Jessica Dautruche was a high-achieving student at UMass Amherst four years ago when she found the script of her life abruptly altered.
She was pregnant, and adrift.
Dautruche dropped out of school and returned home to Brockton. She felt very alone as she grappled with how to make her new life work.
But during a visit to a state office, she saw a sign for a program called Healthy Families. It’s run by the Children's Trust, a jewel of an organization whose mission is helping families thrive.
The program Dautruche enrolled in provides weekly visits by a caseworker and advice — counsel she very much needed — on every aspect of coping with being a new mother.
And it helped her succeed, brilliantly. She returned to UMass, graduated with a 4.0 grade point average, and is now in graduate school, with the goal of becoming a college administrator.
“I think it really helped me manage from week to week,” Dautruche said. “It was really stressful and I felt overwhelmed. A barrier for me was pride and not wanting to ask people for help. I never had to feel bad about asking for help because it was what they did.”
Now, she’s hoping to do give something back to the program. She plans to take to social media Tuesday to raise money for the program, with a goal of $2,500.
The day, dubbed Giving Tuesday, is conceived as the antidote to the consumerist nightmare of Black Friday. Giving Tuesday is all about charity. It uses Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness of under-the-radar causes — such as a program that helps single mothers cope.
Suzin Bartley, the executive director of the Children’s Trust (formerly the Children’s Trust Fund), freely admits that she had never heard of such a fund-raising project when it was presented to her, but she quickly embraced it. The overall goal on Tuesday is to raise $25,000 for the program.
“Jessica is an exceptional young woman,” Bartley said. “I can tell you story after story of young women who beat the odds, and fathers who stayed around, with the help of this program.”
Bartley said the larger mission of the program is to help young mothers avoid the traps that can turn an early pregnancy into a downward spiral. It stresses support and early intervention, and, critically, education. Most of the women who enroll in it finish high school and pursue some form of higher education.
The key is to connect with mothers early — ideally before the child is born.
An obsessive collector of data, Bartley explained that while one visit a week may seem modest, support for struggling mothers and their children is critical.
“We know zero to 3 is when the bulk of the brain develops,” Bartley said. “Let’s get in there then and make sure they know reading to your baby and talking to your baby and loving your baby will help them.”
She argues that the benefits are long-term as well. “It’s about breaking the cycle and spacing out subsequent births. You can have a baby at 15 and move forward, but if you have your third baby at 19, then the story’s written. It’s much more difficult.”
Dautruche said the program gave her something she sorely needed: a peer group. On campus, there was the occasional graduate student with a child, but undergraduates with newborns were a rarity. That contributed to her sense of isolation.
“They helped me problem-solve through every situation,” she said. Those situations, she said. ran the gamut from nutrition to transportation to such matters as dealing with the father of her child.
Now her son is 4 years old and thriving, and she is confidently looking toward her future.
“I think it’s an absolutely amazing program and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity and I hope others have the opportunity as well,” she said.