Supporting Working Mothers from Immigrant Backgrounds
A Community Comes Together in Fort Morgan
Nestled in the middle of Fort Morgan’s Main Street, bookended by a mattress store and an ice cream parlor, sits an unassuming store front whose tenant cares more about transformations than transactions.
The Morgan County Community Center, run by community building organization OneMorgan, is a vibrant and welcoming convening spot for Fort Morgan residents and organizations. It opened in 2018 as a temporary “pop-up” resource for the immigrant, refugee, and asylee community; more than 19 percent of the town’s population is foreign born and 39 percent speaks a language other than English.
The concept flourished and morphed into a permanent resident-led community center offering adult English classes, citizenship classes, cultural events, and a safe space for students to gather after school.
The original intent of the space was to house a resource desk to address immigration concerns and needs and it’s evolved into a cohesive community center where all walks of life are welcomed – Executive Director Susana Guardano
Susana arrived in Fort Morgan from Mexico when she was five years old. She believes her family may not have felt so isolated if the community center had existed then. She reinforces that the intercultural center is a necessary place for understanding, support, and friendship, but it’s also an economic driver for Fort Morgan.
Helping working mothers achieve greater economic security
On this particular Saturday, six women and their families converge on OneMorgan for a potluck. It’s a chance to chat about motherhood and matriculation, and to celebrate their hard-earned progress.
They are all working mothers and part of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s WAGES program, which is comprised of 23 nonprofit organizations statewide, including OneMorgan. Each nonprofit in some way helps increase women’s access to higher education, job training, equal pay, child care, and livable wages. OneMorgan’s program focuses on helping working mothers acquire degrees that will lead to professional advancement, and ultimately, economic security.
Morgan Community College generously covers tuition and the support of career counselors. WFCO’s funding provides monthly stipends to offset the staggering costs of child care, transportation, books, and supplies that often are barriers to working mothers staying in entering and staying in school. Susana and two other program coordinators – Eric Ishiwata, PhD, and Taylor Jordan – bring the women together bi-monthly for career workshops, computer literacy training, support, and collaboration while addressing the linguistic, cultural, and social-emotional needs of working mothers from immigrant backgrounds.
Because of this targeted approach and support system, every participant has finished her second semester and OneMorgan has reported a 100 percent retention rate for fall semester.
Sitina, 25, came to Fort Morgan from Ethiopia in 2011 in tenth grade to join her brother who worked at Cargill Meat Processing plant. She originally attended classes at Fort Morgan High School but withdrew so she could work full time to help cover her mother’s medical bills. Today she’s a mom to one-year-old and five-year-old sons.
Finishing high school seemed unlikely to Sitina. When OneMorgan told her about the WAGES program, she jumped at a chance to earn her GED and take college courses simultaneously. She is on track to complete her GED at the end of 2019 and plans to enroll in a four-year college for nursing.
Marcela, 22, immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 15. Despite thinking she “wasn’t going to make it” through high school because of the language barrier, she persevered and graduated. She attended college for one year, but when she had a child, she didn’t have the child care resources to stay in school.
With OneMorgan’s WAGES program, Marcela is close to earning her associate’s of science degree, and plans to attend a four-year college to pursue industrial engineering. She loves working with systems and logistics and enjoys the challenge of making the best possible use of resources. With her stipend, she can afford high-quality child care for her daughter, Samantha, who is almost 3.
“Samantha has grown so much; she can already identify all her letters,” said Marcela proudly.
At the potluck, Gloria, 38, sits with her daughters Lilia and Brenda, who attend University of Northern Colorado. She has four children – all in high school and college, and Gloria wanted to take the next step for her future as well. She maintains her job as a breakfast attendant at a nearby hotel while the WAGES program allows her to work toward her associate’s degree in business administration. She dreams of opening her own Mexican restaurant and catering business.
During her first semester at Morgan Community College, Gloria earned a 4.0. She smiles as she talks about taking a class with her son and learning about career communication. She knows the information will be invaluable when she becomes a business owner.
“It’s been less than a year, and you can already see a change,” said Lilia of her mom. “I’m so excited to see her moving toward her goals.”