March is “Make A Difference” month at HowWiseThen. This week I highlight Gracewood, a ministry that provides a home and hope for single mothers. I’ve never met a woman who’s girlhood dream was to grow up to be a single mother. Yet that is reality for many women. Gracewood is a nonprofit housing program for single mothers and their minor children. In 2019 an estimated 15.8 million children lived with a single mother and another 3.2 million with a single father.
Studying the causes behind so many single-parent homes is important research, but in the meant time, these statistics represent very real people struggling to support themselves and their dependent children. Many of the women who find themselves the sole responsibility for minor children struggle to get through one hopeless day to the next one, believing they are alone, feeling like failures, and fearful about tomorrow. Their anxiety has negative consequences for their children.
Jenny Rice Cotton, president of Gracewood since 2017 and on staff since 2013, knows this fear well from her own earlier circumstances. Before connecting with Gracewood she found herself the sole support of her daughters. “I needed a means to support myself and my daughters and I had a large gap in employment after being a stay at home mom. I joined Gracewood to help assist with their first luncheon/major fundraising event. Helping women become empowered and seeing them stand on strong footing when they leave inspires me every day.
You are Not Alone
Valerie was one of those discouraged and desperate mothers until she discovered Gracewood. She said, “Gracewood ensures that no single mom walks alone. That is what I want people to know. You are not alone and your situation is not your destination. My time at Gracewood taught me to believe in myself and that anything is possible through the grace of God.”
Gracewood offers hope for a different and better tomorrow to mothers from all walks of life. Each single mother who comes to Gracewood is motivated to create a better family life for herself and her children. At Gracewood these women live among others struggling with similar issues. With professional help, they get the support and resources needed to work toward their specific goals. The program is geared to meet their individual needs, but as Valerie discovered, they don’t go through the process alone.
A Three Tier Approach
The program unfolds in three phases. Initially women and their children live in one of three cottages, each housing five families. Each woman has her own private room and bathroom for herself and her children, and shares a kitchen, dining and lounge areas. The shared space enables women to easily network with one another and gives the children a sense of a large extended family. Each cottage has a Family Care Coordinator to encourage the women as they do the hard work of turning their lives around. Additionally, the women participate in free individual, family, and group counseling, with volunteers providing childcare as needed to enable the women to participate in counseling.
In 2019 Gracewood opened six new duplex units which serve as transitional housing for the women before they move away from the campus to resume life on their own again. At the duplex each family has its own private living space, and the women assume a larger percentage of the financial and administrative responsibilities for managing their own household. Yet, they continue to have access to all of the Gracewood services. One of these services is a chance to shop at a lovely boutique-like clothing store where they can select clothes for themselves and their children at no cost to them.
The final phase of the Gracewood approach is the option use the Gracewood resources for six years after moving off campus to their own apartment or own home. Several Gracewood graduates have succeeded in becoming home owners. A total of 88% of the single mothers who come through Gracewood maintain independence after completing the program.
Group Housing with Individualized Support
Gracewood, located in the Spring Branch area of Houston, can currently house twenty-one families, with plans to expand to serve up to thirty-one families. Gracewood meets the basic needs for each new family by providing a safe place to live, utilities, food and clothing. In addition to counseling, women receive training in life skills and financial planning and referrals to other community resources. The goal is to deliver permanent solutions to poverty and the threat homelessness. The average length of stay at Gracewood is one year, though this varies according to each family’s individual needs and circumstances.
The number one cause of homelessness is loss of a job. About a third of the homeless population consists of families. Among single mothers the poverty rage is 41% with the constant threat of eviction and homelessness. The pandemic has made their situation even more precarious. At Gracewood 40% of the residents lost their jobs overnight. President Cotton reported though that, “We were able to stand in the various gaps created by these situations and work with them to find new employment. What a blessing to be able to help them avoid evictions, food insecurity, and other potential problems.”
A New Start, with Hope
To qualify for the Gracewood program a woman must be at least eighteen years old and have at least one child under eighteen living with her. Details of how to apply for residency at Gracewood and other details about this amazing ministry are available on the Gracewood website. The organization is funded entirely by private donations from individuals, churches, and corporations. Gracewood offers far more than housing. They offer single-mother families a home, filled with hope and healing.
Divorce often throws a mother and her children into an emotional, logistical, and financial crisis. Asunder tells the story of how one woman not only survived divorce, but eventually established a great new life. You can read all about it for $6 at my website shop. The book includes a study guide suitable for book clubs and small group discussions about shifting assumptions about love and marriage through the generations.
May 22 was the 400th anniversary of the first peace treaty between the Pokanoket people and the English Pilgrims and other settlers. Read the full story in Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures, available in print, E-book, and audio formats wherever you purchase books or at Bookshop.org.