Young women who participate in Children's Aid Society of Alabama Project Independence (PI) program are often the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable. They are young, pregnant or parenting, and homeless. They often have no high school diploma, no marketable job skills, and no supportive adults in their lives.
What these moms have in their favor is a small but mighty team led by Tiffany Storey, Program Director of Project Independence. Mrs. Storey is a licensed professional counselor who serves as mentor, educator, occasional handywoman, and typically the first point of contact for PI. "We do everything in love, "Mrs. Storey explains. This starts at the moment of referral and extends through needs assessment to program enrollment and residence in the PI apartments.
PI serves young women, ages 16 to 22, who have no safe place to live and raise their children. Some participants are referred by hospitals where the staff discover during labor and delivery that a young mother has no home to go to upon discharge. Mrs. Storey gets the call and schedules a face-to-face interview with the young mother. "The goal, "she says, "is to ensure young moms have safe and stable housing. "The PI team guides these young mothers toward completing their next-level education, learning job skills, securing employment with a living wage, and building self-confidence. Once employed, mothers pay a small contribution toward rent and save 20% of their income, "to teach them money management," said Mrs. Storey. To encourage and reward monetary discipline, the program also includes a method of matching funds for mothers who save. Additionally, PI covers childcare costs for six months, supplies transportation vouchers, teaches basic living skills, provides mental health resources and parenting education.
The young mothers can remain in Project Independence housing for up to 18 months. Mrs. Storey explains that exiting PI to safe and stable, permanent, affordable housing is the initiative's ultimate goal, sharing that, "Over 80% of our moms are able to move into their own place when they leave." After participants graduate the program, the PI team provides an additional year of "wraparound services," ensuring that mothers secure access to necessary community resources that enable them to maintain stable housing, employment, and childcare.
Most PI participants remain connected to Mrs. Storey and her team. "We get calls sometimes asking us to accompany moms to a court date, or just because their dishwasher is broken." For those who have successfully completed Project Independence, a Youth Advisory Council (YAC) offers program graduates the opportunity to work alongside current program participants on service projects, offering both peer support and positive role modeling. "We provide ongoing support to break the cycle of homelessness," says Mrs. Storey. For over 22 years, for over 350 young pregnant and parenting moms, and 250 children, Project Independence has done just that.