Program – Neighbors Empowered
Valley Interfaith Community Resource Center’s Neighbors Empowered program is designed to help single mothers work towards self-sufficiency and build a better life for themselves and their children.
The program is a 10 week class structured around the workbook Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting–By World. The first hour of each class is actually a family dinner for the women and their children. After that, the children go to supervised childcare for two hours, while the women meet as a group with a trained facilitator. Each week they cover a different topic, from big ideas like understanding the causes of poverty, to the nitty gritty of setting goals and making a budget.
Each time the women come to class, they get a $25 grocery store gift card. Combined with the family meal and childcare, Valley Interfaith is trying to address all of the potential reasons a single mom might have for not participating. According to Executive Director John Keuffer, that gift card often serves as a vital incentive for the first three or four classes, until the women begin to see the value in what they’re doing.
Through the class, the women develop strong bonds with one another, forming a vital ongoing support structure that can help them as they delve into the work of restarting their education, getting better jobs, and building a future for their family.
John likes to tell the story of one woman who thought she was too old to go back to school, but had a passion for baking. Through Neighbors Empowered, Valley Interfaith connected her to a program that helps train cooks. She completed it and went on to become a pastry chef at a local restaurant, even starting a small catering business on the side.
The biggest obstacle Valley Interfaith has encountered in running the Neighbors Empowered program has been the cost in staff time and gift cards. They’re trying to address this problem by reaching out to their partner churches. Their goal is to train facilitators so that the churches can run their own groups – with Valley Interfaith recruiting and screening participants and the churches providing the meals, childcare, facilitation, and – ideally – gift cards. These new classes would also be smaller, with only 5 women each – as compared to the 10-20 they currently have – which could in turn provide for a tighter support structure while also allowing for increased social distancing in the time of COVID.