A single-mother success story

Published 11:16 pm Saturday, November 21, 2009

So many stories about single parents read as cautionary tales against the dangers of premarital sex and warnings about the sacrifices that must be made by both the parents and children in those families.

The statistics bear out those warnings. Government surveys leave little room for doubt that life as a single parent, on average, is far more challenging than life in a two-parent household. In 1995, for instance, 32 percent of homes with a female head of household, children under 18 and no husband present were below the poverty line. In 1994, the median income for a two-parent household was $45,041. In contrast, the median income for a single-parent household led by a woman was $19,872. For black or Hispanic mothers, the earnings levels were more than 25 percent lower.

Clearly, choosing to be a young, single mother is to choose a life far more likely to be one of hardship and pain than one of comfort and joy.

But there is another factor in every American life that can help tip the balance to the positive side, even for single mothers. That factor is ambition, the simple desire to improve one’s situation in life and to be willing to work to make that improvement happen.

A story in the pages of the Suffolk News-Herald this week perfectly demonstrated the difference that such ambitions can make. Six years after Deirdre Sawyer was living in Section 8 housing, raising two young sons on her own, she was named Single Mother of the Year by the Smithfield-based Still Hope Foundation. Today, she has a job, a house and a car, and she has dreams of continuing to improve her own life and that of her family by earning a degree in social work.

She was encouraged early in her trek by a social worker with the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority who helped her get into a voluntary program called the Family Self Sufficiency Program, which helps participants set goals, provides them counseling to help find ways to achieve those goals and begins teaching them about saving money.

The results in Sawyer’s case speak for themselves.

But none of the improvements would have been possible without Sawyer’s commitment to herself and her family, without her desire to take steps to improve her own situation, without her choosing just to wait for someone else to do the hard work for her.

Sadly, such stories still are the exceptions to the rule, and it’s doubtful that even Sawyer would recommend that young ladies intentionally set out down the long road that she has traveled. Still, she has set an uplifting example for others in similar situations to follow. Our hats are off to her.