Single Family Living says, "We are that family for you," and no parent should walk aloneThe Nonprofit Journal Project

In 2013, when I became a single mother, I knew because I wanted the best for my children, and for myself, I would need to make things happen. I also knew I couldn’t do this alone. I relied on the help and strength of my family to gather the tools I needed to succeed as a parent, and as a person, because I also had my own dreams. 

I founded Single Parent Living as a living, breathing journal of my life, with all of its struggles, and with the positive outlook I’ve been able to keep throughout. I wanted to use the trials and tribulations that’ve made me stronger to help other parents who don’t have family support and who often struggle in many ways. 

As a single parent, your kids rely on you alone. Every day, you deal with the pressure that you're the only person they can count on, and you can't really trust anybody else. It's hard to ask for help when there are negative stigmas put on you by society saying you’re not good enough because you’re a single parent. What did you do wrong? You must not be hardworking, or educated, you’re just looking for a handout, etc. It took me a long time to look within myself to figure out what drove me and what held me back. I didn't want that for the single parents in our communities. 

Today, our organization serves the tri-county area with a mission to empower, inspire, and mentor single parent families and their youth. The pandemic has hit these families extremely hard. We want them to know, we see your efforts and we’re here to do whatever we can to make your life better. 

We do this through programs like our in-school and after-school tutoring and mentoring. There are very high rates of illiteracy within the counties we serve. Our Reading Heroes Program works alongside teachers to engage students who need extra support with reading and comprehension. We provide free books to students and to schools. At Clinton Township’s Rainbow Elementary School, we were able to help sponsor the opening of a library. 

Our Prom Dream Makeover program assists single parent families in providing their high schoolers with everything they need to enjoy this special night. From tuxes and beautiful gowns, to hair, makeup and event tickets, we make sure this milestone isn't a financial burden. At our “Sassy Classy” events, families can shop together for free, picking up brand new, fashionable clothes, shoes, coats and accessories. We’re thankful to schools like Clintondale High and retailers like Torrid and Stonz who’ve helped us provide this blessing to families!

Due to the pandemic, our nonprofit lost some of its advocates, volunteers and board members. We had to figure out how to restructure our organization while helping our community that was in desperate need of resources. We collaborated with many other organizations to support network community movements and to pool resources so we could continue to serve.

We didn’t pull back. In fact, we’ve regularly been out in our communities, increasing our services and our giving. We’ve provided families with transportation, PPE, books and rental assistance and have connected them to mental health and housing resources.  We’ve recruited many high school students who've helped us with volunteer projects. 

One we're very excited to launch is our Reading Heroes on Wheels. Lawrence Tech students helped design this mobile learning center that we plan to debut this summer. Through multiple hubs led by high school students, we aim to increase digital inclusion across our counties in areas where libraries and resources are few. Here, families will be able to access WiFi, books, youth STEM programs, tutoring, financial literacy, cyber security and more.

Our mental health support for single parent families is another initiative born out of COVID-19. We’ve partnered with the University of Michigan Flint to design a program out of our Royal Oak office. We're setting up policies and procedures to gather information and make assessments on how we can support single parent families who are navigating loss and trauma. We’re looking forward to launching this program very soon!

The biggest challenge for most single families is housing. I don't care how many people say they're making sure we have affordable housing for families. It's not true. What's considered to be affordable is a joke. Our families are struggling with rent between $1200-$1600 a month for a 2-bedroom house, while making under $50,000. Current shortages means their rents are likely to be raised. Add in rising food prices, and the cost of daycare, and this is a vicious cycle. Most single parents are working at least two to three jobs to provide and care for their family.

Earlier in COVID-19, we were inundated with hundreds of emails from people across the country needing help with rent. It was heartbreaking for our volunteers to read emails from families who’d either lost their job, or were losing their place to stay, or both. That they weren't in Michigan or the tri-county area didn't matter to us. We responded to every last one of these families to find out where they lived and, with their permission, we connected them with resources and assistance in their cities. We do the same thing locally. If we can’t help you with your particular issue, we'll find someone who can. 

To continue this work, we’re definitely in need of more volunteers and key stakeholders who are passionate to help single families thrive. Some of those we lost were very impactful in our communities. Our website offers different ways to join our work and get connected. We also can use financial support to help our programs succeed and expand. 

For the single parents out there, we understand what it takes in order for you and your family to survive in this world. We're not going to judge you. For those without family to help, we are that family for you. Our nonprofit has a lot of support within our communities, people who are willing to assist and help you. Whatever path you’re going through at this moment, know these challenges won't last forever. There is always hope, so don’t ever lose faith.

Jeri Hunley is the founder and executive director of Single Family Living, serving families across the tri-county area. This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, a heightened awareness of racial injustice and inequality, issues of climate change and more are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.