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Megan Card, Published August 10 2012

Program hopes to stabilize life for the metro's 1,900 single mothers living in poverty

FARGO - As Katrina Thompson prepared for her first year of college, her mind was focused on dorm décor and juggling a busy class schedule – not on how to deal with diaper rash.

But the summer after her high school graduation, Thompson became pregnant.

“I had absolutely no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I was a kid having a kid. It was terrifying.”

The single mother from Moorhead is now 22. She said she’s still been able to set long-term goals – like starting her own business – while raising her daughter, Riley.

Thompson credits the Jeremiah Program, a nonprofit that aims to improve the lives of impoverished single mothers with young children. The program was founded in Minneapolis in 1993, but it is quickly expanding in Fargo-Moorhead – looking to start its own residential facility after first offering courses here just three years ago.

The focus is on providing a more stable life for mother and child through affordable housing, education, child care services and empowerment training, said Andrea Hochhalter, the community outreach director for Jeremiah Program Fargo-Moorhead.

There is an obvious need for the program, she said, as 1,900 single mothers are living in poverty in the F-M area. These women are making, on average, less than $8 an hour and live with high levels of debt and poor credit ratings, Hochhalter said.

The program goes beyond showing young moms how to balance a checkbook. It asks them to look at how their actions, behaviors and attitudes affect their children, said Jillian Henning, a single mother of two from Fargo, who helped develop the first local Jeremiah course material.

Additional life skills and empowerment courses are planned for this fall, and the local chapter hopes to build living facilities for the women and their children in the next few years, similar to live-in centers already operating in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Hochhalter said.

The housing facility would require a more rigorous interview process and a 16-week empowerment course for admittance. Mothers accepted and their children would receive affordable housing at about $135 a month and child care services within the building as they pursue higher education.

What makes the program unique is its life skills and empowerment courses, which offer women life coaches and local employment services to help them network and find jobs after the program’s completion, said Martha Olsen, a professional life coach who works with the F-M Jeremiah life skills course.

Empowerment is a crucial tool for single mom, Courtny Evanson, of Fargo. At 21 years old, she’s come a long way from the scared teenager who gave birth to her son, Aden, 16 months ago while living at the Perry Center in Fargo, a residential home for pregnant mothers.

“I was alienated in high school, they just saw another pregnant teen with a huge belly,” Evanson said. “(The course) gave me the foundation to believe in myself, to believe that I can provide for my child.”

This emphasis on self-worth and boosting single moms’ self-esteems is what the program encourages, said Olsen.

But the organization can only grow with community support, Dani Fergen, co-owner of Dance-fit Studios in south Fargo, said. Fergen’s business has opened its doors to Jeremiah Program participants to learn to live healthy lifestyles.

And Fergen is not the only one volunteering for the program. Interested community members like Rebecca Woods, an assistant professor in human development and family science at North Dakota State University, have held presentations for the women on parenting skills.

As someone who has seen her entire paycheck swallowed by child care and rent money, Thompson said she can’t imagine feeling excited about her future with Riley without the help of the program.

“I am proud of how hard I’ve worked to provide for my daughter, and I want other single moms to have the same respect for themselves,” she said.


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