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Single parents no longer alone

Providing support to SCV’s single parents is mission of local non-profit Single Mother’s Outreach

Posted: September 24, 2009 10:51 p.m.
Updated: September 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Graduates of the first SMO Financial Peace University celebrate in December, 2008.

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Diane Banda is a full-time student at College of the Canyons.

She is also a single mother.

Banda, 32 of Saugus, returned to school a year ago and is completing her prerequisites for the nursing program.

Attending class and completing homework assignments used to be more difficult for Banda, mostly because she lacked a laptop and printer.

But things got a little easier after the click of the send button on an e-mail.

“I e-mailed DaAnne (Smith) and she donated a laptop and printer to me,” Banda said. “Ever since then, I’ve tried to volunteer for them.”

DaAnne Smith is the executive director for Single Mother’s Outreach, a nonprofit organization that “empowers single parents and their children by providing hope, support and resources to help families become self-sustaining.”

SMO was founded in 1995 by a single mother who wanted to connect with other single moms, according to Smith.

“We help move single families forward. A lot of families that come to us are barely surviving,” she said.

The name of the organization should not discourage single fathers from utilizing its resources.

“We are an organization that serves single parents,” Smith said. “We do not discriminate against fathers. We (currently) have had two dads.”

In November 2007, the board of directors began a major reorganization to improve the quality and range of services it provides.

As a result, SMO updated its mission statement and developed a new plan of services to single parents and their children.

One of the changes includes the ParentOne program.

The four pillars
The program is broken down into four main sections — or “four pillars of support” — assist, grow, sustain and inspire.

The assist pillar prevents financial setbacks and provides resources.  The grow pillar facilitates the improvement of life skills to strengthen families. The sustain pillar provides resources to promote education for student-parents to reach academic goals and the inspire pillar encourages and celebrates success.

“We provide motivational programs and reward programs for those who are growing and attending school,” Smith said.

The reward-based programs are a part of the inspire pillar and only apply to those who qualify.

The criteria requires the must be enrolled in six units or active in attending life skills workshops provided by SMO.

The organization offers six courses: financial literacy, career, health and wellness, healthy relationships, family laws, and legal aspect, Smith said.

Day care is provided while the parent is in class, she said.

“The inspire program is meant to positively pull parents to wanting to move forward,” Smith said. “It’s really a tough life they live, so it motivates them to attend these classes.”

SMO keeps track of each parent and their involvement in the workshops.

”We seek to serve all single parents, but we reward those that are on a path to sustainability,” Smith said.

One such reward occurred when SMO sent 100 women and their children to Six Flags Magic Mountain and provided each family a free lunch. Each mother also received flowers.

Even the $16-per-car parking fee was covered.

On Saturday, around 30 single moms attended Concerts in the Parks together and enjoyed a free dinner provided by SMO.

It was an opportunity to meet other single families.

“It’s a very isolating type of existence,” Smith said.

Connecting online
To help alleviate the isolation, the organization launched an online support group.

The site offers open communication on multiple levels.

If mothers are interested in finding local tutors, they can use the site.

If they are looking for ways to make or raise funds for education expenses, they can search the site.

If they are looking for people to help repair their home, they can find volunteers willing to lend a hand on the site.

“We are connecting parent to parent,” Smith said.

“The Google group is really awesome. If you’re looking for a place to rent, or if someone is renting, then people could look it up,” Banda said. “It’s a great way to communicate with single parents.”

Those who want to donate items to the organization can do through this group as well.

“When our community donates furniture and appliances, we are connecting donor to person,” Smith said.

A car was donated to the organization and Smith decided to give it away to a student in need.

“We have lots of students who don’t have a car or a computer,” Smith said.

After the completed transaction, SMO gives a receipt to the donor which they can use as a tax write off.

The site offers quicker and more efficient transactions between parent and parent depending on the service they are looking for.

In addition to this new support group, families can find SMO on other social networking Web sites.

“We are on Facebook and we have a blog we’re using as a main feeder,” Smith said. “It’s a way to communicate with our families.”

Paying it forward
Single Mothers Outreach, like most nonprofit organizations, did not escape the harsh grip of the recession.

“We are all volunteers,” Smith said of her staff. “Our core team is five people. We have been struggling.”

Most of the money SMO raises goes straight into the programs they provide for the parents. No one gets paid on staff.

“But we have a lot of helping hands,” Smith said.

These helping hands are needed more than ever.

Since the recession, Smith has seen an increase in the amount of families join the program.

“Since we reorganized in 2008, we’ve had 187 families join us,” Smith said.

Sour economy or not, Smith won’t let single parents in the Santa Clarita Valley down.

“We help them, because they need the help,” Smith said. “We seek to ease the burden.”

It seems this attitude is contagious.

Banda is representing the organization in The Signal’s Summer Slimdown Contest.

“There was no other option,” Banda said when asked why she chose SMO.

It was a popular pick among participants in the contest.

“I fought for the charity,” Banda said, referring to representing Single Mothers Outreach. “Other girls wanted it, but I was the first one (to sign up) so I had dibs on it.”

Along the lines of the Biggest Loser(TM) reality TV show, the Summer Slimdown selected 12 contestants for a journey to a whole new life by challenging them to achieve their ideal weight.

To help them get there, The Signal has paired them with Results Fitness and a community nonprofit organization for a period of nine weeks.

If Banda wins, she will receive $500 and Single Mothers Outreach may receive up to $1,000.

“I’m a full time mother, going to school. Whenever I can give back to them, I try to,” Banda said. “By all means it’s nothing compared to what they’ve done for me.”

Banda plans to continue paying it forward within the organization.

“Once I’m through with school, “she said, “I want to give more time to the charity and help those that are struggling.”

For more information on Single Mothers Outreach, call (661) 288-0117 or visit www.singlemothersoutreach.org.

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