By ROBERT SHILLINGSTAD
Special to The Press
Single motherhood is becoming the new “norm.” This prevalence is due in part to the growing trend of children born outside of marriage, rising divorce rates and other issues that affect marriage. Today 1 in 4 children under the age of 18, a total of 17.2 million, are being raised without a father; 27.5 percent of single mothers were jobless the entire year, and 40 percent lived in poverty.
Kootenai County is not exempt from these tragic statistics, and to find out more I visited with JoAnn Zajicek, the director of the Union Gospel Center for Women and Children in Coeur d’Alene.
JoAnn, you have been director of this center since it was opened over five years ago and it is full. Where do you stand now with capacity?
We consistently have 35-45 women in residence, and they stay with us for a period of 18-24 months. We have a comprehensive program helping to bring people to health, healing, job training and a relationship with the Lord and other Christians. We have a long-term recovery program helping women and their children find healing for their brokenness and the tools and direction they need to live in the freedom Jesus offers.
You also have children in residence with their mothers. How does that work?
That is becoming a bigger part of the mission. When the Center opened, 10 to 15 children in residence was normal. Now we have 25-35 children. Many of our children have experienced homelessness, hunger, instability or domestic violence that needs special care and healing. Our children’s program works with moms and kids together to promote healthy families. This means day care, more meals to prepare, school transportation and a variety of issues. Yet it is vital to serve the whole family.
How many employees work here?
We have 23 employees here and over 150 volunteers, who are essential. We have a group of men who have started a “man’s club” for the boys living here, boys without a father figure in their life. We have many professionals who offer their services, such as dental and medical care. We offer regular training sessions for volunteers.
Where does the support come from? Do you have government funding?
We are part of the Union Gospel Mission Inland Northwest, which serves both Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. We take no government funds for any part of our ministry. We rely on giving from individuals, businesses, and churches throughout the community. We also receive some funds from Union Gospel Mission Motors and Thrift Stores. We work closely with other ministries like the Kroc Center, Heritage Health, Safe Passage, Children’s Village and so many others to serve those in need and make the best use of all of the community’s resources. Most of our support comes from the faithful, small monthly donations of so many here. Our estimate is that across the ministry, UGM saves the government $5 million a year in services.
Here is a tough question for you, what is your success rate? You are dealing with hard situations — addiction, homelessness, abuse, etc.
That is an excellent question and one that we wrestle with. We believe from the evidence we have that our rate of success is about 80 percent if individuals remain sober for five years. Therefore we are now focusing on a strong aftercare program. Helping men and women have a strong support team after leaving program. We want to do better, and to do that we need to make sure that each individual is plugged into a church and support after they leave. The next five years is critical.
What are the challenges you see ahead?
Here are some that stand out: Pornography and the sexualization of our culture have made family and commitment less important. Inter-generational cycles are showing up over and over; we see grandmother, mother and daughter all swept up in the same cycle of poor choices.
The answers you gave about the challenges are daunting. What are the answers?
Frankly, the answers are spiritual. We are seeing life-changing miracles every day and prayers being answered. We are not shy telling our residents about the choice they need to make to accept Christ in their lives, and that transforms people into new creatures!
I was so impressed with our tour of the Union Gospel Center for Women and Children. You can call 208-665-4673 for information or a tour. UGM’s address is 196 W. Haycraft, Coeur d’Alene.