Jeremiah Program aims to break the cycle of poverty for families

Nappy Stock

The Jeremiah Program, a nonprofit that works to lift single parents and their children out of poverty, has experienced an uptick in participation and applicants as a likely result of the financial upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The health and economic crises that we experienced in 2020 were among the worst this country has ever faced,” said Chastity Lord, CEO and president of the Jeremiah Program, who assumed the role six months before the pandemic hit. “Single moms providing for their families on a low income were already holding their worlds together by a fragile thread, and the COVID pandemic has frayed that thread even further.

“During a time of so much loss and uncertainty, Jeremiah Program is committed to ensure that struggling families do not fall deeper into the cycle of poverty.” The program is a unique operation that began in 1993 with the goal of helping poor single mothers get out of poverty by giving them a fighting chance at success and breaking the cycle of poverty.

It was founded in Minneapolis after community members voiced frustrations with the inability to break the cycle of poverty that was seen as reinforced by the increase of single motherhood. Short of a structural solution, Michael J. O’Connell assembled leaders from the government, business sector, faith community and philanthropic organizations to promote the idea of a vision that could work to break the cycle of poverty.

The program has operations in several cities across the country including Austin, Boston, Brooklyn and Fargo, North Dakota. In Minneapolis they have campuses in Moorhead, Rochester, St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The nonprofit boasts that it employs “one of the most successful strategies for disrupting intergenerational poverty for families two generations at a time.” According to the program, the Minneapolis branch has helped more than a thousand low-income single mothers climb out of poverty since its inception.

The Jeremiah Program employs a two-generation strategy that seeks to interrupt generational poverty by aiding single mothers and their children in their efforts to reach and maintain economic mobility. It does this by providing an integrated model of services to low-income single mothers that includes college childcare and quality early childhood education, a safe and affordable place to live, and empowerment and life skills.

Jeremiah Program Chastity Lord, CEO and president of the Jeremiah program

In Minneapolis the program allows participating single mothers to pursue their educations at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. Ninety-five percent of the kids leave the preschool ready for kindergarten, and 90% of the mothers are able to maintain steady employment after they finish the Jeremiah Program.

This program is unique because it addresses the problems faced by two generations at once. Low-income moms often struggle to complete their educations or hold a job while dealing with the demands of caring for young children, while their kids often receive substandard child care or don’t attend preschool at all, potentially setting back their education before they begin.

It costs about $25,000 to see one mom and her children through the program, but an independent analysis found a $4 return to the community for every dollar invested in these families, and a $16 million lifetime benefit for every 100 families elevated from poverty.

In 2020 the program launched what it called the Jeremiah Program Alumni Fellowship program in effort to give mothers who have participated in the program an opportunity to help determine the organization’s programs and policy agenda.

“Jeremiah Program moms are superheroes. They have successfully raised children alone and overcome poverty,” said Lord. “The women we serve are often stigmatized, overlooked and underinvested in. It’s time to step aside and give single mothers the mic and the pen to author agendas that will disrupt generational poverty. This new program will help accomplish just that.”

In 2020 the nonprofit added to its national board of directors executives including representatives from 3M and Medtronic. Last year the board added executives from Goldman Sachs Investment Banking Company.