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Rochester Local

Meet the Locals: Ally Hanten Ebert is Working to Disrupt Generational Poverty

Ally Hanten Ebert
Ally Hanten Ebert | submitted photo

My job is to dispel the stereotype of what a single mom is, and what they are capable of. When I see them, the amount of things they are doing –juggling competing tasks and time management, their lived experience. Lived experience has taught them much more than just higher education alone. Grit and tenacity isn’t a taught skill. The moms we partner with have it. They are going to be such amazing assets to our workforce. I’m so excited to see the work they do, and how they contribute to our community in a way that makes our community more inclusive, and honors various perspectives. -Ally Hanten Ebert

 

Like many in Rochester, Ally Hanten Ebert’s path to Rochester came via Mayo Clinic. Her husband is a research scientist and was recruited by Mayo Clinic in the middle of the pandemic, and given one year to make the transition from Iowa. The family had been in Iowa for 13 years; Ally loved her job there, working with an organization providing direct service to women, children, young moms, and homeless youth, doing both intervention and prevention work. Moving to a new city in the middle of a pandemic posed plenty of challenges, including figuring out a new job for Ally. With her Master’s degree in Couple and Family Therapy from a feminist-informed program rooted in social justice, she hoped to find something here in Rochester that was a good fit. And find it she did. “When I found Jeremiah Program, it felt like this job description was written for me. It was the perfect next step.” In a few short months, she started her new role as Executive Director at Jeremiah Program.

“One of the things that drew me to JP (Jeremiah Program) is how it addresses poverty disruption on both the micro and macro levels. At the micro level, we are helping individual families and individual needs. At the macro level, we are addressing systems and how they impact poverty. Addressing one without the other is not nearly as effective–addressing system needs without helping the individual is not effective, but addressing individual needs without systemic change just keeps those in poverty there. JP is actively involved in informing policy change and addressing the systems that we know help interrupt the poverty cycle, including access to childcare, college access, and workforce development. And we provide individual family support as well.”

Disrupting Generational Poverty

Jeremiah Program is a national program, with 9 campuses across the country. The Rochester campus is a new campus, and in the three years that she has been here, Ally has already seen the way this program is growing and benefiting the community. JP, as Ally refers to it, is a two-generation program focused on removing barriers to education for moms while also creating a culture of learning for their children. She explains that the two largest barriers for single moms completing their education are affordable housing, and affordable high-quality childcare– both of which JP tackles head-on. “With our 40-unit building of fully-furnished apartments, families can choose to live with us on campus, or they can stay housed where they are. The same is true with our childcare center. They can use it whether they live on campus or not.” This flexibility with the fundamental needs of the families allows them to adjust or pivot as needs change, over the average 3.5 years that families spend at JP.  And at the heart of the program is the Coaches that each family works with. “The Coach is a navigator and partner to our moms to provide assistance with all the ways that college might be disrupted. They partner with moms to go over, under, and through the barriers to ensure persistence with each mom’s educational goals. Coaches work with them to identify their area of interest, find educational programs that cater to those areas, and help them gain access to education. We offer workshops, educational support, skillbuilding, and social-emotional learning for the entire family.”

Building a Community

Families at JP are integrated into the program’s community from the start. Whether they live on or off campus, creating a supportive environment is essential to the mission. “What is happening here is very holistic and communal. Our kiddos live in this building together and then come downstairs [to the childcare center] and play together. The moms in our program are friends, and see each other at Tuesday community dinners. JP has a very communal lens and way of operating, which changes the entire dynamic. Even families who live off-campus know each other and are part of the community, and we are invested in them.” This community-focused approach allows JP staff, coaches, childcare teachers to stay connected with each family, and offer holistic support. “Yes, kindergarten readiness is important for the children, but we don’t lose sight of how the family’s day, night, or month is going, and how that can impact the child showing up.” Building community is an integral part of the larger mission at Jeremiah Program, she explains. “The more connected we all are, the more likely we can move together in change. It of course brings its struggles and issues come up, but those moments are important too! How do we manage conflict, how do we work through it and learn to coexist? Through these moments, everyone is learning important skills– emotional and social learning is happening from littles to moms.”

Rochester Community Involvement

While community-building is happening inside Jeremiah Program, it is also happening outward into the greater Rochester community as well. This integration and support from its many partners is a large part of the program’s sustainability and success. “We collaborate with many organizations and people in our community to bring as many services as possible directly to our families on the Jeremiah Program campus. We have ongoing partnerships with Olmsted County, Public Health services, and WIC (federal supplemental nutrition program). We have state benefits services visit campus, Legal Assistance of Olmsted County provides a legal clinic; we have educational workshops and reading centers lead literary workshops. Recovery centers partner with us for addiction treatment, and mental health providers and therapy services hold sessions with our families on-site to reduce the barrier to access to mental health services.”

“We have a great partnership with RCTC; around 80% of our moms are enrolled there. RCTC advisors will come to our campus to help moms enroll, and they help with college persistence and keeping our moms on track for graduation.”

Partnership with the community happens on the individual level as well. Many individuals and groups from the Rochester area take part in providing a meal for the families at JP. “Families love it. Our moms are working, going to school, and parenting. Having a night where they can be off and enjoy a meal while the community comes in and serves a meal is great. And it allows others to be in community with our families.” Others contribute donations and monetary support, which Ally says is essential to keeping Jeremiah Program viable for years to come.

Celebrating Together

Celebrating milestones large and small are an important part of the culture at JP. “We believe in centering our moms and the work that they’re doing. This winter we had two moms finish their Associate of Arts degrees, and we had a celebration. While both are going on to get their bachelor’s degree, we wanted to recognize the work that went into getting their AA degrees. We celebrate preschool graduation, and had our first 2-generation graduation last spring, with the moms celebrating earning their degrees and their children celebrating preschool graduations together. We celebrate sobriety milestones, academic successes, and work to create a supportive culture that encourages celebration together.” One of the many ways that moms are recognized and celebrated is through Academic All-Stars. To achieve Academic All-Star status, they have to have a GPA of 3.0 or greater and finish all the college credits they started the term with. “We had a total of 33 All-Stars for 22-23 academic year. This Fall (2023) we had 25 for first term alone! We celebrate them and each step as they are striving toward their finish line.”

Looking to the Future

As Jeremiah Program campuses go, Rochester is a young campus with just 3 program alumni so far and adding 3 more this Spring. Looking to the future, Ally and the JP team are dedicating more time developing the alumni part of the program. “Some of the questions we’re addressing is: How can we continue to create a community of alumni and learn from them for future and current families? JP doesn’t just stop the moment they graduate. How do we walk alongside them into the next phase of life, and keep moms in community with each other going forward?”

Part of this next phase of life is seeing moms move into the workforce. “It’s exciting to see alumni doing incredible work in the community. One of my aspirations is to increase our Rochester community’s understanding of the wealth of talent we have here at JP. These are highly capable, highly competent women who are ready for opportunities. I would love for our community leaders to see JP as a feeding pool for the workforce.” One of these means of increasing the visibility of JP in the community was a Ladies Night event and friendraiser held in Rochester in December. “This was an opportunity for women in the community to hear directly from our moms, learn about our program’s childcare, housing, coaching, and more. We invite our Academic All-Stars to come to talk about their experiences in our program.” Community events like this are an important part of transitioning from student to workforce. “We work with moms to market themselves, make connections, and spend time networking,” all essential skills for the future. JP has also dedicated part of their executive board to the mission of building partnerships with the Rochester community to create more opportunities for jobs and careers for alumni.

A Rochester Local on a Mission

When not working, you’ll find Ally spending time with people she loves–especially her husband and two elementary-aged kiddos. “My husband is a research scientist at Mayo. We met at North Dakota State University when we were 19 years old. We are super different in the best ways. He’s one of the smartest, most driven, people I know, and totally accepts and encourages the passionate, tenacious, and sometimes unhinged human that I am,” she says, laughing. “I have always been drawn to connections with people and helping people.”

As a family, “we love being outside, swimming, playing sports, playing in the yard, and going for hikes.” Her family is a frequent sight at Jeremiah Program.  “It’s fun to have our kids come to events and make friends with the kids who live here. They know the work we do and why we do it. It’s super important to me to have them understand that people come from all kinds of backgrounds and positions and teach our kids that it’s our job to use our privilege for good and helping others.”

This mission is with Ally wherever she goes. “Anywhere I go, as Executive Director, I’m the face of JP which is a privilege. It’s a privilege to be associated with an organization that is rooted in values that are so meaningful to me. Getting to witness these women invest in themselves is such an incredible thing!”

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Learn more about Jeremiah Program, including volunteering or donating to their mission.

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