Portland agencies focus aid on single mothers in East Bayside

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PORTLAND — Hoping to change the lives of single mothers and their children for the better, Women United has awarded a $100,000 grant to a new program aimed specifically at women in the city’s East Bayside neighborhood.

The goal of the Women In Neighborhoods program, which was created and will be overseen by The Opportunity Alliance, is to provide workforce development and career pathway programming for mothers, and quality early childhood education for their children.

This two-generation strategy, which also incorporates housing, post-secondary education, and financial literacy support, is designed to create a pathway out of poverty, according to Women United.

“This grant gives us the ability to invest in families in East Bayside in a meaningful way,” Michael Tarpinian, president and CEO of The Opportunity Alliance, said. “(This program) will work in a deliberate and focused way to bring together and align resources from various community partners for the greatest impact.

Initial partners for Women in Neighborhoods, or Project WIN, include Southern Maine Community College, Portland Adult Education, Head Start, Pine Tree Legal, and East End Community School.

“Project WIN will bring together partners who can help parents pursue employment skills and education goals to improve their own economic security and stability, while simultaneously ensuring their children are on a path from the earliest age to engage in lifelong learning,” Tarpinian said.

Women United is excited to invest in Project WIN because “we know that children and families do better when they both have every opportunity to succeed,” co-Chairwoman Diane Garofalo said.

The mission of Women United, which is affiliated with the United Way of Greater Portland, is to be “an influential force for the advancement of low-income, single mothers and their children,” according to the organization.

The group also believes “that every mother deserves the opportunity to meet her family’s basic needs, educate her children, and keep her family safe and healthy,” said Kristin Chase Duffy, vice president of community engagement at the United Way.

The Opportunity Alliance and Women United are focusing their efforts on East Bayside partly because of the demographics in that neighborhood of Portland, Duffy said.

She said 65 percent of East Bayside’s public housing units are occupied by single women who are heads of households and nearly 76 percent of the unmarried women in East Bayside receive some sort of public assistance.

In addition, nationwide, seven in 10 children living with a single mother are poor or low income, and more than 27 percent of single mothers do not have health insurance, Duffy said.

Meanwhile, “According to the National Institutes of Health, a mother’s well-being, and in particular her education level, is the single best indicator of her child’s later success,” she added.

Project WIN is open to single mothers with children from birth to age 8, Duffy said. The program was chosen over several others because of its commitment to education, family economic support, and overall family development.

Along with its two-generation approach, Project WIN is also unique because it plans to make the women and children involved equal partners and provide the participants with a voice in creating solutions.

Women United raised more than $120,000 in its initial fundraising effort, Duffy said, which included member investments along with the support of corporate sponsors including Dead River Co., Gorham Savings Bank, the John T. Gorman Foundation, MaineHealth and Unum.

Louise Marsden, vice president of family and early childhood education at The Opportunity Alliance, said her organization applied for the Women United grant because it “aligned with several of our strategic focus areas.”

Marsden said The Opportunity Alliance is already active in East Bayside and “this opportunity allows us to really embrace (the) participating families in a more holistic way, providing supports and services locally and at the same time building connections within the community” itself.

She said the goal of Project WIN is simple.

“We want families to thrive,” Marsden said. “Single parent families in East Bayside face enormous challenges (and) Project WIN will provide quality early childhood experiences to the children while at the same time offer supports and services to their mothers which will allow them to become resilient (and) self-sufficient.”

Marsden said the grant from Women United would go toward funding a family coach, as well as money that could be used to overcome a variety of barriers, from language skills to legal support.

She said Project WIN’s focus is on single mothers because “these women often work in low-paying jobs, can’t afford quality childcare, have few social connections and live with constant stress.”

“Project WIN,” Marsden said, will “provide resources to alleviate these conditions and will provide a network of support, which allows the mothers to pursue their dreams rather than being stuck in what can seem to be a hopeless downward spiral.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Women United recently announced a $100,000 grant designed to assist single mothers and their children in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood. On hand for the event were, from left, Suna Shaw, East Bayside Community policing coordinator; Mike Tarpinian, president of The Opportunity Alliance; Diane Garofalo, co-chairwoman of Women United; and Nicole Witherbee of The John T. Gorman Foundation.