Program helps people escape poverty, one life at a time

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Brittney Papike believes the Uplifting Parents Program helped her escape a life of poverty.

Over the next five years, according to a news release from Catholic Social Services, the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities wants to test if Papike, a Rapid City single mother of two, is right.

Thanks to $1.4 million in new funding from the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, LEO will conduct a randomized controlled trial study to prove if, and how, this Catholic Social Services-led program moves single parent families like Papike’s out of poverty.

“Programs of this nature have the power to move the needle on poverty,” said William Evans, co-founder of LEO, in the release.

LEO’s mission is to reduce poverty and improve lives, and Evans is excited to develop a research design for Program UP to measure its outcomes and evaluate its ability to achieve that mission.

“LEO aims to identify the innovative, effective and scalable programs that help people move out of poverty,” Evans said. He and several other Notre Dame staff visited Rapid City last month to start that process.

CSS created the Uplifting Parents Program, nicknamed Program UP, in 2014 with help from a coalition of about 20 nonprofits in Rapid City, said Natalie Lecy, director of Program UP, in the release.

Program UP helps single parents get an education so they can find a skilled job, earn a livable wage and get their families out of poverty, Lecy said.

“The families we work with have demonstrated tremendous grit and are more than ready to take advantage of any opportunity to assist them towards a better life,” she said.

Since its start, Program UP has worked with 38 single parent families, and has seen 23 single mothers graduate from the program after receiving degrees.

One of them is Papike, who recently graduated from the South Dakota State University School of Nursing. She is now working as a registered nurse in Rapid City and able to support her family — a 4-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter — without public assistance.

“Doing something so big all by yourself is hard,” she said.

With a financial stipend from CSS and emotional support from her Program UP mentor, she didn’t have to. Program UP also helped her pay childcare costs and to afford a prep course to study for her nursing boards.

“I didn’t have to take out so many student loans, and it helped a lot with my children,” she said. “But talking with Natalie and meeting with her twice a month was big. Just talking with someone and having someone to evaluate things and get things off your chest was so important to my success. She just calmed me down, kept me on an even level. I guess just her having that faith in me just made me believe in myself even more.”

To learn more about Program UP or to apply, contact Lecy at 348-6086.

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