Helping Los Angeles Solo Moms improve their lives
Based in Los Angeles’s Santa Clarita Valley, Single Mothers Outreach (SMO) is a nonprofit organization aimed at empowering Solo Moms and their children by providing hope, support, and resources to enable them to become productive and self-sufficient.
By offering emergency stabilization, training, incentives, and rewards, SMO helps in-crisis mothers and their children get back on their feet, stay out of the system, and get on with the business of living.
At the heart of this organization is DaAnne Smith, SMO’s executive director. She was handed the small drop-in program in 2008, and in just five years, DaAnne shaped it into a comprehensive community service center that serves an exploding solo-parent population.
While happily married for 31 years, Smith has worked tirelessly to assist Solo Moms in gaining the requisite life skills to raise children alone and get on the path of independence.
Q: How do women find you?
A: Mostly by word of mouth. Many are referred by family or friends. Last year we served 460 families—connected with them, checked in on them, and held them accountable for their growth. If they weren’t accountable, we removed them. They received therapeutic services from us or assistance, be it case management or classes or group therapy.
Q: Does your staff donate their time, or do you have financing?
A: We have both. We have probably 130 personnel, from the office staff to our board of directors, committees, volunteers, etc.
Q: How did SMO get started?
A: It was started by a divorcée, Debbie Quick, in 1994. She wanted to connect with other single moms, so she put an ad in the PennySaver. Still, she could only take it so far and couldn’t sustain it. We closed our then offices, laid off our staff, and the board of directors began a complete overhaul of the organization, starting with our mission statement.
We shifted from a peer-based drop-in service center with support groups and some help with bill paying, to creating a monster. Our mission statement is now clear that we exist to assist parents who are on a path of growth, serving parents on the entire spectrum. This week, we have two women who are homeless with children whom we are helping to get housing. But we also will have the mom who calls just to check us out and hear about our resources.
We serve a gamut of need but only single parents and heads of households. We recognize it’s difficult to parent alone—especially for those who don’t have financial resources. If a Solo Mom needs help, we are here, but as a matter of course, we are not a crisis center. We invest in long-term results. It’s a social investment. We have a financial training program. If you don’t do our program, you don’t get assistance. We want women to learn the importance of an emergency fund!
Q: What are some of your services?
A: We help women go back to school, learn computer skills, learn to manage money, help their children to manage money. (The number-one cause of breakups is money.)
We also deal with the depression and anxiety inherent in single parenting. This is where our therapeutic services come in. We have four [staffers with master of social work (MSW) degrees] from California State University, Northridge, who provide therapy and group therapy, supervised by Maria Clemens, who [has her] MSW and [is] becoming a [licensed clinical social worker].
Q: What brought you to SMO?
A: I joined the board of directors in 2006. I left my job as an office administrator in 2008 to do this full time. I came from a nonprofit and for-profit background. For the first two years, I didn’t get paid.
I care about single moms, going back to my mother-in-law. She grew up in a single-parent home during the Depression. Her parents owned a hardware store. Then the crash of ’29 happened, and her [father] became an alcoholic. [Her mother left him, and moved with their] four children to the suburbs of Denver. They raised chickens, grew crops; she sold clothing and birth control. She was an amazing person.
My mother-in-law was eight when this all happened. She’d tell me stories about how hard it was. Her mom didn’t have friends because the women in her neighborhood viewed her with suspicion—like she would steal their men. Her stories had a profound effect on me—even more so when we had our family. I thought, How could anybody do this alone? So it wasn’t a big leap for me to want to help single parents. I use the term “single parent” because many single moms don’t like the stigma of being called a single mom.
Q: Are there similar organizations in other cities?
A: Early on, when I was rebuilding the organization, and to this day, we get calls from all over the country from women asking for help. I discovered there wasn’t any organization doing what we do. I’d find churches with outreach, but nobody whose sole purpose was to help a Solo Mom and her children with resources. The closest I could find was the YWCA, but they focus on all women. We are laser-focused on Solo Moms.
Q: Would you like to grow SMO?
A: It’s been on our radar to grow. Once someone set up a Google ad. Next thing you know we’re getting calls from all 50 states. We had to pull the ad. It broke our hearts to say “no” to all these women. We know we’ve struck a chord of need, and it is our goal to expand out, but as with everything, it all comes down to funding.
There is not as much sympathy for Solo Moms. So many have the view, “You made your bed now lie in it.” We are very intentional about communicating the message that we are partnering with someone who is already working towards being able to care for her family. We just come alongside and give them the tools to get off the programs that keep them dependent. We present this message to attract the funding to expand.
Q: Where do you get your funding?
A: Primarily from our social enterprise. We have this really cool, little resale boutique. It looks like a high-end boutique. It’s a for-profit business inside our not-for-profit business—a beautiful partnership that the community really supports.
We also have fundraising events and grants. But most of our revenue comes from donations—individuals and businesses. They now trust us. They know their money is going to a good cause.
Q: What’s next for SMO?
A: We have two key issues to address:
- Now that we are stable with money in the bank, we have the problems of jobs and housing. Our population has unique needs. If you are a solo parent and your child gets sick, who cares for them? We have women who are unemployed or underemployed. This ties to living in Southern California. How [do you] find a place to live that you can afford? These two major problem areas need a solution.
- Our staff is extremely underpaid, even for a nonprofit. We are here because we are passionate about the mission, but before we can think of expanding, we have to pay our people what they are worth. We are underfunded. Once we are funded, we can start setting aside money for expanding to other areas—most likely in the greater Los Angeles area at first, then beyond.
Q: You have a great prototype.
A: I’ve never had the time to carve out the idea of creating a “business in a box.” This is how you get started. . . . This is what you need. . . . But I’ve always felt what we’ve done here can easily be replicated. It’s already been done and proven. But it would take a master marketer to draw the funding needed to build it out.
Q: What are your demographics?
A: In 2015, we served over 400 people. Of our active parents we had two males—and 224 females! Our average household is three people: 45% Caucasian, 40% Latino. The rest are other ethnicities. Fifty-three percent of our population are earning under $15,000 a year, 65% rent, and 51% checked the box that they are the victims of domestic violence.
We have unique and challenging issues to consider. We have women whose husbands left because they have a child with special needs. Or what happens to children when a mom is working? Do we put mom in a job with on-site child care? Do we put mom in a job where she can work from home?
Plus, [because] over half of our moms check the box that they have been abused, [they] have self-esteem issues. We must create a nurturing environment that sets women up for success and helps them grow in their professional life.
Q: Do you have a favorite success story?
A: My poster child is Jenny Vazquez.
During our very first Christmas program, Jenny came by and offered to help. She started volunteering for our Adopt-a-Family program, then realized, Hey, I’m a single mom. I need this, too. So she joined our program. She had $40,000 of debt that came with her divorce, so she took our financial literacy class. She started putting the principles into practice, followed the program, and paid off her debt in two-and-a-half years cleaning houses for a living.
She cut her lifestyle back to the bone. Once out of debt, she saved $10,000 to pay cash for college. She was also undocumented, so she hired a lawyer to get her papers. Now she can legally work and drive—and she’s only 32 years old!
It was one thing after another—chipping away. There’s not one thing this woman can’t do because someone believed in her. Her mother’s philosophy was to find another man and get pregnant. Now her family comes to her for advice. She’s a remarkable woman. She’s got a part-time job, is still cleaning houses, and is starting culinary school.
What we didn’t know at the time was that she was suicidal when she came to us, so that cross-section with SMO completely changed the trajectory of her life.
DaAnne, your tireless work on behalf of Solo Moms is incredible. ESME is thrilled and honored to feature Single Mothers Outreach.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.