It Takes a Village

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Moms and “the village” during a MPower Leadership Session.

The room is full of energy. It’s graduation season and certainly a time for celebration, but this Gathering holds especially significant meaning for the single mothers who have made it to their big moment–walking across the stage to receive their college diploma.

Each year, ℹ️ The MOMentum Network holds the Gathering as a dinner and awards event to honor the single mothers in their community-based program who have overcome the odds, graduating with their college degrees in education, psychology, nursing, or business—all while raising their children and preparing and inspiring them to lead successful lives too.

According to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, parents with dependent children drop out of college at a higher rate than other college students, with only 33 percent of single parents obtaining a college degree within six years.

For many single moms, raising a child by themselves, working a job, and taking college classes could seem like an impossible endeavor, but The MOMentum Network circles around young single moms in Chattanooga to make sure they have the support system and resources to succeed.

Reaching Down to Lift Someone Else Up
MOMentum Network Founder Cara Hicks believes “It Takes A Village” when it comes to helping single moms and their children not only to survive, but to thrive in life. Hicks learned about the importance of a community circling around a young single mom from her own life-changing experience.

As an ambitious high school senior preparing to head off to college, Hicks found her life turned upside down when she found out she was pregnant.

“I went from having a plan to suddenly not having a plan and not knowing what to do,” Hicks says. “But my community surrounded me and supported me and I headed off to the University of Georgia.”

She continues, “Ten years ago this year, I graduated as a single mom from college with Jax by my side to become one of the two percent of teen moms to graduate college before the age of 30.”

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While studying at the University of Georgia, Hicks was inspired by the “village” of family, friends, teachers, and mentors who surrounded and supported her in realizing her dream to achieve a college education and start her own business. She set out to start a single parent program as part of her campus ministry and her personal experience planted the seeds for what would one day become “The MOMentum Network.”

Giving Birth to MOMentum
Moving to Chattanooga to build a thriving life and career alongside her husband and now a family of five children, Hicks found herself longing to further develop the concept of a community-based support system for young single moms wanting to finish college. “My mentor said that instead of trying to start a business to help single moms, I should just help single moms,” Hicks says. “As a former single mom I really wanted to grow my career and be successful so that later on I would be able to give back financially to single moms.

Hicks reflects, “I took my mentor’s idea and prayed over it and soon the pieces came together to form The MOMentum Network.” The first major outreach program for The MOMentum Network started with the “Summit Leadership” program which engages single moms in leadership training and networking events that they might not otherwise be able to make the time to attend. Taking into account the need for childcare, The MOMentum Network not only provides programs for single moms, but also for their children through programs like “Little Leaders.”

A core component of The MOMentum Network’s leadership training is matching up the women with mentors in their given fields of study and engaging a network of churches, businesses, and community volunteers to help the women map out their path forward and stay the course.

“The women in our network are strong and they are capable, but a lot of times they find themselves alone. They think no one else understands what they are going through,” Hicks says. She continues, “That’s the beauty of The MOMentum Network. We’re here to help, but, at the same time, every woman in our network is powerful. She is capable, she is created and gifted to be an awesome mother.”

While other college students go out with friends in the evenings and on the weekends, single moms have children waiting for them at home. Deepening a sense of community for single moms who might otherwise feel alone in their level of responsibility and their unique experience as college students, another key outreach of The MOMentum Network is hosting regular small group dinners for the women and their children where they can meet, socialize, share, and learn from one another as they grow together.

Building Momentum
Just three years since it started, The MOMentum Network is already seeing the fruits of its labor with single moms who have recently graduated, continuing to be part of the community and now stepping up into their role of carrying on the work and reaching back to lift someone else up.

Learn more at momentumnetwork.org.

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Writer Melissa Turner is actively involved in community development and the city of Chattanooga.

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