The Jeremiah Program hopes to block that cycle, offering 39 apartments in its Minneapolis "campus" at subsidized rents and 38 others in St. Paul, each with a child-care facility on-site. The organization also offers coaching in life skills, help in getting a job, and a sense of community.
Many of the woman who apply to the program are "from families that have been in poverty for many generations, and there is something in them that is wanting out of that," says Kathy Graves, a Jeremiah spokeswoman. They must already be enrolled in a higher-education program and undergo 16 weeks of "personal empowerment training" before moving into an apartment. The women's average age is 24, and most of their children are 5 years old or younger; they typically work part time to pay their rent (set at a third of their income) and the costs of education.
Evidence suggests the program works. Of the mothers who graduated in 2011, a majority had been unemployed and the rest earned an average of $9.50 an hour. After graduating from college — and the Jeremiah Program — the women saw their value as workers more than double, to an average of nearly $20 an hour.
The program, founded in 1998, has remained small in scale. It isn't cheap — expenses exceeded $3 million in 2011, mostly financed by donations, grants, and fundraising events. But it offers value. An independent study conducted by Wilder Research of St. Paul found that every dollar invested in the program's families can return as much as $7 to society at large, by reducing dependence on public assistance and improving the job prospects for mothers and children alike.
The group named itself after the Old Testament prophet, inspired by the passage (Jeremiah 29:7) that begins, "Seek the well-being of the city where I have sent you into exile." The program will roam farther later this year when it expands to Austin, Texas. Another site is being planned for North Dakota, near Fargo.
LATINO LINES OF CREDIT
Paula Carde's family business in a suburb of Raleigh, N.C., almost didn't get off the ground in 2011. No traditional bank was willing to extend a line of credit to the fledgling construction company. "I went to SunTrust, I went to BB&T, I went to Four Oaks," Carde recalls, "and because our business was so new, they weren't willing to give us enough." The only financial institution in North Carolina willing to take a chance on Carde, her brother, and her father — all immigrants from Chile — was the Latino Community Credit Union.
LCCU, based in Durham and with 10 branches across the state, serves a population that most other financial institutions overlook. Many of its members live paycheck to paycheck, have never deposited money in a bank, and aren't fluent in English. Yet LCCU is one of the nation's fastest-growing and most financially stable credit unions, with a low delinquency rate compared with its peers.