It's hard to think about earning your GED when you're wondering if you can afford to feed your kids or whether you'll have electricity tomorrow.

Those are some of the issues women in Trident Literacy's Mother-to-Mother program face. They need help so that they can focus on making better futures for themselves and their children.

The intensive program for low-income, unemployed and underserved mothers includes one-on-one and small-group instruction in everything from life and financial skills to core literacy skills.

The goal? To earn a GED and a WorkKeys certificate, and enroll in college. Yes, college.

"We're embedding it in their minds -- as soon as you finish this, you go on to the next thing," said program manager Felicia Holland. She calls it a 10-month boot camp.

Holland, who ran a similar program in Maryland, knows what she's talking about.

"I've been a single mom, I went to school full time and worked full time," Holland said. "I know it can be done, so I don't want to hear any excuses."

But that doesn't mean Holland takes a hard-nosed approach.

When one woman confided to Holland that she was having trouble studying because she couldn't see very well, Holland took her next door to buy some glasses off the shelf.

"A little goes a long way," Holland said.

The women face other barriers too, like transportation and child care. So the total approach includes free baby-sitting as well as play rooms where children can interact while their moms study.

It also means parenting classes. As Holland points out, if you become a parent at age 12 or 13 years, you don't really know how to be one. Nor do you know how to make a budget and stick to it, so financial literacy classes are included, as is job shadowing.

And there's a volunteer component, association executive director Eileen Chepenik points out.

"We're going to make them give back -- whatever their site is where they'll be doing their academic work, they'll help out," by filing or filling other roles.

It's the intensive case-management approach that Holland and Chepenik believe will be the key to the women's success.

"No one's going to be on their own. They're going to have help with everything, every obstacle."

A similar program funded by a different grant a few years ago had a 100 percent success rate for participants getting their GEDs or WorkKeys certificates, or both, Chepenik said, so they know that the structure works.

"They have a support system; they know exactly where to go. We are not going to drop them," Chepenik said.

There's clearly a need. Trident Literacy got 15 inquiry calls after reporter Diette Courrege's story ran on Monday, Chepenik said. "I firmly believe that illiteracy is the root cause of poverty," Chepenik said.

By addressing the root cause and eliminating barriers, Chepenik and Holland hope to turn the women's case studies into success stories.

Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at or 937-5565.