Ribfest funding helps single moms in need

By Annalisa Rodriguez
Updated 6/29/2012 2:26 PM
  • Vicky Joseph sits in the tutoring center for Families Helping Families in Naperville.

      Vicky Joseph sits in the tutoring center for Families Helping Families in Naperville. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Vicky Joseph wasn't content with just dropping off Christmas presents for a single mom one holiday almost 20 years ago. Others might have felt their good deed was done, but not her.

She started Families Helping Families, in partnership with Bridge Communities, from her desire to further help single moms like the one she aided that Christmas. The support program for single moms with families is one that benefits from the proceeds of the Naperville Exchange Club's Ribfest.

"It was just very depressing for me; it did not feel good," Joseph said. "I didn't see how she could get out of the hole she was in."

After that experience, she started looking for resources in her community to help single-mom families. A nun told her about transitional housing, which led her to Bridge Communities, an organization that provides transitional housing for families in need.

Joseph was clear she wanted it to be a two-year program focused on allowing moms the opportunity to pursue an education. Bridge Communities put up no arguments.

Joseph and her kids went through the neighborhood on Roller Blades, dropping off fliers in mailboxes and seeking donations. The first year, she raised $8,000 -- enough to help one family for one year.

That first mom was divorced, with an ex-husband who felt no need to provide for his 3- and 4-year-old children, Joseph said. The 3-year-old was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and constant hospital visits kept the mom away from her two jobs.

"That is a tough, tough disease," Joseph said. "She got her eviction notice about the same time as the diagnosis."

Fast-forward almost 20 years. The mom has long since earned a degree in computer science and both daughters have graduated from college.

It's these kinds of stories that Joseph has helped make a reality.

Now Families Helping Families provides single moms with transitional housing and mentoring services. The organization pays $840 a month in rent for each family, plus utilities.

Various services are offered for free or at a discount for the moms and their children, such as dental care, eye care, legal services and car repairs. Children get private tutoring and the families are offered counseling.

"It takes a whole community to help a single mother put her life back together," Joseph said.

The Naperville program is just one of the many organizations being helped this year by proceeds from Ribfest, running through Tuesday, July 3, at Knoch Park near downtown. Joseph said the funding Ribfest provides is essential to the organization's success.

"They're our largest contributor and have been since I started this 18 years ago," she said. "We would not be able to help 10 families without the Exchange Club."

Up to 10 families, most coming from a background of abuse, neglect or poverty, are helped at any one time by the organization, and two volunteer mentors work with the mothers to review budgets and assist them with other problems.

Mothers are required to keep a very detailed budget, something Joseph says is necessary because moms often come to Families Helping Families with boxes of unopened bills they were too afraid to open. Moms are required to account for every penny in their budgets.

"They learn a lot of financial literacy," Joseph said. "They have to budget every week, and it comes down to the penny."

Twelve moms have gone on to become homeowners and every single child of the program has finished high school, with some going on to college.

"That's the thing I'm most proud of," Joseph said.

The program has been extended as the years have gone by, Joseph said. While most families stay for two years, she said that if moms need three or four years to complete a bachelor's degree, she has no problem with that.

"Because of the changes in the economy, $15-an-hour jobs are going to people with master's degrees," Joseph said. "It's getting harder for blue-collar workers to find jobs. All our moms want to do is be able to take care of their kids, and that's getting harder, not easier, because wages are going down and (the) cost of living is going up."

Joseph said her work with Families Helping Families has given her an appreciation for the moms who go through the program.

"I have such respect for single moms who are somehow being really terrific moms for their kids and struggling everyday," she said. "It just leaves me awe-struck at the kind of energy it takes our moms to get through one day at a time."

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