Jenna Hudson, the 35-year-old mother of Brice, Chase and Bailey, lives in the rural town of Northfield, Maine. This fall, her mornings are a little more hectic than usual. Not only is she packing up backpacks for 2 kids and getting her youngest to childcare, she’s also doing last minute homework and packing a backpack of her own.
But Hudson doesn’t mind. In fact, she’s thrilled. She is just one of 20 parents enrolled at the University of Maine Machias and Washington County Community College through a new program hosted through Sunrise County Economic Council called Family Futures Downeast.
Family Futures Downeast (FFD) is a one-year program that creates access to post-secondary and employment opportunities for parents with young children in Washington County, Maine. The fledgling program has attracted national attention, being designated as one of just ten Rural IMPACT sites through the White House Rural Council.
National designation aside, to Hudson the program is personal and touching home. “In the past I had taken college courses, but with small children, no childcare, and constant car problems I was forced to give up on my education,” Hudson said. “I had little support at that time. Now, because of FFD, I am able to continue my college career. All of the barriers that were once in the way have been eliminated. Just the support from our student coach alone has been invaluable.”
Charley Martin Berry is the Executive Director of the Community Caring Collaborative, the organization that first put vision and feet behind the project, and her organization is one of seven key partners that plays a role in the overall success of Family Futures Downeast. “I don’t want to help create just a pathway out of poverty. I’m looking for a highway,” Berry said. This team is building that highway, one student at a time. In addition to national recognition, one of the participants was also highlighted in the December issue of the Smithsonian in an article on working class poverty.
The Community Caring Collaborative has served as the bridge bringing together key partners to cover every aspect of the complex issue of multigenerational poverty. The partners extend well beyond just the colleges, universities and funders.
In order to get each single mother on the highway out of poverty, it takes early education, workforce and social service partners. These partners have included the University of Maine Machias, Washington County Community College, Axiom Education and Training Center, Sunrise County Economic Council, Child and Family Opportunities, Washington Hancock Community Agency, Maine Families Home Visiting, Aroostook Mental Health Center, Community Health and Counseling Services, local FQHC /hospitals, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Department of Labor Washington County Career Center, John T. Gorman Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Maine Community Foundation, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Machias Savings Bank and others.
The collaboration began by acknowledging the profound challenges participants need to overcome in order to succeed in college. As just one example, 7 out of the 10 participants on the University of Maine Machias campus lack internet at home.
Family Futures Downeast partners have created family rooms on each campus, complete with toys and a Christmas tree, where mothers can study and access the internet while children play. “My children and I love to spend time in the family room at UMM,” Hudson said. “The kids look forward to going up to the daycare center for playgroup. The encouragement we receive from the teachers at Flaherty Center is wonderful as well. They love to ask questions about how courses are going and offer words of wisdom.”
“Family Futures Downeast is my favorite example of people pulling together for children and families,” Berry said. “Dozens of organizations and individuals have been working to create this opportunity; FFD has many, many champions. The program has incredible momentum statewide and nationally, and I love to share that the design came from parents themselves. The partners listened to parents’ needs and hopes, and their response is Family Futures Downeast.”
FFD’s program is an amazing example of what can happen when individuals and organizations join forces to execute a common vision of creating a thriving community. The end outcome produces successful, knowledgeable individuals who are able to successfully support themselves and their children.
Jenna Hudson is on a path she hopes will help end the cycle of poverty for her young family. “I can’t thank everyone who supports this program enough,” she said. “It is changing lives and making futures bright for both the students and children. I can honestly say that without this program and all it offers, I would have had to wait until my children were grown to continue on with college.”
With every new day, Hudson’s enthusiasm and excitement is knocking down economic, cultural, and logistical barriers. So as she wraps up her finals mid-December and receives her first round of grades, she’s already earned A’s in her family’s minds. She brought a new word to the family vocabulary. Hope.