One striking characteristic shared by this year’s winners is that they all offer considerably more services now than when they started, each expanding its operations in response to the needs of the community it serves. New Moms, for instance, launched in 1983 when Ellen Kogstad Thompson, the group’s founder, started distributing basic supplies such as baby formula and diapers to homeless young mothers she saw in her Chicago neighborhood. Over time, the group has steadily grown to offer educational and job-training programs, to provide housing for up to 40 young mothers and their children at a time, and to start its own business. More than 70 young women work at its soy-based-candle company, which also offers a steady source of revenue for the organization ($500,000 in the past year).
New Moms partners with employers to find entry-level jobs for its participants and simultaneously provides early education for their children through its daycare programs. “That’s what sets us apart,” says Laura Zumdahl, the group’s president and CEO. “Being able to support parents and children at the same time—that’s how you get the ripple effect.” After more than three decades, it has built a keen awareness that it’s difficult to sustain progress on any single challenge in a family’s life without addressing all of them.
“All of the key areas that we support—housing, job trainings, family support—are the aspects of a life a family needs to have stability … to succeed long-term,” says Jenna Hania, the group’s director of communications and development. “Without housing,” for example, “you cannot really focus on much else. If a parent isn’t understanding the development of their child, and isn’t able to make educated decisions, that’s going to have an intense long-term impact. And the same with not becoming economically independent.”
Adelante Mujeres has expanded through a similar process. It launched in 2002 with the goal of serving a Latino community that first emerged around Forest Grove in the 1960s to work on nearby farms, but grew over the following decades to fill service, construction, and landscaping jobs as the area added population and development. At first, the group focused on educational classes to help Latina mothers learn English, study for their high-school-equivalency diploma, and develop emotional skills for coping with challenges. The innovative program featured instruction for five hours a day, five days a week, each school day while offering preschool instruction for younger children at the same time.
Read: The concentration of poverty in American schools
That two-generation approach helped some of the mothers overcome hesitation that had discouraged them from pursuing their own education. “Some of that was the obstacles on the outside, but [it was] also their own internal obstacles in terms of internalized sexism and [thinking that] their place really is in the home and [that] they are being selfish if they are not dedicating themselves fully to their children and their husbands or their partners,” says Bridget Cooke, the group’s executive director.