“I have been in your shoes,” an African-American woman says to a group of teenage mothers in St. Louis, Mo., “and now I’m vice president of a bank.” For a young woman just beginning to grapple with parenthood, few words could be more powerful.
Two St. Louis nonprofits are working together to bring such messages to teen mothers. Neighborhood Houses, a CHHSM member that has provided community programs in St. Louis for nearly 100 years, began its Girls’ Night Out program a few years ago to help young mothers care for their children and themselves, develop healthier relationships, continue their education and become self-sufficient. The Professional Organization of Women, Inc., (POW), selected the project as its community partner this year.
POW, which helps position African-American women for personal and professional success, now assists at weekly Girls’ Night Out meetings and field trips. Some members help with child care while the young mothers attend sessions, and others make presentations. As they develop relationships with the young women, POW members become role models and potential mentors, says Darlene Sowell, president and CEO of Neighborhood Houses.
Words like those of the bank vice president, she adds, “give the young ladies hope for something they may not have considered.”
The multilayered collaboration brings the teen mothers’ program new volunteers and additional financial resources. But “the intangibles outweigh the tangibles,” says Sowell. Meeting and talking with professional African-American women gives the young mothers “an education in the different horizons out there. It helps them see beyond their immediate world. That does a ton of good for a young person in terms of their dreams and aspirations, and the dreams and aspirations they have for their children.”
By joining forces on Girls’ Night Out, both POW and Neighborhood Houses have advanced their individual missions without duplicating services.
“There’s no need to re-create the wheel,” Sowell points out. “If somebody else has the expertise, we need to work together so our families get the resources they need.”
Neighborhood Houses has another partnership in place to assist teen mothers whose children have developmental delays. Also, the organization is currently solidifying a relationship with an agency that will provide professional mental health services to address those issues outside of Neighborhood Houses’ staff expertise.
As scarce resources and increasing need have forced nonprofits to figure out new ways to deliver services, such collaborations have become the wave of the future, says Sowell.
“We’re already seeing funding sources ask over and over, ’Who are you partnering with?’ That has brought about a greater willingness to partner together. If you focus on your mission and on providing the services you’re committed to, it’s easier to do. The silos are coming down.”