St. Mary’s Center Op-Ed

There are many unknowns about the coronavirus pandemic but one element is clear, especially in light of the protests after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Amaud Arbery: this crisis underscores the inequity that exists in our society and disproportionately affects the less fortunate among us, particularly in black and brown communities. Now, more than ever, marginalized communities need immense support, and we are proud to report on progress serving those in need with an eye toward more to be done.

At a recent graduation at Saint Mary’s Center for Women and Children, a cohort of incredible women will graduate from our “Women @ Work” workforce development program.

The “Women @ Work” program and broader continuing education at our Women’s Learning Center were jumpstarted through the help of  unprecedented financial support from Amazon, which alone donated $1 million to deliver essential services to mothers and children fighting homelessness amid the pandemic. In addition, this programming would not be possible without such strong public sector support and leadership from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Senator Nick Collins and Representative Dan Hunt.

Using these investments, we partner with higher education institutions like Bunker Hill Community College and with a range of companies looking to strengthen their workforce pipeline – all to the benefit of women who need not only roofs over their heads but tools and infrastructure to prepare themselves for a life beyond the hardships they have known.

When it seems the news is bereft of optimism, we find ourselves hopeful about these families and the neighborhoods we serve across our city.

Think about the positive ripple effect that will continue to flow from supporting and elevating people like Nicole.

Nicole is a single mother on her own after her own mom passed away, up to that point her mom was her only support system. On her own, Nicole started pursuing a GED and came to the Women’s Learning Center at St. Mary’s for help with math – “my hardest course,” she says.  Balancing jobs and childcare, she took six buses to get here.  Nicole earned her GED, enrolled in and graduated from the Workforce Development Program, and then enrolled in Roxbury Community College, majoring in Criminal Justice.  She graduated from RCC in January with a 3.8 GPA. 

These programs transform the outlook of the women and children we serve as they undergo this growth.  Nicole saw the support of the teachers and team at St. Mary’s as key to her continuing success, telling us it was “the light that ignited my fire to further my education.”  Nicole is taking medical technology coursework for additional skill development, and her next goal is to pursue a double major, in Criminal Justice plus Health and Human Services, at Northeastern.  Nicole is eager to help our communities with a career focused on victims of abuse, especially children.

Our 2020 graduating class also experienced a major breakthrough that we want to leverage for even more families: in October of 2019 we became the first adult education program in Boston to operationalize fully virtual programming, helping us reach more women faster, particularly in this period of limited mobility.

To be clear, there’s much, much more work ahead.  The damage of intergenerational poverty, disproportionately felt in black and brown communities due to structural racism, predated coronavirus and will grow exponentially without bold action and support to combat these impacts.  We have to expand this workforce programming, particularly in spaces like health care and IT.  This will be essential not only to our steadfast mission to provide family-centered programs and support for women and children who have experienced trauma and are living in poverty, but to our broader ability to see our way through this crisis in the near and long term.

Our organization’s history and work is built on the reality that you cannot simply tell those left out and left behind to solve their own problems without a community to support them.  We must proactively build those support systems, especially now.

This problem is nowhere near resolved, but we are resolute. 

This year’s graduation was virtual but together let’s make a commitment to build that community support system and make more graduations possible where we need them most.

St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, located in Dorchester, ensures women and children are given proper tools and supports so that families living in poverty and homelessness can achieve emotional, educational, and economic stability. To that end, St. Mary’s Center operates educational and residential programs designed to meet the needs of our target populations-homeless and low-income women with little or no job-prospects, pregnant and parenting teens, and adolescents coming of age in communities with multiple risk factors.

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