New programs at Brighton Center, United Way work to lift hundreds of moms and kids out of poverty

'Life is good'
New programs at Brighton Center, United Way work to lift hundreds of moms and kids out of poverty
Posted at 5:30 AM, Sep 01, 2016

NEWPORT, Ky. -- At 52 years old, Jerri Elwawi recently started the best job she's ever had.

Elwawi already has been promoted, and soon she'll have benefits. And while she and her young son, Keegan, are living with her sister for the moment, she's confident her $32,000 annual salary will provide them with enough financial stability to get their own place soon.

"Life is good," Elwawi said. "And I owe it all to Brighton Center."

Elwawi got her job as a housekeeping supervisor at a local nursing home after graduating from the Center for Employment Training. CET, as it's known, is a debt-free educational program that Brighton Center offers. The goal is to create opportunities for its participants to become self-sufficient.

Thanks to a national foundation's grant to Brighton Center, the organization hopes to help a whole lot more moms like Elwawi get there.

Using $850,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Brighton Center has created STEP Forward, a new program designed for unemployed single moms of young children. STEP Forward is designed to help moms get the training they need to get good jobs while at the same time providing them with quality child-care for their kids.

RELATED: Foundation gives $1.7M to fight poverty here

To get more moms involved, STEP Forward will hold a career boot camp from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 19in conjunction with the Erlanger-Elsmere School District.

"It's really looking at how ultimately systems between workforce development and early childhood education can come together to better serve unemployed mothers," said Talia Frye, Brighton Center's workforce development director. "Mom's going to be in training, child is going to be in a quality setting, and that's going to allow parents to better engage with their child on their educational journey, too."

It's not just happening in Northern Kentucky. United Way of Greater Cincinnati also won an $850,000 grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to create a similar program called Cincinnati STEPS.

Investing in moms to help kids

The word STEP in both program names is no accident. Both local projects are part of a pilot study called Supporting Transitions to Employment for Parents, or STEPS. The two grants are part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's national effort with 14 community-based workforce organizations around the country. All the funded programs are focused on working with moms and children -- a so-called two-generation approach -- just like STEP Forward and Cincinnati STEPS.

"When the W.K. Kellogg Foundation looks at who is most in poverty, it's single women," Frye said. "So that's where they really want to target their dollars to have the most effect on childhood poverty."

That certainly makes sense in Greater Cincinnati where roughly two-thirds of all poor kids live with single moms.

Brighton Center is offering STEP Forward in Erlanger, Newport and Covington. United Way is focusing Cincinnati STEPS in specific neighborhoods, too.

The early work has been in the West End and Walnut Hills. Efforts also are underway in Avondale and Price Hill, said Amy Weber, United Way's STEPS project manager.

So far, 18 Cincinnati moms are involved in the program, with a number enrolled in different training programs through the United Way's Partners for a Competitive Workforce and other local training programs, Weber said.

Brighton Center has 28 moms participating in STEP Forward at this point, Frye said. So far, all of them are attending classes through CET, which offers training in business and computer technologies and medical assisting.

Medical assisting is the most in-demand job in Northern Kentucky, Frye said. And one recent graduate of CET got a job earning $16.51 an hour.

Getting a win

Classes at CET typically go from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and it takes people anywhere from six to nine months to graduate from one of the programs.

"Most of our trainees haven't been successful in a traditional school setting," Frye said. "This is just the beginning of their learning, and we want to make sure they've got a win."

That's certainly how Elwawi felt.

She graduated from Bellevue High School and went straight to work at dead-end jobs that she enjoyed but didn't pay much.

Jerri Elwawi, right, and Keegan.

She heard about CET when she went to apply for government-funded insurance and food stamps for her son.

"They helped me find my self-esteem," she said of the program. "One thing I never did in my life was follow through with anything. But I made up my mind that I had to set an example."

Now Elwawi recommends CET and Brighton Center to anyone who will listen. She wants other single moms to get training like she did so they are better able to support themselves and their kids.

And that's exactly what STEP Forward and Cincinnati STEPS are trying to make happen.

If all goes as planned, the two programs will have helped 200 women and their children get on the path out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency by October 2017.

To learn more about STEP Forward and its upcoming Boot Camp, click here. For more information about Brighton Center, click here.

For more information about United Way of Greater Cincinnati, click here.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, to go

To read more stories by Lucy, go to To reach her, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.