Nestled in the warmth of their blankets and surrounded by love, the 3-year-olds are peacefully napping at the on-site Jeremiah Child Development Center. One small hand mischievously waves at our group through the hall window. We are visiting from Ascend at the Aspen Institute: Anne Mosle – Vice President & Executive Director, Mekaelia Davis – Program Manager and me, Siobhan Davenport – Ascend Advisory Board Member. We can’t help but laugh at the confidence this child displays. While his single mother attends school and works to better their lives, he is thriving in a safe and stimulating environment. His mother is comforted in knowing that she and her son live and learn in a place where their social, emotional, and physical needs are met.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to visit the Jeremiah Program in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where Ascend Fellow Gloria Perez – President & CEO, along with her excellent team, transform female headed households from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. In the early 1990s, Father Michael J. O’Connell spearheaded the effort to end the cycle of poverty in Minneapolis. The Jeremiah Program is the result of his vision. Like the beautiful mosaics that adorn the two campuses, Father Michael engaged a variety of stakeholders from the faith, education, philanthropic, business, and government communities to establish the Program in 1998.
Now a national model of a holistic approach in helping single mothers succeed in the workforce and their children succeed in school, the two campuses in the Twin Cities serve 300 women and children annually. Gloria Perez, along with the National Board of Directors, lead expansion plans to other communities, such as Austin, Texas; North Dakota-Moorhead, Minnesota; and two locations in Boston, Massachusetts.
Watching the children joyously running on the playground, playing with the babies during lunch and smiling at a two-year-old waving at naptime, makes me appreciative that the specialness of the Jeremiah Program will continue to help vulnerable families across the nation. However, the children only know they are loved and safe, so they can focus on growing, learning, and being a child.