FAMILY IS A WORD THAT CAN MEAN A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS TO PEOPLE. SOMETIMES OUR FAMILY IS THOSE WE ARE RELATED TO; SOMETIMES FAMILY BECOMES THOSE WE HAVE KNOWN SO CLOSELY OVER THE YEARS THAT THE BOND IS JUST AS STRONG AS IF WE HAD BEEN BORN TO IT. ONE THING FAMILY IN ALL ITS FORMS AND ALL ITS MEANINGS TEACHES US, IS THAT LIFE CAN OFTEN BE A TOUGH ROAD AND THAT WE CAN ALL BENEFIT FROM HAVING A GOOD SUPPORT SYSTEM AS WE TRY TO NAVIGATE ITS UPS AND DOWNS. IN THE SPIRIT OF PROVIDING THE NURTURING AND PRODUCTIVE SUPPORT SYSTEM THAT IS SO CRUCIAL TO ACHIEVING SUCCESS, THE FOLKS BEHIND PROJECT ROW HOUSES LAUNCHED THEIR YOUNG MOTHERS RESIDENTIAL PROGRAM BACK IN JANUARY 1996, WITH THE HOPES OF BEING ABLE TO OFFER STRUGGLING YOUNG MOTHERS A CHANCE TO HAVE ACCESS TO THE TOOLS AND RESOURCES NECESSARY TO HELP WORK TOWARDS A BETTER FUTURE NOT JUST FOR THEMSELVES, BUT FOR THEIR CHILDREN. FOR THE FIRST FAMILY ISSUE OF OUR MAGAZINE, WE WANTED TO SHARE A BIT MORE ABOUT THE PROGRAM AND ITS GOALS TO HELP THE DREAMS OF TODAY FOR THESE YOUNG MOTHERS BECOME TOMORROW’S REALITY. AN INTERVIEW WITH STAFF AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR EUREKA GILLEY OF PROJECT ROW HOUSES. STRENGTHENING FAMILIES AT PROJECT ROW HOUSES ONWARD AND UPWARD
The past year has been monumental for the empowerment of women. Can you tell us a little bit about what empowerment means to Project Row Houses (PRH)? Empowerment at Project Row Houses takes many forms. In many cases we are seeking sustainability and creating new ways for people to see themselves and others differently, whether they are artists, young mothers, the residents in our community or small business owners. We support people and their ideas so that they can go on to do the same.
PRH is also responsible for the Young Mothers Residential Program (YMRP), a section of group houses dedicated to single low-income mothers and their children. What led to this much-needed program? Like many of our programs, YMRP developed in response to the needs of the community. The program was designed to foster both independence and interdependence. While we want the mothers and their children to achieve self-sufficiency, we also want them to know that they are part of a community, that they have people there to lean on and that they are there for others to lean on. We all go through hardship, but we don’t have to go through it alone.
Part of YMRP’s goal is to help develop healthy, holistic living while strengthening academic knowledge, career paths and financial management, to name just a few. Can you give us a brief overview of the curriculums offered within the program to help struggling young families achieve these goals? Some of the strategies used to positively support the trajectory of our participants and their families are partnerships and collaborations within the Northern Third Ward Community. The foundation of YMRP is creating an engaged sisterhood and community among the mothers in the neighborhood. Each participant is holistically supported through workshops on parenting, fiscal well-being, positive relationship building and more, as well as individualized tutoring, career, professional development, quality childcare, access employment partnerships whenever possible, and both individual and group support with a social worker. We provide them with a baseline to overcome barriers so that they can think creatively about their lives and their futures.
PRH is coming up on an astounding 25 year’s anniversary! That is quite an achievement. What are some of the hardest obstacles PRH and YMRP by extension have had to overcome throughout the years? With YMRP specifically, the transition out of the program can be quite challenging. Helping women figure out what they can do once they graduate was the major driver behind PRH developing a series of duplexes with Rice Building Workshop at Rice University that then became our affordable housing program. In 2003, that program became our sister organization, Row House Community Development Corporation; and since their founding, RHCDC has expanded to three additional sites and is now composed of 28 structures, which have provided permanent affordable housing for 56 families within the Third Ward.
What are some of your greatest success stories? Our Young Mothers Program has supported roughly 100 mothers and their families. Some of these women have gone on to pursue doctorate and law degrees or become business owners and community leaders. Some of the greatest success stories are still being told. We’re now starting to see children from some of our early participants enter universities and work towards their own dreams.
In honor of this quarter century milestone, can you tell us a little bit about what you have planned? We have a lot of exciting and engaging events planned for this year! On May 6, we’re celebrating YMRP and the mothers of our neighborhood with CommuniTea, a Sunday afternoon of tea and fun. We’ll also be taking people on bus tours of public art by PRH’s founding artists; visiting Victoria Square Park in Athens, Greece, to see how artists there have applied the PRH model to their own community; taking students from our community to view PRH’s place in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; wrapping up the year with our 25th Anniversary Gala; and even more in between! If people are interested in learning more, they can visit www.projectrowhouses.org/ anniversary. Each event is focused on a different aspect of PRH’s work and history, so we hope everyone will join us as often as possible!
Sometimes we all need a little (or a lot) of inspiration, what advice can you offer young mothers and families who might not know that opportunities like YMRP are out there for them and ready to help. In a world where so much is placed on individuality, we should all remember that community matters. As the old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Community is a vital part of life, and we are all integral members of something larger than ourselves. Find ways to access those communal networks, and they’ll help lead you to resources.
Project Row Houses, located at 2521 Holman Street, is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5pm. | www.projectrowhouses.org