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Many gifts of Single Mothers Outreach

Charity: Local nonprofit helps single and divorced parents with education, resources and more

Posted: November 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Lanette Hights and her children Tristan, 4, and Ayah, 10, gather around the tricycle donated by Single Mothers Outreach.

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Hurricane Katrina took more than Lanette Hights’ home; it broke up her marriage. Divorced and devastated, Hights moved west with her children Ayah, 10, and Tristan, 4, seeking a new start, often staying with family and friends.

Hights finally settled in Canyon Country after stints in Arizona and Nevada didn’t pan out. Alone and in need of support, Hights was referred to Single Mothers Outreach through the Child & Family Center.

“When I first went in a few months ago, I was very distraught. It’s been very hard trying to find stable work with the recession. It’s been really difficult,” Hights said. “I get so much emotional support and encouragement at Single Mothers Outreach. The staff is genuine; I don’t feel like I’m judged. It’s really positive. I enjoy going there.”

Currently attending college to become an elementary-school teacher, Hights also takes part in the many education programs available at the nonprofit organization, and volunteers there up to 10 hours a week.

“I wanted to give back. It’s the perfect place for me to do so,” she said. “I want to help people like me.”

Single Mothers Outreach was founded in 1995 as a support and resource for single mothers struggling through the effects of divorce or the death of a spouse. Single Mothers Outreach became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in May 1998.

Since then, more than 1,700 families have been served.

In December of 2010, Single Mothers Outreach relocated to its present location in Canyon Country with the goal of expanding services to the more than 450 families enrolled in its programs. Services include support groups, LifeForward workshops, the Financial Peace University, a technology center and much more.

Despite her tough situation, Hights remains positive, according to DaAnne Smith, executive director of Single Mothers Outreach.

“Lanette has such a great attitude; she always has a smile on her face. Those are the kind of people you want to help. They’re doing everything they can to move their families forward; how can we not help?” Smith said.

The Hights family “shop” at the free clothing and shoe store set up at Single Mothers Outreach once a month. Hights was given a journal by a staff member, in which she can record her thoughts, hopes and goals.

When Hights found out about the online forum set up for Single Mothers Outreach clients, she posted that Tristan really wanted a tricycle. To her surprise and delight, within a few days, a shiny new tricycle arrived, courtesy of Redwagons.com, which regularly donates to the organization.

“With such limited funds, I can’t buy anything extra for my kids,” Hights said, her voice choking up with emotion. “It was such a wonderful, wonderful gift.”

More gifts will be on the way for the Hights family soon. She has signed up to become a recipient for Single Mothers Outreach’s Adopt A Family program, which offers the community an opportunity to play Santa during the holidays.

“It’s a tough season for people, especially if they’re alone for the first time,” Smith said.

Adopters pick a family and spend up to $50 per member on gifts (a wish and needs list is provided by Single Mothers Outreach). In 2010, more than 630 parents and children were adopted by donors.

“The criteria is that the parent must be attending workshops in financial and life skills and attending school or working full or part time,” Smith said. “The rest are put on a waiting list.”

Last year, Princess Cruises in Valencia adopted 100 families, and, according to Smith, will do so again in 2011.

“For them, it’s a team-building experience. Some of the departments went all out, and the feedback is: The employees loved it,” Smith said.

While most families are adopted well in advance, Single Mothers Outreach leaves room for the unexpected. Smith described a call received last year on Christmas Eve, from a school that was alerted that a newly divorced mother had lost her home to foreclosure and had only 90 minutes to move out.

Single Mothers Outreach was able to provide her with referrals, resources and last-minute holiday gifts.

“Like loaves and fishes, we always seem to have just enough to help the people that come to us,” Smith said. “It breaks your heart, but it also brings great joy to help.”

Another single mother who had been sharing a bed with her child had a twin-sized mattress delivered to her door.
“The look on her face was priceless,” Smith said. “People are so generous. It’s a great program.”

The team at Single Mothers Outreach puts together a holiday party for clients to receive their gifts each year where kids play, cookies are eaten and tears of joy are shed.

Hights is looking forward to the experience.

“I am so excited about Adopt A Family. The kids and I have been without for so long, I just hope the kids can at least get something they’ve always wanted. It’s such hard times. I’m not able to do that for them,” she said. “It will be our first Christmas in our own apartment in years. It’s going to be nice.”

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

Single Mothers Outreach will host the annual Empowering Hearts Gala and Art Exhibit 5-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center, University Center Drive, Valencia. Tickets: $65 each. Empowering Hearts will present the creative works of local artists who will produce unique and inspiring art forms based on the real life stories of 12 women who have broken barriers.  For more information, contact info@smoscv.org or visit www.singlemothersoutreach.org/hearts.

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