New beginnings for homeless mothers
Recent studies show that 40% of Los Angeles’ homeless population consists of Solo Moms. The Nancy Painter Home for Mothers with Children in Glendale, California, was founded in 1992 to aid this community. Operated by The Salvation Army, the nondenominational nonprofit helps eligible women rebuild their lives.
Those who qualify can live at The Nancy Painter Home for up to two years rent free and are given a private bedroom, bathroom, and family computer. They are offered education, counseling, job training, and work opportunities. The residents also are encouraged to set aside 50% of their salary to be held in savings by The Salvation Army, which is returned to them upon their departure. This, along with a gift of the first and last month’s rent on a new living space, provides a springboard for a new life.
Founder Walter Painter was raised by a Solo Mom who was dedicated to her children. Though handicapped by a severe limp caused by a childhood bone disease, Nancy Painter still managed to work two jobs—determined Walter and his sister would have a life as good as any child with two parents.
Inspired by his mother’s determination and resourcefulness, Walter founded The Nancy Painter Home with the goal of relieving some of the challenges faced by women in similar situations. Working together, Walter, and his wife, Charlene, hope that by providing a loving environment and watering the seeds that grow independence, women in need might make a better life for themselves and their children.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your mom?
A: The youngest of 11 (or was it 13?) children, my mother was a gifted musician. Because she couldn’t walk as a child, the doctor prescribed an activity in which she could sit. Her parents chose piano. That decision had a very positive effect on her life. She was bashful because of her handicap, but as soon as she sat at the piano, it all disappeared. She played in honky-tonks (saloons) all over Philadelphia while my sister and I were growing up.
Born and raised Baptist, she was a spiritual woman. We attended church every Sunday. Funny and full of “one-liners,” she loved a good joke or songs not exactly appropriate for church. She wasn’t educated, but she was street smart. And although she was tough, determined, and intolerant of any disrespect, she still had a calming effect on my sister and me.
Q: How and when did your mother become a Solo Mom?
A: When I was five and my sister six, my dad woke up one day, put about $40 on the table, and left to be with an old flame. He screwed up. And his mistake ruined our childhood. Nancy paid her entire life for his mistake. I’m not sure if she ever forgave him. . . . I’m not sure I did, either.
Q: Can you give an example of how your mother was able to provide you with the life she wanted for you?
A: As a child, I had no idea I’d be a dancer. When a dancing school opened in our neighborhood, all the kids with two parents enrolled. My sister and I couldn’t because my mother didn’t have the money. So my mom went to the school’s owner and offered her services at the piano in exchange for dance lessons. It opened a door I could not have imagined. As a result, I became a successful dancer, turned choreographer, turned director.
Q: How did you get The Nancy Painter Home off the ground?
A: Producer Jack Haley, Jr., asked me to donate my time directing a charity event for Newman’s Own Foundation. (Work with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward? You bet!) One night, Paul invited me to join him and Joanne for pasta at the little place next door. “Why are you doing this?” they asked. I told him, “Sometimes I make a lot of money. Sometimes I make nothing. I just go wherever God sends me.”
Paul said, “Ya know, God is very smart. So why do you suppose God sent you to me?” I answered, “So I could tell you my idea.”
I told him about The Nancy Painter Home for Mothers with Children.
When I finished, Paul said, “I like this idea. Next time you’re in New York City, come to my office and we’ll talk about it.” On my next trip, I called his office. We met the following day, and he gave me the start-up money for a three-year period.
I was overwhelmed! I established the nonprofit, formed a board of directors, and got our church behind us. That took about one year to accomplish. When all was in place, the first check arrived. We were on our way!
Q: How does one qualify for The Nancy Painter Home?
A: Through the Salvation Army Glendale Branch. The information is on our website. A determined mother whose main focus in life is her children has a great chance of getting in.
Q: Is The Nancy Painter Home generally full?
A: We are always full, and there is usually a waiting list. The homeless situation in LA is horrible. We are working very hard to change that.
Q: What are your current goals?
A: To expand by increasing our partnership with The Salvation Army and placing Nancy Painter Homes all over Southern California and beyond! To do that, we must increase our treasury and number of board members, and find sponsors, foundations, and big-time donors—and, of course, assist as many single moms and their children as possible. We want to create “Single Mothers Day.”
Q: What is your favorite success story?
A: One mom who was living on the street came to us with her daughter, a bright, young girl starting her senior year of high school. If she could get her GPA up, the college of her choice would accept her.
They moved in and now had a roof over their heads, safety, privacy, and a place to call home. Soon, the young girl was doing great in school. She graduated with high marks and was accepted to her first-choice college. Her mom has since gone on to find her own place as well as a job.
All they needed was a place to call home with none of the problems created by living on the street or someone’s couch. Mission accomplished!
Q: Do you have a message for single moms in crisis?
A: You are two people: Mom and Dad. You have some difficult years ahead. The worst thing you could do is let your circumstances intimidate or frighten you from doing what you know is right for you and your children.
Your children will take your energy, time, and resources. You will be lonely at times. Nancy Painter faced all those challenges. She met them one by one, one day at a time. She planned ahead as best as she could and used her talents to their best advantage. She never lost her sense of humor, her love of music, and her love of God and the church.
Believe me, when all is said and done, and your children have grown, your sense of accomplishment will be overwhelming. And who knows what will happen along the way? Nancy ultimately met a man, fell in love, and stayed married until her natural end.
Thank you, Walter Painter, for all the work you do on behalf of single mothers. The ESME community is honored to be able to feature your organization and share the story of your mother’s resilience, which inspired The Nancy Painter Home.
If you’re a Solo Mom who is struggling with homelessness and would like more information on how to apply to The Nancy Painter Home, call Rick White, director of operations, or Shavona Parker, housing manager, at 818-246-5586. More resources and answers to your questions can be found on The Nancy Painter Home website. And read how these ESME featured nonprofits, Rosie’s Place and HOW, are meeting the needs of homeless families.
Do you know of a nonprofit that helps Solo Moms? We’d love to add it to our database and possibly feature its work on ESME. We can be reached at contact.us@ESME.com.
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.