Breaking the Cycle of Poverty – Two Generations at a Time

Cassie came to Jeremiah Program when her son Vashon was two years old. After she and her husband divorced, Cassie decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree, in the hopes of securing a better life for herself and her son.  But there were roadblocks she would need to overcome first.

Despite being enrolled in an early childhood education center, Vashon showed no signs of being able to speak words or sentences. Cassie felt unsupported at her son’s school, but she didn’t know what to do. Jeremiah Program helped Cassie learn how to advocate for her son. They also assisted in finding a better school for Vashon with the support services he needed. He also started receiving in-home speech therapy. All this, while Cassie diligently worked to achieve her college goals at Endicott College Boston.

In just a few short years, Vashon has blossomed from a very introverted 2-year old into an incredible boy who loves school. He now expresses his needs and emotions with words and gets along well with his teachers and the other children. As for Cassie, she’s on track for receiving her bachelor’s degree.

Inter-generational poverty is a cycle that is hard to break. Lack of education and job skills have negative implications for long-term earnings, but going to school as an adult with a family to support is challenging. Transportation to school is costly and traditional college professors may not consider personal circumstances that interfere with schoolwork. Fortunately, there are programs available to help.

Two-generation Approach to Success

United Way’s partner agency, Jeremiah Program, focuses on a two-generation approach that addresses the needs of both parent and child. The program’s mission is to empower single mothers who are working toward a college degree, and to meet the needs of their children through high-quality early childhood education — ultimately breaking the cycle of poverty two generations at a time.

“We aren’t just invested in the life of the mother, but the life of the child as well,” says Emilia Diamant, Executive Director of Jeremiah Program. “That means we work closely with our educational partners: Endicott College Boston for the first generation (mothers), and a variety of high-quality early childhood partners, including ABCD and the Epiphany School, for the second generation (children).”

How it Works

Mothers like Cassie, who participate in Jeremiah Program, work on their goal plan with a personal one-on-one support coach who helps her define what success looks like for her and for her child.

Mothers must also attend a 10-12 week empowerment curriculum where they learn how to successfully interact with others and how to process their own emotions. According to Emilia, the mothers “learn how they can live their most empowered lives and unlock the potential that they have within them.”

The program is designed to help mothers achieve their educational goals and transition into a career, which consequently increases their family income. Simultaneously, the Jeremiah Program connects children with high-quality early education centers so they are ready to succeed when they start kindergarten. In cases where social and emotional interventions are needed, Jeremiah Program assists with that too. According to Emilia, “Kids are getting access to the support that they need. We see all of our kids progressing at or above developmentally appropriate markers. Nationally, our numbers for second generation are 87 percent at or above the developmental marker.”

Other Needs Fulfilled

In addition, to fulfilling educational needs, transportation is another issue Jeremiah Program addresses. Transportation is expensive and it can be challenging getting from one place to the next to access important services. The solution? The Jeremiah Program provides a monthly t-pass for their program participants.

“If they have to choose between buying diapers or buying a T-pass to get on the train to go to school, they’re going to buy diapers. So we just want to remove that barrier from the equation,” says Emilia.

Another crucial component of the program is building a community. Living in poverty and being a single mom are both socially isolating, and even more so when combined. To mitigate the problem, Jeremiah Program spends a lot of time facilitating social programs, planning group meals, and encouraging families to spend time together.

Jeremiah Program has made great strides in the five years since the program launched. Look for more positive things to come in the next few years as the program continues to grow and support even more families in Boston.

Read more about the two-generation approach in Massachusetts:

When it Comes to Eliminating Poverty, Two is Better than One
5 Tips for Your Child’s Success
RISE is Helping Lynn Families Stay Afloat