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Shortly before she graduated from college this spring, Anna Haydock got the chance to paint an inspirational sign as a gift for her 2-year-old daughter.

Its message reads: Beautiful Girl, You were made to do HARD things, so BELIEVE in yourself

“I made it specifically for Jade, but it was a beautiful reminder to myself, as well,” said Anna.  As a single mom, who earned a degree in metallurgical engineering from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology while enrolled in the Uplifting Parents Program at Catholic Social Services, she knows about doing hard things.  

Two years ago, Anna was mid-way through her degree at Mines when she found herself dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. “I was scared. I wasn’t prepared at all,” she said. With her parents and friends all living in California, Anna lacked a support network in Rapid City to help her care for a baby while attending college. Facing an uncertain future, the new, young single mom left school for a semester and began working at a local fast food restaurant because she didn’t have the money and resources she needed to finish college. 

During her pregnancy, Anna was enrolled in the Bright Start Program, a home-visit nursing program designed to help first-time expectant moms give their babies a healthy start in life. From there, she was referred to the Uplifting Parents (UP) Program at CSS,  where she found the help she needed to go back to school.

“Uplifting Parents played a huge role in my life,” Anna said. “That program was essential in me completing college.”

Today, Anna is earning a great salary as an associate engineer for Savannah River Remediation, working on environmental remediation issues surrounding nuclear waste sites.  She and Jade are settling into a new life in Aiken, S.C., and can look forward to a bright future and financial security, thanks to her college degree in a high-demand career field.

“This job opportunity was the best, salary-wise, and my work schedule is a 4-day work week, which gives me the work/life balance that I want as a single parent,” Anna said. “I love it. It’s a beautiful area. I’m in a very happy spot.”

As Jade’s new sign attests, Anna studied hard to earn an engineering degree. But it was the Uplifting Parents Program that provided the mentoring, case management and connection to community resources that made it all possible.  

Uplifting Parents is a CSS-led program that assists low-income single parents to escape poverty through education, said UP Director Becky Cornell-Marsich. Begun in 2014,  UP offers intensive mentoring, wrap-around case management services for both parents and children, and a small monthly stipend to about 40  single parents each year  who are within 2 years of completing a college education.

“The financial stipend was a big part of it, allowing me to return to school without having to work fulltime.  But the case management aspects of the program was a huge part of it,” Anna said of her success.

UP empowers single parents to find employment, earn a living wage and support their families, Cornell-Marsich said. “The best part about working in the UP program is walking alongside single parents as they do what sometimes feels impossible. These parents are setting an example to their kids that hard work and never giving up will always pay off in the end,” she said.  When a parent graduates from college and their children see it, they are eight times more likely to attend college themselves than if their parents don’t have a college degree,  research shows.

Anna’s UP mentor,  Hannah Ceremuga, directed her to community resources that were available to UP participants through the 31 partner agencies that are part of the UP Coalition. Those partners range from childcare providers to government agencies to church-affiliated charities.  But first, Ceremuga and Anna forged a more immediate connection, when Hannah served as emotional support during labor and delivery when Jade was born.

Mentoring is at the heart of all UP’s services and many of the program’s participants credit the personal relationship they develop with their mentor, and the cheerleaders they become for them, with getting them through school.  “Hannah was super-invested. She felt like my big sister. She was there basically from the very beginning, to when I left,” Anna said. “If I needed a resource, she would help me find it. The mentors were really invested in what they were doing and it wasn’t just a job to them.”

UP connected Anna and Jade to the Jump Start Daycare Program, which provides free childcare to high school-age mothers but also serves college students, if and when they have additional openings. “I would not ever have known that was a resource in Rapid City if not for UP,” she said. Jade spent the first two years of her life at Jump Start and Anna appreciates UP’s two-generation approach to services.

 “We both benefitted, but thanks to the services that Jade received through the UP program, she is really excelling. And that’s a direct result of the resources that she got in very early childhood.”

“Jade was born into my hard times, but she also was able to see me come through them and get past them. So, I have to live the example I want to set for her,” Anna said.

As a young woman of color, Anna knows that her daughter, too, will face challenges in life. “Jade is going to be exposed to many different things in life. And people will see certain things about her (race, gender, hair texture) before they see her as an individual and person.”

 So the “Beautiful Girl” sign serves as a reminder to Anna to teach her daughter resilience and how to meet her own challenges in life.

That’s a lesson the Uplifting Parents program taught her while she and other mothers took on the daunting task of attending college while being the sole caregivers of young children.

 “She’s going to go through hard times and experiences. It’s my job to not only protect her, but give her the tools to believe she’s capable of anything and everything. All I want is for Jade to be happy, and know she can be anything she wants to, no matter what society and statistics say.”

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