As a single parent, Montgomery College student Odessa Davis deals with financial planning and the complexities of raising a son on her own. But the second annual Single Parent Conference, held at the Rockville Campus on August 11, not only provided her with resources regarding those topics, it was also a reminder that she is not alone.
“We are all parents and dealing with the same situation,” she said. Having an eight-year-old child and working three jobs in addition to being a student has only been possible through much effort and a support system comprised of a babysitter, her mother and her grandfather. Meeting other moms through classes at Montgomery College and through support groups has also added to the proverbial village when it comes to raising a child.
At the conference, she attended sessions about affordable housing and building credits with tax savings. The main concern single parents expressed was financial planning, according to Beverly Coleman, the event organizer. “Budget was a very important issue for people. The workshops that dealt with finances were the highest-requested workshops last year, and we had to cut off our numbers because we didn’t have a space large enough,” Coleman said.
Nationally, the number of single-parent families has more than doubled over the past fifty years, according to new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, from 13 percent to 32 percent. In Montgomery County, 25 percent of households are headed by a single parent, according to a 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study.
We are all parents and dealing with the same situation – Odessa Davis
To meet the increased demand, Coleman doubled the conference’s capacity from 100 last year to 200 people this year. They expanded the offer of financial literacy and professional development workshops from credit building to money management. During the plenary session, financial experts spoke to the entire group. According to the Maryland Department of Labor, 4.5 percent of families in the county live at or below the poverty level, of which 54 percent are single, female-headed households.
Davis, who attended both last year and this year, has an associate’s degree in culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Miami and is now pursuing a degree in business management. Her goal is to transfer to University of Maryland to obtain a bachelor’s before opening her own restaurant. She felt empowered by the speakers, many of them single mothers themselves.
In addition to finances, the conference offered sessions on health, career options, education, and the social and safety aspects of dating, among others. Exhibitors ranging from nonprofits to government agencies offered information and support to attendees. The conference also provided a free respite childcare option for up to 40 children ages 4 to 8 if the parents were Montgomery County residents or MC students.
Evans Meh also attended for the second time. His main concerns were affordable housing and raising a daughter as a single father. “I was here last year and it was very productive. I came back because I am planning ahead and getting myself more equipped in the journey of single parenting,” he said.
Coleman, director of Montgomery College’s Educational Opportunity Center (EOC), a federally funded TRIO program serving low-income and first-generation adults seeking to pursue a post-secondary degree, realized she needed to make an extra effort to reach and empower single parents. TRIO Programs are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“[For single parents] finding and maintaining a job proves a real challenge, especially because many of them have little work experience,” Coleman said. “We had to offer resources to a part of the community that is especially vulnerable.”