Helping Hands for Single Moms assists low-income single mom families while the mothers pursue a college degree and financial independence.
The inspiration behind this program actually came from a child. He was roughly 5 years old when founder Chris Coffman spotted him walking down the sidewalk of a busy Phoenix street alone. Concerned for the boy’s safety, Coffman, along with another motorist, approached the boy and accompanied him to his home. They walked several blocks together and upon arrival, also discovered that he was in the care of his sister, herself only 10 years old, while their mother slept in the other room. There was no father in the picture.
Moved by this family’s reality, Coffman was impressed with the need for single moms to obtain a college degree and, through it, financial stability for their family. Soon a vision began to take shape and in 2001, Helping Hands for Single Moms was born.
What began with one family (although not this particular one) has since grown, to serving 100 single mom college students per year. To date, Helping Hands for Single Moms has been able to assist over 450 single mom families. With a graduation rate of over 70 percent for scholarship-plus recipients and an average starting salary over $45,000 plus benefits, for graduates, Helping Hands for Single Moms is witness to the far reaching effects of empowering women to provide for their families.
While initially focused on financial support, it wasn’t long before Coffman realized that this group needed a few extra hands in order to succeed. Today Helping Hands for Single Moms collaborates with over 60 partners to provide an array of supportive services including auto repair, AAA towing, dental and medical care for moms, counseling, financial training and more.
The most significant impact was seen through the creation of the Single Moms College Community. It’s required for those who receive the scholarship-plus and encouraged for those who receive a smaller scholarship. Regular meetings foster mutually supportive relationships, relevant topical teaching and encouragement. It’s also a place where partner agencies can send their college-ready clients to inspire them toward college enrollment.
The real impact of this organization, according to Executive Director Joanne Grady, is best seen in the individual lives they touch.
For example, the organization helped a young woman – let’s call her Andie. She became a mom at a very young age, and was passionate about educating other young women regarding the challenges of single parenthood. When she received the Helping Hands for Single Moms scholarship, she was already committed to making a better life for her and her son. Andie is completing her nursing degree and plans to be a labor and delivery nurse when she graduates. Andie hopes that her example will inspire others – particularly her son – regarding the value of education, investing in oneself and paying it forward. “One of my biggest goals is to watch him graduate college one day,” she said. She is proud to say that he’s currently enrolled in the second grade at ASU Prep Academy.
When asked about the support and encouragement she has received from Helping Hands, Andie replied by saying, “It is so empowering and it continues to drive my motivation to succeed. Helping Hands has touched my heart and transformed our lives.”
Dec. 13 marked their fifth annual Holiday Happiness event. The holidays are often a struggle and emotional burden for many low-income families. Add the stress of term papers, finals and single parenting to consume them, many of the moms feel despair more than joy. Helping Hands for Single Moms created Holiday Happiness and invites individuals, families and businesses to adopt a single mom family and shop for her children’s wish lists. A large wrapping party is underway as gift donors are seated with the moms and wrap her children’s gifts together. Although the moms leave with many gifts and tears of joy, the donors often say that they are the ones most blessed by the event. Last year over $21,000 in gifts were donated. Just as important that day, the single moms are honored for their accomplishments, graduates are celebrated and often, new supportive friendships are formed.
This year is also the launch of Helping Hands for Single Moms USA. The goal is to expand into five communities over the next three years. The first new site is in Tucson, Arizona. It’s expected to open in January 2015. Having established a growing organization in Phoenix, this expansion is also fueled by the numerous requests they receive asking for help or similar programs in other states.
The vision to see low-income single moms obtain a college degree and financial independence has resulted in changed lives, not only for the single mom but for her children as well. Through her hard work, commitment and sacrifice, not only does she earn a college degree but also the skills to leverage her employability and secure a livable wage career. But beyond that, her confidence grows as she overcomes obstacles and achieves significant goals. Likewise, her children benefit, not only by their mom’s increased ability to provide for their physical needs, but also through the example she models for them and the security she brings into their home life.
Helping Hands for Single Moms is proud to be a part of those changes and prouder still of the women who persevere to make a better life for their families. They remain the inspiration for this organization and the motivation to reach out to more single moms in this community and beyond.