On a stormy summer evening in Winston-Salem, around 20 women gather at Green Street United Methodist Church. They make up the new cohort of the Flourish program and Director Kristopher Norris tells them what they can expect.

"Flourish is a financial education and holistic wellness program designed to help you, to empower you to be agents of your own financial journey towards financial self-sufficiency," Norris says.

Climbing out of poverty can be especially difficult for single moms and their children. It's why nonprofits in the Triad area, and programs like Flourish, are taking family-centered approaches to tackle this.

The year-long program that first started in 2017 is an ongoing effort by local nonprofit The Shalom Project and is designed for women heads of households facing poverty.

Brandy Madujibeya is one of many at the Flourish orientation, but she's been involved with the program for some time.

She says she first learned about Flourish after coming to Green Street's food and supply pantry during the pandemic.

"I just had my daughter and I was looking for a church that could help me with Pampers," Madujibeya says.

At the time she was a speech pathology assistant. She says her job didn't provide benefits or a steady income. But what drew her to the Flourish program were the learning opportunities it provided and its childcare services.

"That was one thing that interested me," she says. "I'll have support, and I'll get knowledge about how to improve my income and different tips and strategies that would help me get out of poverty."

Back then she juggled paying for daycare and gas to drive to her job in High Point.

"It was good that I have support because I have no family in the area," she says. "And so I'm really out here with my kids on my own."

Challenges like these aren't unique to Madujibeya. Mothers across the state are struggling.

A report last year by the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund found that women who are single parents have the highest poverty rate of any type of household.

Norris says that's why a program like Flourish is so important — it impacts entire families.

"If you can help women heads of households and mothers step out of poverty and step into financial self-sufficiency then you're bettering the lives of those children and really trying to address generational poverty," he says.

Programs like Flourish want to break that cycle. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, the chances of being poor in early adulthood increase with time spent living in poverty during childhood.

University of North Carolina Professor of Law Gene Nichol, who also helps lead the NC Poverty Research Fund, believes poverty is the state's largest challenge.

"We have for a long time had one of the highest poverty rates, with the highest child poverty rates, and one of the highest food insecurity rates among the 50 states," he says.

Nichol says state policies like strict food stamp limits, cuts to unemployment programs over the years, and a lack of affordable childcare can make escaping this cycle even more challenging.

"The people who drive our policies in the general assembly know almost nothing about the actual challenges faced by low-income people in North Carolina," he says.

Madujibeya says initiatives like Flourish create a space filled with people who are empathetic to those challenges.

That kind of environment sets the foundation for participants to learn about credit, housing, and discuss mental health. When Madujibeya lost her job in February she participated in resume and job interview workshops through the program.

Other models in the region like the United Way of Greater Greensboro's Family Success Centers take similar approaches. Director Sarah Glover says the centers focus on income support, education, and finances to tackle generational poverty.

"Research shows that if your services are bundled, [and] it's sequenced right for you from those three areas, you can make economic gains," Glover says, "You can reach that faster than if you got those services separately."

According to Glover, nearly 700 households have been served through the centers since 2015, with more than 400 participants going on to obtain new or better jobs since joining.

Katashia Platt has been a participant in the centers' programs since 2021. She says as a single mother of four children the daycare service has been invaluable.

The support has allowed her to start her own entrepreneurial journey. She was also able to find new housing through the assistance of workers at the Family Success Centers.

"Their resources have provided a way for me to live comfortably with my children," Platt says.

Programs like these are important because everyone can use some help, especially mothers, she says.

Back at the Flourish orientation, attendees go around the room and share recent moments of joy. To a round of applause, it's announced Madujibeya has a new job as a Guilford County educator.

She says she will now have benefits and a retirement plan, which were important for her as a single mother. And for Madujibeya, although she's a little nervous about her new job, she says programs like Flourish give her the motivation to keep going.

The women in the latest cohort are expected to graduate in May.

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