MAMA Program turning lives around

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 fiancé’s encouragement, Aponte pushed aside her social anxiety and attended by herself. It was the best decision she ever made.

“It was life-changing,” said Aponte, now 29 and the mother of three: ages 12, 10 and 1. 
Alisa Aponte and family
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 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;
  • Paying bills on time;
  • Bought a second family car with cash;
  • Handling social media for the photography business where her fiancé 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 County 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
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 fiancé 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 at
  • Get a better understanding of poverty and why it matters to our community. Workshops will be offered June 23 and June 29
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