

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

Looking for direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The leap of faith

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

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

Minnesota career

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Education is Power

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

In the culmination of our deep dive into Jeremiah Program’s five pillars, we are exploring the positive effects of career track education for Jeremiah families. In collaboration with Jeremiah’s other four pillars (supportive community, quality early childhood education, empowerment and life skills training, and safe and affordable housing), career track education helps launch Jeremiah mothers into lifelong success.

Career track education can look different for each of our families; some Jeremiah moms choose an associate’s degree and later complete their bachelor’s degree, and some achieve a teaching license or nursing certification. Our families live at Jeremiah program for an average of three years, giving them the time and flexibility to attend school, work, raise their children and launch themselves into a higher paying, rewarding career.

Jeremiah provides the foundation, the pillars and the support, and our families do the hard work every day, using their own determination and tenacity, to create change for themselves.

Jeremiah Program truly is a place for transformation.

Join Jeremiah in providing transformational change by making a year-end gift here.

Early Childhood Education Changes Lives

Jeremiah Program’s approach to tackling poverty is unique, focusing on two generations: mothers and their children. This method is doubly effective with moms working on earning an associate or bachelor’s degree, and children working on kindergarten readiness.

Research shows that children with the opportunity for pre-kindergarten education are better prepared for school, have better peer relationships, and continue to thrive after kindergarten. Advocating for children to have quality, caring, early childhood education as their brains develop, means children are socially, emotionally and educationally prepared for deeper learning and complex peer relationships in kindergarten and beyond.

Jeremiah Program’s on-site Child Development Centers (CDCs) are Parent Aware 4-Star Rated, meaning they demonstrate use of practices that best prepare children for kindergarten. Additionally, all teachers in the CDC are trained in a trauma-informed model of care, to best serve Jeremiah Program children. Patti Daily-Ruddy, CDC manager in St. Paul says, “We know the vast majority of brain development happens in the first five years. Quality early childhood education is key in determining future academic and life success. Jeremiah Program’s research based and trauma informed care provides the best possible start for our children.”

Please join Jeremiah Program in providing this life-changing, two generation program to more single-mother families in Minneapolis and St. Paul by making your gift here.

Key Findings from Jeremiah Program Non-Residential Student-Parent Support Expansion in Boston

Beverly – November 28, 2018 – A new study by the Program Evaluation & Research Group (PERG), funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports on adaptations and implications of the shift to a non-residential approach in Jeremiah Program Boston, an anti-poverty organization serving low-income college-going single mothers and their children.

Jeremiah Program, in partnership with Endicott College, began exploring expanding to Boston in 2013 in response to the growing number of college students who were single mothers. Jeremiah Program’s traditional residential campus includes family apartments, an early childhood education center, and site-based programming consisting of training, coaching, and wraparound supports. However, local real estate costs and other conditions made a non-residential version more feasible, while providing an opportunity to test a new method of service delivery. Jeremiah initially partnered with the leaders of Endicott Boston, a college campus in downtown Boston, to design a non-residential, or community-based, model where Jeremiah Program’s key services would be delivered in partnership with existing, reputable community organizations.

PERG’s study found that the non-residential Jeremiah Program Boston model, as implemented thus far, has key implications for the program and the participants that differ from Jeremiah’s traditional model:

  • The non-residential model can encompass a larger target population.
  • The new model works with families who are often living in challenging conditions, rather than providing a respite from them, as in the traditional model.
  • Transportation to Jeremiah activities can add additional effort and stress.
  • The new model requires new strategies to implement Jeremiah’s usual integrated two-generation approach.
  • Jeremiah’s goal of “safe and affordable” housing is not a high enough standard to ensure an appropriate living environment in a non-residential program.
  • Having a single, complementary educational partner (Endicott College) has provided additional stability, support, and community building opportunities.
  • Common barriers to participation are different in the two models – housing restrictions in the traditional model vs. added stress of travel and fewer incentives in the new model.
  • Some aspects of the non-residential model can start up more quickly, but it is more dependent on partnerships, which take time to build.
  • The new model is currently less expensive, but more elements still must be added.

The report also includes important lessons learned from the five-year partnership between Jeremiah and Endicott. The report is available to download at: Endicott Boston Study

About PERG
PERG at Endicott College was founded over 40 years ago at Lesley University. PERG (Program Evaluation & Research Group) is known for its capacity for studying complex projects in diverse settings, working primarily in formal and informal education environments. PERG has worked for universities, schools, foundations, state and federal agencies, museums and other community-based organizations. PERG’s recent areas of research, program evaluation, and product development include: parenting students in higher education; two-generation programs; arts integration and literacy partnerships; STEM programs and partnerships; curriculum and software development projects; cultural/international exchange; informal education; museum exhibits and programs; out -of-school time; professional development; research on learning in science. Learn more at www.endicott.edu/perg

About Jeremiah Program
Jeremiah Program offers one of the nation’s most successful strategies for ending the cycle of poverty for single mothers and their children, two generations at a time. Two-Generational – or 2Gen – programs uniquely focus on the whole family and achieve long-term, sustainable results. The approach has been proven to achieve significant educational, health and economic benefits for parents, children and communities.

Jeremiah Program currently operates nationally in both residential programs with integrated early childhood services and non-residential programs where housing and early childhood education are provided through community partnerships and resources. The organization is on a consistent growth path with its newest programs in Rochester, Minn. and Brooklyn, N.Y. Jeremiah Program also has a presence in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minn. Austin, Texas; Boston, Mass.; and Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn.

Learn more at www.JeremiahProgram.org.

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About Endicott Boston
Endicott College Boston is an academic center in downtown Boston that offers programs to an underserved population of adult learners, immigrant students, English Language Learners, and single parents. The program offers transition and pathway courses for college readiness, tutoring and writing support, and bilingual support. Endicott Boston is a part of Endicott College, a four-year, coeducational institution located in Beverly, MA, and the Van Loan School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Endicott College. For more information, please visit vanloan.endicott.edu.