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  • June ECAP Profile: MAMA Program turning lives around

    [Editor's Note: For the next few months, eScoop will highlight a nonprofit as an example of a class of nonprofits that benefit from annual employee ECAP contributions, as well as several nonprofit organizations that directly support County programs, operations or missions.]

    Alisa Aponte’s life began its dramatic turnaround that day back in February 2017.

    That’s when her cousin told her about a class called “Getting Ahead” that would enable people living in poverty to start building knowledge and resources toward a better future.

    “This was my opportunity to do something for her,” recalled Aponte, a two-time teen mother who dropped out of high school.

    The two planned to attend the classes together. Then her cousin ended up not going. 

    With her fiancée’s encouragement, Aponte pushed aside her social anxiety and attended by herself. It was the best decision she ever made.
    Alisa Aponte and family
    “It was life-changing,” said Aponte, now 29 and the mother of three: ages 12, 10 and 1 (see photo, right). 

    Aponte attended the Getting Ahead classes through Pima County’s MAMA program offered at the Community Food Bank. MAMA, a grant-funded project that assists young mothers and their children living in poverty, is a partnership between the Pima County Health Department and the county’s Community Services, Employment and Training Department. 

    The Getting Ahead and MAMA programs have received generous support from Pima County employees who earmarked donations for the county’s Ending Poverty Now (EPN) program during last year’s Employees Combined Appeal Program (ECAP) campaign. In all, 364 county employees contributed $46,458.83 to EPN. The initiative helps ensure people are not just “getting by,” but are instead "Getting Ahead" with an intensive 50-hour class designed for people in or near poverty.

    The class provides a safe learning environment to explore the impact of poverty on themselves, their families, and their communities. Participants assess their own resources and make plans for their own future. They offer ideas for building a prosperous community and choose a team to help fulfill their dreams.

    And Aponte is living proof that it works.

    When she started the MAMA Program, Aponte had no job, her lights had been turned off, she was making bridge payments for all of the family bills, had no insurance on the car for over a year and was struggling with two children with autism.

    Today, thanks to the MAMA program and her own dogged perseverance, Aponte’s future looks bright. Among her many accomplishments since entering the program:
    • Started and maintained employment at a local restaurant;
    • Got her GED from Pima Community College;
    • Paying bills on time;
    • Bought a second family car with cash;
    • Handling social media for the photography business where her fiancée works;
    • Went to facilitator training to help lead Getting Ahead classes, which she now does at two different locations;
    • Just moved into one of the new Pima Community Land Trust homes in Barrio Hollywood, doubling their living space and giving them the option to buy in a few years; and
    • Serves on the MAMA Advisory Board and the Voices Committee of the newly forming Southern Arizona Prosperity Alliance
    ‚ÄčEnding Poverty Now funds support these Getting Ahead partners. By giving to the EPN Fund, you may receive a tax credit from the state of Arizona of up to $800 (for married couples.) Contact a qualified tax professional for advice.

    Ending Poverty Now Agencies

    Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona. Inc.
    140 W Speedway Suite 230, Tucson, AZ 85705
    Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona. Inc.

    Pio Decimo Center
    848 S. 7th Ave., Tucson, AZ 85701
    Pio Decimo Center

    Community Food Bank
    3003 S. Country Club Rd., Ste. 221, Tucson, AZ 85713
    Community Food Bank

    Tucson Urban League
    2305 S. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85713
    Tucson Urban League

    St. Vincent de Paul
    820 South 6th Ave., Tucson, AZ 85701
    St. Vincent DePaul

    Interfaith Community Services
    2820 W Ina Rd, Tucson, AZ 85741
    Interfaith Community Services
    After moms go through the Getting Ahead curriculum, they enter “Circles of Care” where they meet with allies for additional support in their journey toward better lives. Allies are volunteers who help connect MAMA participants with community resources and ongoing support. In monthly meetings, allies offer support and provide critical input on improving health care for young moms.

    Aponte found allies critical to her success. 

    “You can’t just give people information and say, ‘Well, good luck!’” Aponte said. “Allies help you set realistic goals and plan backwards by looking at barriers to your success. I had a ton of allies and they were very important.”

    Tasha Buckinghorse’s life has also taken a drastic turn since she attended MAMA classes at Dragonfly Village, a project of the Amity Foundation. A member of the Navajo Nation, Buckinghorse was 27 years old, lying in a hospital bed, overwhelmed by “self-pity, sorrow, pain, anger and alcohol.” 

    The father of her 2-year-old son was dead from a heroin overdose. Buckinghorse was struggling with addiction and living apart from her son. When her doctor told her she’d be dead in two months if she didn’t change her life, she snapped to attention.

    Buckinghorse began attending MAMA classes while in a residential treatment facility. “Each class I attended was a seed planted,” she said in remarks delivered at the program’s graduation ceremony. “Seeds of inspiration, love, hope, and confidence.” 

    Today, Buckinghorse is living in Tucson with her son, completed her dental assistance program at Pima Community College through JobPath and was one of their keynote speakers in front of an audience of several hundred. The dental clinic where she completed her practicum offered her a full-time job.  Now, she is filled with a sense of hope for what the future holds. 

    T’a aho jii t’eego. “It’s up to you.” That is what her Grandmother taught her and that is what Buckinghorse gives expression to every day. 

    “I feel like MAMA should be taken by any single mother.”

    Her words echo how Aponte feels about the future. Not long ago, her son asked if their family was rich or poor.

    “We’re rich,” she answered, without hesitation. Her fiancée asked her later why she told him that.

    “Because we are rich,” said Aponte. “We’re rich in what matters.” 

    You can help

    • Volunteer as a MAMA ally. Call 724-5713 or email Maria Magaña.
    • Direct your ECAP donation to the Ending Poverty Now program when the campaign kicks off this fall.
    • Get a better understanding of poverty and why it matters to our community. Workshops will be offered June 23 and June 29


    For more information about how to donate, participate or to join the ECAP Committee, contact ECAP Committee Co-Chairs, Ray Velez, 520-724-4489 or Margo Chavez, 520-724-9169.

    Nonprofits to be featured in eScoop over the coming months include nonprofits which help County departments fulfill their missions as well as agencies working in the following areas: Health, Youth, Literacy, Housing, Hunger, and Family Support.

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