United Way of Greater Portland's Women United is helping mothers and their children in Greater Portland create pathways out of poverty. One of those women is Meri. Meri grew up in North Haven, Maine, an island off the coast of Rockland. Originally from Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, Meri came to the states after being adopted by her family in 1995. Later as a young adult, Meri moved to Portland to pursue college courses and make a life for herself. That path later included life as a single parent, struggles with substance use, homelessness, while she balanced ongoing attempts to find solid ground.
Meri shared, “I could have stopped several times when I was going through my many struggles, but because of my kids, I chose to keep going.”
Meri worked to make housing and health a priority so that she could be there for her children. After a lot of work and effort, Meri secured housing through Portland Housing Authority and found out about Project WIN and Women United.
Women United offered Meri and her family supplemental financial support when needed, school supplies for the kids, and winter and holiday gifts over the winter months. Meri’s Project WIN support team additionally helped her to register for the HiSET Academy at Portland Adult Education which involves developing customized learning plans for the skills needed to pass the HiSET Exam. Meri was going back to school to finish her basics and chart a new career path. Meri shared, “Project WIN and Women United helped us to grow as a family, how to move forward, and get closer to my goals."
Then in March of 2020, Meri’s world was once again turned upside down. Meri’s workplace shuttered, and she once again was faced with the challenges of making ends meet. But, this time, Project WIN and Women United was there alongside Meri to support her and her children with financial support, protective gear for her and the children, and school, art, and other activity supplies.
“Without them (Project WIN) we probably would have lost power. I don’t know if they know what a big effect they have. It really means a lot.”
And though COVID-19 has temporarily derailed the completion of her schooling and has challenged all aspects of her and her children’s world, she intends to get back when she can.
Meri shared, “Project WIN and Women United, the name speaks for itself…They are a big support system, and they were there for me even if I failed, knowing I could get back up and keep going.”
Meri and her family are one of over a dozen single mothers and their children currently enrolled in Project WIN, a program operated by The Opportunity Alliance (TOA) and support by Women United. Project WIN (Women In Neighborhoods) is a two-generation strategy designed to create a pathway out of poverty. The program utilizes an evidence-based coaching model to help mothers identify unique goals for their family and track progress. Also, children of the cohort receive high-quality early childhood education within Head Start and Early Head Start programs or other providers.
Since 2018, Project WIN has served 22 moms and 70 children with families ranging from 10 different countries. Though 2020’s challenges have presented significant setbacks, cohort members celebrated the accomplishment of seeing all participants move beyond the need for financial support from General Assistance. Additionally, all the children birth to age five in the program accessed high-quality early childhood education and received special services if indicated.
Women United, a Giving Circle of United Way of Greater Portland, supports local programs like Project WIN that take a two-generational approach to advance the lives of single mothers and their children. Since its launch in 2017, Women United has invested over $550,000 to advance single moms and their children like Meri.
You can make a difference in the lives of Greater Portland women and children through Women United today. Learn more and become a member at womenunitedgp.org.