Poverty is cyclical, says Beth Banas. When children grow up in poverty, they’re more likely to struggle with it as adults.
But education is cyclical, too. If a parent completes high school and then gets job training or a college degree, their child is more likely to go on to higher education.
The nonprofit Angels’ Place, based on the North Side, was founded in 1984 with that knowledge in mind. They offer free, high-quality childcare to single parents who are in school full-time and meet low-income guidelines. Knowing their children are in an enriching environment, these parents can concentrate on classes and job training to build stable careers.
At the same time, the program also offers a parent education component. “Our families commit to a contract. One of those pieces is an agreement to attend weekly parent education meetings,” says Banas, executive director. At Angels’ Place, parents develop a network of friends and advisors, and they learn vital life skills including effective parenting, financial literacy, nutrition and handling legal issues.
“Our belief is that both generations need to have the tools to succeed,” Banas says. “And education is key in that process, as well as being surrounded by a net of support.”
Through classes and networking with Angels’ Place staff and each other, the parents develop a strong community and skills that will help them maintain the lives they’re striving to create. When these pieces are in place, Banas says, families have a chance at thriving.
Angels’ Place currently serves between 120 and 150 people each year at its North Side headquarters and Swissvale satellite office next to the busway. Single parents can apply online or stop by for an application.
“Our biggest referral source right now is word-of-mouth,” Banas says. Parents who find success through the program often encourage friends to apply.
Some come to the program as high school students with newborn babies, and they may stay with Angels’ Place through college, Banas says. Those who are older and pursuing a job training certification may stay just eight or nine months.
In an effort to help as many Pittsburghers as possible, Angels’ Place is very open to working with any low-income single parents who are striving to get an education, even if they’re not sure they qualify. “We recognize each individual’s unique circumstances,” Banas says.
In that spirit, they’re launching a pilot program for working parents who are not currently in school. “We were recognizing that working parents really were struggling,” Banas says, “especially ones who meet low-income guidelines, to find reliable quality childcare program.”
Her hope is that when these working parents enter the Angels’ Place program and discover that free, quality childcare is available, they’ll decide to go back to school and strive for further education themselves.
In the 30 years that Banas has been with the program, she’s seen real success in Pittsburgh. Most recently, she received a card in the mail from a young woman who just completed her doctoral program. Once a young child receiving daycare at Angels’ Place, she is now a practicing physician. Her mother, who enrolled at Angels’ Place many years ago while in school, now works as an accountant for PNC Bank.
Banas has also seen other communities nationwide begin to embrace this multi-generational approach to fighting poverty.
“There is definitely a growing sense around the country that the need for two-generational care is pivotal for ensuring success,” Banas says. “Looking at both generations changes the landscape.”