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Chris Linnares, Published March 08 2014

Women's Wisdom: Perry Center director uses personal experience to help single mothers

I remember the day I met “Hannah” for the first time at my office.

She was a beautiful young woman, full of energy, big dreams and sharing her desire to go back to college to finish her degree.

As a single mom of a 2-year-old, Hannah, who’s named has been changed to protect her and her child, found out about our Women’s Impact Community mission through a friend.

I first thought she came to talk to me to offer her volunteer work because she had everything we need in a volunteer-based organization. She was passionate about women’s issues, smart, inspiring – it seemed like she had at all for a young woman.

The only thing she didn’t have was a home.

“Chris, people look at me and are surprised I am homeless,” Hannah said. “What people don’t understand is that there is no face for homelessness. It’s really hard to be a young single mom.”

I knew Hannah wasn’t alone. Many women struggle to earn a good income to provide for their families. Statistics show that, most of the time, this situation has nothing to do with lack of work.

According to the United Nations, women produce half the world’s food, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, but they receive only one-tenth of the world’s income. Statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau show that more than 40 percent of women in the United States are below or near the poverty line.

When I see numbers like these, as a self-proclaimed “love rebel,” who believes that love in action can revolutionize the world, I feel more inspired to make a difference, even in a small way, to correct one of the greatest injustices of our era.

That’s why I felt so blessed when I found out about Betty Helmer, a passionate women’s advocate who dedicates her life to empowering young moms in our community like Hannah.

As director of the Perry Center, a faith-based nonprofit that supports single mothers of unexpected pregnancies, Betty was a huge influence in Hannah’s and others young mom’s lives, teaching them to value themselves and make healthier choices – choices that led Hannah, shortly after our meeting, to go back to college, and volunteer at Women’s Impact.

Betty’s life’s work and mission is an example, right here in our community, of what happens when we join forces to empower one woman at a time.

Q: In the story of your life, what was the most challenging moment you needed to overcome?

A: Nearly two decades ago, I was young, single and unexpectedly pregnant.

An unplanned pregnancy is a life changing experience that has more consequences attached to it than a woman could ever imagine.

Though it was a challenging time, I cherish the gift of my first daughter. I have great memories of her as a baby and her childhood. It has been so rewarding to see the beautiful woman she is today as a 19-year-old freshman in college. She is breathtaking, and I know if you ever got a chance to meet her you would agree. I am so proud of her.

Q: What empowered you to overcome those challenging moments?

A: I wasn’t a spiritual person before my first pregnancy, but I found strength in God through the deepest, darkest moments of my life.

Many days and nights, I felt lonely. It was an extremely painful and heart wrenching time. God taught me a great deal about myself. I was broken and not making great decisions. I would pray often, asking God to send me a mentor or someone to help me figure out what to do with my life.

I used to get very angry with God for not answering me, but I now realize he wanted me to turn to him, not others. God carried me so many times, I am sure eventually his arms got tired!

While I thought I was alone, looking back, it is amazing to see the mentors and people he had put on the sidelines in my life.

Q: If you gave the book of your life to your teenage self, what lessons do you wish she’d learn then that you know now?

A: The main lesson learned for me is that experiences in life are temporary. Things looked very dark for a long time, but I can truly say now that my life has been restored. I am at peace with life.

I have a loving husband and three beautiful children whom I thank God for daily.

We have to remember life is not about materials, like a house or a car. It is about relationships with people and having a sense of belonging. I am grateful for the friends and family who fill my life.

Q: What advice can you give to empower women?

A: Live an authentic life. We have all made decisions that we are not proud of. We need to be honest with ourselves and others, set good healthy boundaries and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with people who make us feel safe.

We need to embrace who we are while moving forward in healing with the goal of living a joyful, grateful life.

Q: How can women best impact the world today?

A: The key is to take the focus off of our pain and hurting by using it to help others.

I have chosen to do this through my career as a social worker at the Perry Center.

Using my own experience with an unplanned pregnancy to help other women is very powerful and has provided great healing in my personal life.

The Perry Center provides housing, counseling, prenatal classes, life skills and other services to women who are deciding whether to parent or choose adoption.


You can get more information, volunteer or make a donation at the Perry Center website, www.perrycenter.org.

Chris Linnares is international author, psychotherapist and founder of Women’s Impact, formerly Diva Connection Foundation. Originally from Brazil, she lives in Fargo with her daughter and husband Bill Marcil Jr., publisher of the Forum. To suggest a woman for this column, email chris@womensimpact.org. For more information on Linnares’ work, visit www.chrislinnares.com.