An initiative called One Million Moms OFF Welfare” is in Fort Myers for a two day conference with local social service agencies and low-income single mothers.
The nationwide initiative wants to get one million mothers off of welfare by 2025. The Fort Myers Housing Authority and the nonprofit Can I Live, Inc. are sponsoring the event. Local social service providers receive specialized training. And Can I Live’s President Raquel Williams said the program’s goal is to help women create a personalized long-term plan for their lives.
“There’s a whole lot of different variables that come into play so everyone’s strategy is not the same,” said Williams. “We look for meaningful career placement based on an in-depth assessment and desire to be productive in society.”
As a former welfare mom herself, Williams says mothers on welfare are disproportionately impacted by what she calls the three M syndrome: Mindset, men and money.
“So the mindset is understanding the psychology behind poverty and its many effects,” said Williams. “Then we also have the men who is understanding the power of relationships with the men we mate, date and create. And thirdly, is understanding when it comes to money that it’s proper planning and proper preparation that produces prosperity.”
As a single mother of four boys, Williams said it took her 15 years to get off her dependency on public assistance. She’s critical of the current welfare system.
“I found myself penalized,” said Williams. “They gave me ultimatums. They told me that I couldn’t go to school. They told me that I had to withdraw. They wouldn’t pay for me to become an attorney or to study law, but they would pay for me to become a CNA. So, I felt early on that the system that says they’re here to help you actually was there to keep me poor, keep me dependent, keep me in this cycle of poverty.”
Nearly 200 people are expected to participate in the Fort Myers conference. The initiative kicked off in Washington D.C. last summer. The Fort Myers event began April 21 and ends Friday at the Dr. Carrie D. Robinson Event Center in Fort Myers.