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Single Mother Speaks Out About Benefits Of Misericordia’s Bourger Program At Conference

May 23, 2019

DALLAS TWP. — Asia Thompson, a single mother of two children, completed a journey from poverty to success. She fled an abusive relationship and formerly lived in a homeless shelter and her car at times but eventually graduated from Misericordia University and went on to law school. Thompson spoke about her struggles and achievements Wednesday at the inaugural “Pathways Out of Poverty” conference at Misericordia University hosted by the Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program and Aetna Better Health. Before she entered Misericordia University’s program, she had two children, Zaire and Kaitlyn, by the time she was 18. She got into a bad relationship with an abusive boyfriend when she was 15. She also had a rough relationship with her mom and she didn’t have a stable home life. From the time she was in eighth grade to 12th grade, she lived in seven different homes and attended three different high schools. “I had no concept of stability,” she said. “I was seeking some sort of fulfillment everywhere I went.” When she met the man who became her children’s father, she thought she was in love. “When he hit me, I thought maybe that’s what love is, maybe that’s what stability is,” she said. “Then I got pregnant and I felt trapped.” She said her mom didn’t support her and she had no choice but to live in her boyfriend’s mother’s house “no matter how abusive it was.” “No matter how many bruises or bumps or black eyes that I got, I would flee, then I would get turned down by mom and I would go back,” she said. “That was the cycle that I was in from the time I was 15 to 18.” After she came home from the hospital with her baby girl, she said her boyfriend attacked her and she left with her two children. Her mother let them stay with her for a few months until she made it clear they were not welcome anymore and Thompson said they had nowhere to go. She then found herself sitting on a floor in a transit center in New Jersey with her baby daughter strapped to her chest and her son in a stroller. After frantically calling places looking for help, they ended up in a homeless shelter. At that moment, she said she knew she needed more. “I had this thought of my daughter being in this spot and setting her up for a life of that,” she said. She began Googling college programs for moms where she could bring her children when she learned about Misericordia University’s program. Before packing up garbage bags of clothes and her two children in a small sedan and driving here, they tried to survive in a one-room apartment in New Jersey off $400 a month in state subsidies, very little food stamps and no refrigerator. They also had no heat and lived in her car at times. When she stepped onto Misericordia University’s campus and moved into a house with her children, she said it was the first time she felt safe and secure since she was in seventh grade. “It was because of this program that I have a voice,” she said. “It was because of this program that my children learned that it was OK to have a voice and that it was OK to dream. And it was here that I found my dream again. It shifted me out of a survival mode into thinking of all the possibilities I could ever imagine for myself and my children.” Thompson graduated from Misericordia University with a bachelor’s degree in English two years ago and is now pursuing a law degree at New York Law School. She called the Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program “the bridge out of a really bad situation into the rest of my life.” Katherine Pohildal, director of the Bourger program, said Thompson is an inspiration to show that “anything is possible.” Other guest speakers at the conference Wednesday included Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera and Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller as well as social research and public policy experts Luisa S. Deprez, Ph.D., professor emerita of sociology, University of Southern Maine and Lisa Dodson. Ph.D., retired research professor of sociology, Boston College. Pohildal said the goal of the conference was to bring multiple sectors together to look at how to develop better partnerships to not only address poverty in the region and state but to end it. The conference concluded with the introduction of the Pathways Advisory Panel made up of representatives from various sectors across the community who committed to continue the discussions and work to address poverty. Pohildal said poverty has been a big issue in the region, especially for single mother households. “They are dominantly the families who are living in poverty right now,” she said. “We have too many women and children living in poverty in this region.” The Bourger program at Misericordia University assists single women with children by providing free housing while they attend college classes for up to four years. The women pay tuition but are offered financial aid and scholarships to keep debt down, Pohildal said. Thirty women graduated from the program and went on to pursue advanced degrees or land careers. “We build them up basically,” she said. “We offer a whole bunch of comprehensive services for the mom and the child for up to four years. When they leave with their degrees, they are able to go into professional careers and sustainable lives that are healthier and they just do great. We break the line of poverty. It ends here.” Contact the writer: dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2115, @CVAllabaugh

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