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Employment

RACINE — Higher Expectations for Racine County is launching an initiative to help local single mothers gain sustaining employment, while also preparing their children for academic success.

Higher Expectations, an organization with the mission of establishing a fully capable and employed Racine County workforce, will fund the initiative with an up to $500,000-per-year, three-year grant from StriveTogether. Higher Expectations will have to provide a 50 percent match for the total grant amount. StriveTogether is a national non-profit with 70 member communities working to achieve better results in children’s lives.

Higher Expectations is already in the planning stages for its initiative and is set to start recruiting between 15 to 20 women to take part in the program early next year.

Jeff Neubauer, Higher Expectations executive director, explained that through its research his organization found that to achieve overall success, help must be provided to the entire family.

“We have to focus on the mom and the children at the same time,” he said.

The initiative is set to help the mothers gain employment through educational advancement and training opportunities, and to ensure their children are kindergarten-ready — both academically and social-emotionally — by age 5, according to Chelsea Powell, Higher Expectations community relations manager.

“There’s this idea that if we can implement a two-generation pilot program where we take a cohort of female heads of household or single mothers and move them through a training program that is founded and based in where high-demand careers are in Racine and also provide supports and educational tools for their kids, then we can really move them over the cliff of sustainability,” Powell said.

The initiative is set to feature local employer participation, post-secondary pathways for high-demand careers informed by local workforce trends, high-quality early childhood education, Adverse Childhood Experiences screenings and trauma informed care as well as mentoring for program participants.

Some of the possible post-secondary pathways of focus for the program are health care, education, information technology, construction, factory work and truck driving. Education in these areas, facilitated through the Higher Expectations initiative, could include formal education or technical training.

“We really want to embed that post-secondary college degree or credential, or certificate or training opportunity that leads you to industry credentials, because we’re finding in other parts of our work that we have really low levels of education above high school diploma and that has a huge impact on our unemployment rate,” Powell said.

The data

Through a partnership with Norman Cloutier, a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Higher Expectations found that single mothers in Racine are disproportionately affected by barriers to employment than those in surrounding communities.

This data sparked the initiative’s focus on helping single mothers.

“We go where the data takes us,” Neubauer said.

He added that the unemployed single mothers in Racine were disproportionately African American and Hispanic.

Single moms experience a wide variety of barriers to employment, Neubauer said, including lack of work history, lack of education beyond high school, lack of access to transportation and unstable housing. The initiative is set to help the women combat many of these barriers.

Higher Expectations’ first step will be to identify businesses that are willing to partner with it for training and employment opportunities. It will also look for single-mother participants to be involved in the planning stages.

“We need to come together to make a real difference,” Neubauer said.

He believes Higher Expectations can create a model that organizations nationally can follow to help to break the cycle of poverty.

Higher Expectation is a public-private partnership founded in 2014 that focuses on bringing Racine County organizations and businesses together to ensure success for every student.

“There’s this idea that if we can implement a two-generation pilot program where we take a cohort of female heads of household or single mothers and move them through a training program that is founded and based in where high-demand careers are in Racine and also provide supports and educational tools for their kids, then we can really move them over the cliff of sustainability.” Chelsea Powell, Higher Expectations for Racine County

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Reporter

Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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