YWCA Metro St. Louis

Jenn's Story

Bright Future for Single Mom and Son

Pilot program puts moms in non-traditional jobs

Today, Jenn Wall is an electrical systems designer, working in downtown Chicago, living on the city’s North Side with her six-year-old son, and contemplating graduate school. The future is bright, but it wasn’t always that way.

A few years ago the single mother was using credit cards to pay the bills and buy groceries. It didn’t take long to rack up $10,000 in debt, with more on the way as she tried to put herself through school to make a better life.

The path from the debt-ridden days to her presently secure financial status involved lots of work, commitment and change, but the one constant was the support she received from YWCA Metro St. Louis’ Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, a three-year pilot program funded by the Trio Foundation of St. Louis.

The initiative was developed to help single women with children achieve greater economic stability through educational and financial assistance, case management/ life coaching, and career and personal support.

For Wall, it was a life-changer. “It’s not just a scholar- ship program, it’s about getting your life together. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get there. And my financial situation was worse than I thought; it was going to hold me back,” says Wall.

As one of 10 women selected for the program in 2007, Wall met monthly with Nicole Hughes, the program administrator and “life coach,” as she was dubbed by participants. “One of the unique aspects of this program is that it isn’t one-size-fits-all,” says Hughes. “Each of the women developed their own plan and needed different resources. The flexibility of the funders allowed us to tailor the program individually, and that has been a key to success.”

After the first three years of the initiative, the results are tangible:

  • All 10 participants earned credits toward degrees from accredited colleges or universities, with five completing an Associate’s degree and two earning a Bachelor’s degree.
  • Average monthly incomes increased by 44 percent.
  • Credit card debt fell by 6 8percent, with seven out of 10 participants carrying no credit card debt after the third year.

Wall says next to earning her Bachelor’s degree from Ranken Technical College, her biggest achievement has been paying off her debt. “That wouldn’t have happened without the program. Part of the solution for me was learning to manage my money and part was getting qualified to get a better job. The program helped me do both.”

Now instead of juggling credit to meet daily living expenses, Wall can concentrate on her newest assignment, designing electrical systems for a nuclear power plant. When she’s not at the drawing board, she’s dreaming up and designing her next moves to get where she wants to go in life.

The YWCA Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative was initially designed as a three-year program, funded annually with a $125,000 grant from the Trio Foundation. Trio’s partnership with YWCA to manage the initiative makes perfect sense because YWCA has been a pillar of other economic empowerment programs for decades.

Due to the participants’ success, the foundation has extended funding through 2012. After an 18-month study to identify barriers to economic stability for low-income women, the initiative was designed to provide education in trades traditionally dominated by men, while addressing other issues single women face, such as housing, transportation, childcare and healthcare. The program is focused on women who have the potential to achieve economic stability within three to five years.