A person never knows whom may cross their daily path. In life, randomness and chance often bring interesting encounters. Such a moment occurred last night, as I was hurtling through time and space in a sleek, metal flying bus – hoping the right-side engine would continue to function after yet another flight delay. The passenger sitting beside me eluded kindness and warmth. Never missing an opportunity to learn something interesting about a fellow resident of the globe, I struck up a conversation with her.
“I sure hope the engine doesn’t fall off,” I cleverly stated.
I know, I know. Very deep stuff.
Our conversation gently, but purposefully, gathered momentum. As often happens, the universe placed a remarkable person in my path with a mission that aligns with my own. Since I am a believer in gathering resources, sharing knowledge, and working together, I am therefore compelled to write about her dedicated organization that cares for adolescent parents.
The passenger beside me was Ellen Kogstad, Director of Spiritual Formation at the organization called New Moms Inc. She passionately described the exciting and innovative programs offered to homeless young women and their children.
However, this is no ordinary shelter for moms and their children.
Nutritious meals? Check.
Life skills? Check
But there is more. So much more. At the Transformation Center run by NewMoms, the focus is not merely satisfying immediate needs, such as food and shelter; the mission is to teach skills that allow these young women to enter the workforce with job skills and knowledge about how the work world operates. These skills are intended to help break the cycle of poverty. New Moms guides young women in developing useful life skills to enable them to navigate society with confidence. Effective parenting skills are taught to help break the cycle of absentee parenting. By building such job and parenting skills, self-sufficiency is the end result.
This effective, useful and comprehensive facility has been around a long time – about thirty years. Ellen is the thoughtful innovator who developed this concept. She became aware of the lack of services provided to these young mothers, ages 13 to 24 with kids in tow. Many of these young women – 70% to be precise – have been sexually abused or trafficked. Learning to say “no” is an empowering skill that so many of us take for granted.
Most of these women are no longer attending school. None have permanent homes. Yet, they all want to better themselves and provide a better opportunity for their children. Ellen saw the need, and now New Moms is a thriving organization with many success stories.
The job skills learned at the Transformation Center are put to use at their sister project: Bright Endeavors. Glass candle holders usually tossed out by restaurants are repurposed and made into beautifully scented candles to brighten up the lives of customers. Offered in many alluring scents for a reasonable price, these candles will light up the upcoming dark winter days. The proceeds of the sales go directly back into the program where these job skills are passed on to the next group of women eager to learn and work. I am excitedly waiting for my order to arrive!
Ellen explains how the cycle of poverty can have devastating effects not only on individuals, their families, and communities, but on society as a whole. Keeping organizations such as New Moms and Bright Endeavors afloat is an expensive undertaking, but one that is necessary.
“Poverty is expensive” says Ellen.
Simple, but profound.
Along the same thread, there is another Chicago organization dedicated to the healthy growth of youth. Ounce of Prevention, or The Ounce, is a group of dedicated professionals who develop innovative programs to assist in the development of children ages 5 and under. HeadStart and Educate are just two projects they support.
As Ellen and I began our descent into Chicago, thankful the right engine did not cease to work mid-air, we wished each other the best with our projects. Finding a kinship in wanting to positively affect young peoples’ lives, we both set out with renewed faith that there are many individuals out there working behind the scenes doing what they can to empower, educate, and keep young people healthy.