Helping Families Transform Their Futures

Inspired by the Bible verse “seek the wellbeing of the city,” Rev. Michael J. O’Connell launched the Jeremiah Program in 1998. Its mission was to help single mothers and their children in Minneapolis, Minnesota move from poverty to a better future.

The program’s successes are quantifiable. For example, most women who enter the program with a high school diploma or GED are earning an average wage of $8 per hour at that time. Two and a half years later, when they graduate with an associate or four-year degree and leave the Jeremiah program, they earn $15 on average. There are plenty of non-quantifiable successes as well. How do you measure the self esteem developed by enhancing one’s life skills? How do you measure what stability means to a child who is now doing well in school?

The program is rigorous. In addition to attending school part-time and working part-time, participants go to biweekly meetings about life skills. The topics range from parenting to healthy relationships to budgeting to academic success. Program participants have a “coach” with whom they meet regularly to evaluate their progress towards their goals. Along with the affordable and safe housing on campus, there is a licensed child development center. The center provides safe and nurturing childcare that prepares children for school. Participants also have access to an employment task force.

The program is not a free ride. Participants pay a third of their salary for their campus apartment. The selection process for the Jeremiah program is set up to determine potential commitment to the program. The four-month long admission process consists of a weekly class. By staying engaged and maintaining attendance above 70 percent, applicants earn the opportunity for an interview to determine selection for the program. Many of the single mothers accepted to the program face additional challenges such as mental illness, addiction and lack of support system.

After other communities contacted board members to ask if the Jeremiah Program would expand to their neighborhoods, the program set the ambitious goal of being replicated in twelve cities by 2020. The key to national expansion is keeping the core model that has created a successful Jeremiah program in the Twin Cities. Gloria Perez, president and CEO, says, “The Jeremiah model would be emulated but it must have support from five key sectors of the community to make it work: education, government, religious leaders, business community and philanthropy.” If a community secures funding for the capital and operational costs to make it happen, “this model with the support of those key 5 sectors can change the world.”

The Jeremiah Program named its annual fundraiser the Bullfrog Bash after the classic 70’s song whose lyrics start “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.” This year’s fundraiser will take place November 21 in Minneapolis.

Jeremiah Program

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