Monday, Jul 28, 2014
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Pay it Forward Farm helps single mothers in Hernando, Pasco

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SPRING HILL - Famous poet Kahlil Gibran likened mothers to humanity's consolation in sorrow, its hope in misery, and its strength in weakness.

"She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness," he wrote. "He who loses his mother loses a pure soul who blesses and guards him constantly."

Gibran likely would have agreed with many of the core beliefs from Pay it Forward Farm: a local non-profit that has served between 12 and 15 single mothers at a time since January 2010.

"In our three years of service we've probably served 150 women," said Executive Director Christine Collins. "We're not a government agency, so we're very small and we really are able to individualize our program for women and children, and our goal is to really provide a nurturing and safe environment in order to build their confidence and skills."

That goes beyond job placement and training at the self-funded organization, which serves both Hernando and Pasco counties, Collins said. The organization has a pantry and thrift shop on-site, as well as one-on-one goal sessions between participants and volunteers, courses in computer literacy, building renovation and repair, sewing, and cooking and meal planning.

The non-profit also assists single-mothers without drivers licenses, and helps them earn industry certification, build towards permanent residency, and coming up in April advance their education with an on-site General Education Development program.

"Everybody comes from different levels," said Collins. "We have women who have left school at the age of 16, and women who have some college, and so we have to look and see what each of them needs."

Windie Olson is an example of that, having once worked in the medical profession before struggling with drug addiction, and ultimately losing her job, she said.

The mother of a 9-year-old son, Olson said her addiction lead her down the wrong road to incarceration and financial difficulty, and had it not been for Pay it Forward Farm volunteers and sponsors, she does not think she could have obtained her current state of independence and financial stability.

"I've been in the program for almost two years," she said. "I have been clean for 5 1?2 years. It has not been easy."

Olson said before being helped by Pay it Forward Farm, she submitted applications to more than 100 job openings, but with a felony conviction was never given a second chance.

"I don't think I could have made it without them," Olson said. "The program teaches you to do public speaking, write a resume, and it helps you get off of the system to not rely on the state. It helps you come out of your shell basically if you're shy, and (Collins) works with you to make you feel like you can do it."

Since enrolling in the program, Olson has earned Florida Certified Horticulture Professional certification, and now supports herself and her son through lawn maintenance and landscaping, she said.

In addition to the advanced education program, the non-profit also intends to have an on-site, community and childcare facility by the end of this year, according to Collins.

"That is a challenge for us with the children, to have a place for them to come to," Collins said. "We will have a place for them to take their children, so they can do the GED program or volunteer hours, so they'll have a safe place with volunteers to take care of the children."

Collins said the non-profit will continue to offer tutoring at the childcare facility, as well as children's summer camp, creative writing workshops, and birthday celebrations.

"On Monday night, all the school-aged children get special tutoring, which has made a significant difference in their success at school," Collins said. "By providing education and resources and support, our goal is to help them on their path to sustainability." Olson said this program has been important for her ability to work, and for her son's education.

"(Collins) watches him now before and after school, and he goes through the tutoring," said Olson. "They're helping him to pass his FCAT tests, and he is doing really good."

The organization couldn't do it without the support of community donors and volunteers, Collins said, which is why the non-profit recognized their supporters Wednesday night at their first annual "Showing the Love" supporter appreciation dinner at Spring Hill United Church of Christ.

"Tonight's dinner is a thank you dinner for all of our supporters who have helped us throughout 2013, and it's also a rewards dinner for some of our moms moving up through the program," said Collins. "There will be awards but also really, really awesome stories and speeches given from the women in our program."

About 80 teachers, volunteers, and donors attended the dinner, and Olson was one of two mothers in the program to tell supporters her personal story, and the difference their contributions have made in her and her son's life.

"We are so darn proud of her," Collins said of Olson.

For more information, or to donate or apply to the program, go to http://www.payitforwardfarm.org/

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

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