By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — WCCO is partnering with Xcel Energy for the company’s Day of Service this week. We’ll introduce you to local nonprofits that could use your help. For more than 20 years, the Jeremiah Program has helped single mothers go to college, and helped their kids get ready for school, and volunteers are making an impact.

It is one of the most challenging issues of our times: how to get our most vulnerable neighbors out of generational poverty. Karla Benson Rutten has worked on social justice and economic issues for decades. Now she’s helping single moms and their kids build a better future with Jeremiah Program.

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“At Jeremiah Program, we really believe that single moms are already great moms,” she said.

Jeremiah Program has a unique approach of serving two generations at once. It starts with a safe home; about 40 families reside at the St. Paul campus she runs, with 40 more in Minneapolis with Patty Healy Janssen.

“The mission of Jeremiah — education and empowerment — is really just core to both who I am as a person but also professionally as well,” Janssen said.

When mothers and their kids move into Jeremiah, volunteers teach them all sorts of things, from parenting skills to healthy eating, from financial literacy to how to get ready for a career.

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“Volunteers aren’t a ‘nice to have,’ they’re a ‘have to have’ at Jeremiah, in terms of being able to engage with our families and run our program,” Janssen said.

They help out in the kitchen, they build welcome kits for new residents, they tutor young kids, and even mulch the outside to make the place feel like a real home.

“It absolutely matters, so having volunteers is a really important part of what we do,” Rutten said.

COVID-19 means common spaces aren’t as full of in-person activities and volunteers as they used to be, but changing with the times is what Jeremiah Program has always been about.

“We’re really invested in the mom’s vision, and really see her and center her narrative. She is always going to be the architect of her life,” Rutten said.

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You can sign up to help this weekend, learn about other organizations, and take Xcel’s “Good Energy” pledge to volunteer, by going to wcco.com/dayofservice.

Jason DeRusha