Finding Support, Strength and New Possibilities
Single Parent Program Helps Participants Find a Path to Self-Sufficiency
Eye on LSSI, Winter 2005 ( Download PDF of entire publication)
As a single parent of four daughters in a tough economy, Ladweena knows what it’s like to be jobless, homeless and desperate.
Today, thanks in part to the Single Parent Program offered by Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) in Galesburg, Ladweena also knows how it feels to be successful in a job she loves.
“After I got divorced from my husband, I lost my job and my place to live,” says Ladweena, who had been in the program once before while she and her husband were separated.
“I came back to the program, and it’s been so helpful,” she adds. “My life is a lot less stressful than it was a few years ago.”
Through the Single Parent Program, Ladweena found job training and computer classes, all of which led to her current job as a telerecruiter for a regional blood center. “I’ve been there a whole year,” she says proudly. “Without this program, I probably wouldn’t even be working — especially not in a job that I love.”
Ladweena is just one of many success stories that have come out of the program, says Linda Crandall, coordinator of the Single Parent Program. “When we see people go from being dependent to being independent and self-sufficient, that’s what we call a success,” she explains.
The program, offered by LSSI for about 30 years, is open to residents of Knox or Warren Counties who are separated, divorced, widowed or have never been married. It’s open to both men and women, although the majority of participants are women.
“There are about 30 women in the program currently, which is about average for any one time,” Crandall says.
While the program offers weekly meetings, the free and confidential services also include personal goal-setting and home visits tailored to each individual. “We do individual assessments, and every parent is different,” Crandall says. “But we have seen a common thread among the people who need us. A lot of them are isolated.”
Many single parents turn to the program because they lack a support system, Crandall notes. “It could be they had poor parenting models, or maybe they didn’t have any parents. Or maybe they had great parents, but they became parents themselves too soon. A lot of times, they lack education or job skills or parenting skills.” Participants in the program are sometimes referred through friends, the Department of Human Services, teachers or even the county health department.
Angela, 33, found the program about two years ago through a friend who continues to be involved in it as well. A mother of three children ranging in age from 3 to 14, Angela left the program for a while when she moved out of state, but quickly joined again when she came back.
“Being in the group has given me a lot more patience with my kids,” she says. “When I first came back [to Galesburg], I was pretty stressed out … But I talked to Linda about taking one step at a time … You find out there’s more people in the world going through the same thing you’re going through.”
During weekly meetings, Crandall and her assistant, Mary McGunnigal, cover such topics as parenting, money management, career moves, healthy relationships, stress and successful communication.
A Focus on Goals
Guest speakers are often invited to the meetings, which sometimes take place out in the community. Recently, Crandall arranged for participants to attend a session on résumés and cover letters at the Illinois Employment Training Center.
“They need to know what resources are out there in the community,” Crandall explains. I don’t want them to be dependent on LSSI for information. I want them to know where to go in the community to find out for themselves.”
Crandall focuses on creating meaningful educational experiences. Last year, she arranged for a few clients to receive an “extreme makeover” by cosmetology students at the Carl Sandburg Technology Center.
“They received haircuts and make-up consulting, and a couple of businesses in town offered them the opportunity to pick out job clothes. It really helped with their self-esteem by making them feel better about themselves,” Crandall says.
Helping clients learn to navigate public transportation rather than depend on rides is another way Crandall seeks to further their independence. “I found a donor who helped us get bus passes, and the city transit office matches us, so we get double the tickets,” Crandall says.
The program is heavily focused on finding employment, as well as parenting. “I think jobs are so important because they’re struggling to get stabilized in the home,” Crandall says. “If they have an income, then they don’t have to worry about the power getting shut off or having food to eat. We don’t want them to live from crisis to crisis.”
Each participant sets quarterly goals that are discussed and evaluated during home visits. “I feel like the home visits are our foundation,” Crandall says. “That’s where relationships are started. That’s where we build up trust.”
Tasha, a 32-year-old mother of six, says she looks forward to the home visits. “It’s a good time to talk about my goals,” she says.
Tasha is attending school now to earn her GED and hopes to become a cosmetologist someday. “I’ve always wanted to do that, and this program has given me the strength to do it,” she says.
As a new incentive this year, participants are being asked to sign a yearlong contract with points given for attending group meetings, accomplishing goals and participating in home visits.“At the end of the quarter, they’ll receive rewards, such as a gift certificate, for having earned so many points,” Crandall says. She’s hoping the community will donate gift certificates to restaurants, grocery and department stores.
“I think that will be a good motivator,” Crandall says. “We have a heart for the program and what it can accomplish, but it takes clients’ participation to make it happen.”
Christine, 39, says the program was a lifesaver to her after she took her 4-year-old son and left an abusive marriage last spring. While Christine has a good job, she says she desperately needed help learning better techniques for parenting her “spirited child.”
“They lend me their ears when I’m frustrated and try to help me find solutions,” she said of Crandall and McGunnigal. “I’m so thankful we live in a community where programs like this are available.”
Not only does Christine feel more peace within herself now, she’s seen a big change in her son also. “It was nothing for him to punch me or kick me because he’d learned those behaviors from his father,” she says. “He doesn’t do that anymore. We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve been successful.”
Brenda, 40, a mother of three with four grandchildren, plans to move to a Chicago suburb soon. Though sad to leave the program, she says she’ll take the skills she’s learned there with her.
For more information about the Single Parent Program call 309/343-7681.