Ten women recently graduated as the inaugural first-year class of the Female Lone Parent Breakthrough Program. Run out of the Kelowna Salvation Army Corps, B.C., the single mothers participated in a year of learning, which culminated in a formal graduation ceremony—complete with gowns and caps—and a gala event.
“Some women had never had a graduation, others had never dressed up, been in a limo or sat down to a formal dinner,” says Major Toni Cartmell, corps officer and program director. “We wanted to give them a vision for the opportunities and possibilities that were there for them and their children.”
Only one year into the three-year Breakthrough program, Major Cartmell has seen a lot of change, and feels that possibly the greatest change has been in the instructors. “We have come to know and understand ourselves and God more profoundly as a result of working with these incredible women,” she says. “By leading Breakthrough, Connie Cristal, co-leader, and I have identified areas in which we need to grow.”
The participants were greatly impacted as well. “We were able to assist two moms in reaching their employment goals and three of the women are in the process of pursuing educational goals,” Major Cartmell reflects.
“I didn’t know how ‘marginalized’ my life was,” shares Jessie*, participant. “Now I have goals that can help me and my children have a better life.”
A Vision Come to Fruition
The Kelowna congregation had a vision to reach out to single mothers. A six-week pilot program involving teaching and mentoring cemented the idea and then everything else fell into place when, mid-last year, money came from the government. The first year of the program involves two, three-hour sessions per week with teaching and education as well as plenty of reflection time.
“We do classroom instruction and cover a variety of topics such as communication, conflict, boundaries and dating,” Major Cartmell says. “We allow the mothers to take the information and relate it to their own lives. The goal of the program is to change hearts and see where it can make a difference. Breakthrough involves a commitment to knowing and understanding yourself and your world in a way that creates the desire and opportunity for change. Our approach with the single moms is to honour their strengths and use them to build capacity in their areas of weakness.”
Mentoring is also an important component of the program, as is experiential learning through activities such as art and yoga, and family outings. One event in particular was an excursion to see the Broadway musical, Wicked. In a lesson about budgeting, the mothers saved for their ticket.
“I didn’t even know places like this existed,” says Melanie*, participant, of the musical outing.
“Our programming takes place in school time, but our social events occur after hours,” shares Major Cartmell. “What most of the moms have in common is that their family of origin was not able to nurture them in many areas of growth and health, and then in their adulthood, they lack healthy and reliable support systems. Our aim is to host family outings for the mothers in the class with their mentor families where a new vision of family can be modelled.”
“I felt so alone, but now that I have my mentor and the Breakthrough program, they help me make sense of my life when I get overwhelmed,” shares Lorna*, participant.
Continuing the Journey
In the second year of Breakthrough, commencing in September, participants will only come in one morning a week, joining with the first years to demonstrate classroom behaviours and teach some segments.
“Finally, in the third year, many will hopefully step into role of mentor themselves,” says Major Cartmell. “We’ll continue to meet on a monthly basis, equipping them for the workforce, further study or leadership positions.”
Although devotions aren’t structured into the programming, Christian principles are often integrated into discussion and Major Cartmell is seeing results.
“We talk about self-esteem and how we were all created to have value and worth,” she says. “For some, it is seed planting, for others, it’s reaping a harvest that was previously sown. One girl who participated in the program received Christ, and there was another woman who had previously had no Christian influence but is now intrigued by Christianity and her mentor is a key part of that conversation.”
*Names changed to protect the privacy of the participants.