photo by Catherine Sanderson
Roots: I grew up in Long Beach, California, and graduated from high school and college in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I raised my 4 girls in Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, and I moved to Austin 6 years ago!
Family Life: I am married to John Simons, who helped raise my 4 grown daughters. Jenny, my oldest, has a career she loves as a high school librarian at a health sciences magnet school in El Paso. Although we all harass her to try to get her to move to Austin, I guess I can’t begrudge her the happiness she has found there. My daughter Liz and her husband Danny were my network for establishing myself in Austin. Thanks to daughter Melanie and Bear for the gift of sweet granddaughter Savannah. Most recent arrivals to Austin are youngest daughter Sheila, her husband Eric and my precious 10 month-old grandson Elijah.
Work Life: I have been working as Family Services Manager for the Jeremiah Program. In this role, I serve as Empowerment Facilitator, Life Skills Coach and work with staff and volunteers to help complete the overall mission of the program: to transform families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. Through support for a career-track college education, safe and affordable housing, quality early childhood education, and empowerment and life skills training, Jeremiah Program prepares determined single mothers to succeed in the workforce, readies their children to succeed in school, and reduces generational dependence on public assistance.
My favorite part of my role is having a front row seat, getting to watch the moms’ and their children’s lives in transformation. Prior to working at the Jeremiah Program, I spent 22 years in education as an Elementary classroom teacher and Instructional Coach. In my spare time, I spent two summers working as a park ranger. In an effort to help my daughter with pain from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, I also trained to become a licensed massage therapist.
Favorite Quote: “Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.” -Helen Keller
I’m most inspired by… Creativity inspires me, mostly that found in nature, but myriad artists as well.
Something people may not know about me… My 8 years as a single parent has helped prepare me for my role in the Jeremiah Program. During that time, I earned my BS in Education while running an in-home daycare. Makes me tired thinking about it now! 🙂
What I’m looking forward to right now… Our new campus for all things Austin Jeremiah!
When I’m not working, you can find me… Pretending not to be working by playing with grandkids, cleaning house and gardening.
My perfect day would be… A nice morning hike with a friend, an entertaining afternoon movie, play time with the grandkids, and dinner at a relaxing outdoor diner with great ambiance — which must include indie folk or blues music.
My guilty pleasure: Hay Day (ssshhhh, it’s embarrassing!)
Jeremiah Program is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization whose proven, holistic approach transforms families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. The program provides single mothers and their children with support for a career-track college education, quality early childhood education, a safe, affordable place to live, and empowerment and life skills training.
I began working with Jeremiah Program in 2012 as a volunteer. Dazzie McKelvey (consultant and now national board member for Jeremiah) invited me to help her facilitate a class similar to our current Life Skills class. We led the group of 5 single moms, who have all since graduated from college!
When housing for our first 4 residents was almost ready, I was hired part-time by Executive Director Shannon Moody to be the Family Services Manager.
Ginger Gives a Peek into One of the Many Lives She’s Seen Changed
Lena (name changed for privacy) slid into the chair, squirming and nervous. Her body language spoke of that of a hurt child. When the meeting room door opened or someone nearby made a noise, she startled. She came to our 12-week Empowerment classes sharing as little as she could while still being considered engaged. She kept her head down and doodled whenever it was not necessary to look up. Upon completing the process of Empowerment, she shared that she had come to realize that the passive way that she had been accepting unhealthy relationships in her life, needed to change.
She now continues with Jeremiah Program, practicing the life skills she is learning. She does the necessary work to make important changes. I observe her with an anticipation similar to watching a chick emerge from its shell. There is no swan or dove emerging, more like an eagle or a hawk. She is taking flight with an amazing inner wisdom and determination. Yet, I chuckle every time she comes forth with her thoughtful, sometimes hilarious ideas as she parodies life. There is no doubt in my mind that her impact in this world has been amplified by being in the Jeremiah Program. I cherish her response when she was asked what she feels about Jeremiah Program so far, “I feel so loved.”
Serving Others Changed Me, Too
I am blown away by how much my own life has changed by being a part of Jeremiah Program. I abhor being perceived a hypocrite, so what I learn, I must also apply. I tell you, empowerment changes lives! It’s been a very internal thing, a dumping of emotional baggage, lightening the load and making way for better energy. Because I have the opportunity to facilitate empowerment classes, it keeps it fresh in my mind, prompting me to keep practicing and helping our participants to practice using empowerment tools. By doing this, I get front row seats to watch their lives become increasingly empowered. What an honor!
Coming in the Fall: the New Austin Jeremiah Program Campus
There are currently 3 women in our Austin program, and approximately 8 women will begin Empowerment training next month. We will select our 4th participant from that group. We expect groundbreaking to occur for our new Austin Moody Campus in the fall. Soon after, great strides will need to be made to recruit a large pool of applicants to find those who will be the best fit for our program. Once the campus is built, the facility will house 35 single women and their children, along with 4 duplexes housing another 4 families, giving us a total of 39 women in the program. There will also be an onsite Child Development Center as well as community rooms, playground and staff offices.
In addition to volunteering and donation funds to our fundraising campaign, a great way to get involved in helping Jeremiah Program is through our upcoming awesome, fun event Epic Battle:
Join us on the iGnite Epic Battle Team today!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to join
Our current fundraising goal is $600,000, and our biggest need is general operating dollars. General Operating dollars are important because we can use these funds where we need them, when we need them. Epic Battle is not only an important fundraiser, but a key component in getting our mission message out to the public.
Our focus of course has been on development and getting our permanent home built. The money for the campus structure has been raised, but there are still apartments, classrooms and meeting rooms to furnish.
We cannot complete our mission without volunteers. They are a vital part of what we do. Currently, we have volunteers who help with Cooks for Kids, providing meals and child care while our moms attend Life Skills classes. Volunteers serve on committees, facilitate Life Skills and raise funds.
When we have our main campus, our volunteer pool will multiply with each new group of women who enter our program. We will then have volunteers in the Child Development Center as well as ambassadors for meetings and greeters for the front desk.
Also if you’d like to stay updated on developments and progress through our newsletter, our director of development, Lauren Portley would be happy to sign anyone up! She may be contacted at LPortley@jeremiahprogram.org.
iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.
Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to email@example.com