Communities that duplicate the Jeremiah Program, a charity in Minneapolis (with a St. Paul affiliate) that aids single mothers, will have to spend a lot: They will need $6-million to $8-million in start-up capital and will have to plan on a $1-million to $2-million annual operating budget, according to Jeremiah's president, Gloria Perez.
The charity's model doesn't come cheap. It includes transitional housing, an on-site early-childhood development center, mentors, and other support for young mothers.
The program requires the women it serves to work and attend college. When participants enter the program, they often earn little more than $8 an hour, according to the organization. They graduate within two and a half years, with at least an associate's degree and earning $15.33 an hour.
While such encouraging data are likely to help further the charity's case for expansion, so will the personal stories of mothers like Angel Jennings, 23. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. But last year, Ms. Jennings, who already had a toddler, was pregnant again. Of the children's two fathers, the first was abusive, the second absent. She was living on welfare and renting in a dangerous Minneapolis neighborhood.
Now finishing her first year at Jeremiah, she is working part-time at an office-supply store and getting her associate's degree. She plans to seek a master's in social work.
"I liked their requirements," Ms. Jennings says of the Jeremiah Program. "They are expecting you to change your situation. I like when people push me. That really gives me inspiration to do better."
She lives in one of Jeremiah's 77 units, which cost the charity about $53,000 each when the expenses of housing and other support services are factored in. Seventy percent of its money comes from private donations, according to the charity; Jeremiah officials say the program pays for itself in the long run, through reduced social-service costs and increased tax revenue.
The Jeremiah Program got a one-time $300,000 gift in 2007 to support expansion, from a grant maker that wished to remain anonymous. The plans for growth began before the economy soured, says Ms. Perez. "We decided we would not retrench from our goals but pace ourselves," she says.
Organizers who wish to start their own Jeremiah group, says Ms. Perez, will need to raise about $100,000 for community organizing, bringing together local leaders in business, education, government, philanthropy, and religion. Once that work starts in earnest, it takes about three years to do the planning, fund raising, and other tasks involved in starting a program.
Ms. Perez says Jeremiah plans to open its first new program by 2012, either in Austin, Tex., or in the border region that straddles Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn. The charity has hired an outreach consultant in the Fargo area to meet with local leaders and work toward conducting a feasibility study. The goal is to have a 12-city presence by 2020; possible future sites include Boston, Phoenix, and Seattle.
Jo Ann Farrell, a retired program administrator and school counselor for the Austin public schools, is helping to organize support to create a Jeremiah Program in her city. She convened meetings for Jeremiah staff members with housing advocates and leaders from local churches, schools, and businesses, as well as the head of Austin's St. David's Community Health Care Foundation. Organizers plan to start work again this fall. "We don't want to have a big push and find out the economy is really bottoming out," says Ms. Farrell.
But, she adds, "I am optimistic." While some organizations offer aspects of what the charity does, she says, Jeremiah Program "is much more defined and they have a really excellent track record."