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Nana Grants helps low-income moms get the education they need to succeed

March is Women’s History Month, and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is celebrating the legacy of our chairman’s mother Molly Blank and the impact being made by current grantee partners led by extraordinary women.

In 2023, the Georgia-based nonprofit Nana Grants received a $500,000 grant from the Molly Blank Fund. Nana Grants provides funding that covers 100% of childcare costs for low-income student mothers attending an accredited college, university, or approved job training program in Georgia until their graduation.

The mission of Nana Grants is based on the belief that childcare and education can lead to economic mobility. Single mothers with only a high school diploma are three times more likely to live in poverty than those with college degrees. In addition, 40% of Georgia’s low-income working families with children are headed by single women. Many student parents enroll in college, but the added responsibility of caring for children makes it even more challenging. Graduation rates for student parents are lower than for non-parenting students. These rates are even lower for single parents. But despite all of these challenges, Nana Grants recipients are averaging an impressive 3.4 GPA.

The foundation recently had the opportunity to interview Erica Stephens, executive director of Nana Grants, to discuss the organization’s past, present and future.

Q: Can you please share some of your story? How was Nana Grants founded?

A: I founded Nana Grants in 2016 in honor of my grandmother, Mary “Gran” Arivett, and my mother, Diann “Nana” Arivett. My grandmother helped raise me while my mom, a single mother, attended nursing school at Kennesaw State.

Our goal is to remove the uncertainty associated with continuous, quality child care so that student mothers can focus on their studies, graduate and have rewarding, well-compensated careers.

Our first Nana Grants recipient graduated from Gwinnett Technical College in 2018 with a degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography while her son attended the D. Scott Hudgens, Jr. Early Education Center, also on the campus of Gwinnett Technical College.

Q: After a student mother receives a Nana Grant, what additional challenges does your organization observe mothers encountering?

A: It is common knowledge that childcare and higher education have become unaffordable for most Americans. Nana Grants supports women who are living at the intersection of these two realities – they are students, and they are single mothers.

Childcare is just one piece of the complex array of systemic obstacles our student mothers face. The American system for funding higher education is exploitative, therefore most of our moms graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Our student mothers are often sleep-deprived because they are working, attending class, doing homework and parenting. Overwhelm often leads to illness, depression and anxiety. On any given day, our moms are navigating transportation challenges, housing instability and food insecurity. They are highly motivated to succeed, but it’s harder than it needs to be.

Q: Listen4Good is a foundation partner and an organization that helps nonprofits seek and respond to direct feedback from clients. How has Nana Grants leveraged Listen4Good to support the organization’s goals?

A: We utilize Listen4Good to learn more about the challenges our moms face and how Nana Grants can make their lives easier. We also learn to what extent our mothers have been impacted by domestic violence, homelessness and involvement with the foster care system. And we’re able to measure our impact on economic mobility, reliance on public assistance and overall quality of life.

Q: What’s the most valuable impact statistic resulting from the work you do?

A: We are most focused on graduation rates and enabling economic mobility for our student mothers. A secondary measure of our success is the number of children who benefit from safe, high-quality early childhood education while their mothers are working and going to school. Nana Grants addresses economic inequities on both ends of the education spectrum: from birth to kindergarten and in post-secondary/career training. Our hope is that our two-generation model will break the multigenerational cycle of poverty for our graduates and their families.

Q: What are you hopeful for in the future of Nana Grants?

A: I hope the United States will follow the lead of other progressive countries by providing universal childcare and Nana Grants will become unnecessary. Until then, we will continue to expand our impact, fund more childcare and celebrate more graduations!

The Molly Blank Fund continues to support organizations and causes that Molly believed in. Just as Molly faced and overcame challenges and adversity in her life as a single mother after the death of her husband, Erica Stephens and Nana Grants are facing a challenge head-on and providing solutions that will secure future economic stability for student mothers.

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