She's Got Moxie: Ernestine Barnes-Small

Ernestine Barnes-Small, CallMAMA president.

Q: CallMAMA Inc. is a fun name for a nonprofit. Where did the name come from, and what does your organization do?

A: The name came from my first mentor, my mother, whom we called Mama. CallMAMA stands for A Call to Make Advancements using Mentorship and Advice. It is a mentorship program equipped with training and activities that support our mission of enabling women -- thus improving in the areas of education, health and wealth.

Q: Why did you think an organization like this was needed?

A: Research shows that working women are still paid less than men for the same jobs. The current economic situation, the young age of mothers, and extended family responsibilities, have increased the struggle for women, especially those who are heads of households. When women struggle to ensure a stable home, the family struggles, and these struggles of the family extend into the community.

Q: The group is relatively new -- you received your 501(c)3 status in November. What do you and the organization need most?

A: MAMA needs a facility! We are ready to mentor, to teach, to lead change for struggling women. I am being contacted by people who want to make referrals. We need a place where women can come for education, nurturing and a refuge. And we definitely need women who are willing to be mentors.

Q: You grew up in poverty, but as you've said, didn't know it until you were older. How did that affect who you are today?

A: My upbringing is the No. 1 reason I know that CallMAMA will be successful. My mother, who became a widow while nine children were still in the home, didn't have the money, but she raised successful children. There is a lot to be said about unconditional mentorship, advising, discipline and making a person know that you support them for life!

Q: What about your mother do you admire so much?

A: She had only a third-grade education, and despite what others said about her little barefoot children, she believed in us, and she always let us know that she believed in us.

Q: What was the most difficult part of your childhood?

A: Watching people disrespect Mama. Young farm owners, or children of the farm owners, calling her by her first name; social workers that would make surprise visits and look through our things to see if Mama had anything of value. To me, this was an attempt to demean her.

Q: What is your fondest memory of that time?

A: Mama was amazing! I must say that the most heartfelt memory of my childhood was that I never saw my mother fight or raise her voice at disrespectful people; yet all the people that I observed disrespecting Mama, I observed them, eventually, come to respect her.

Q: What do you see CallMAMA Inc. accomplishing in the next five years?

A: Stronger communities via more positive, educated, healthy women making a living for themselves and passing those skills to their children. A family of women connected for life through CallMAMA Homes, united across South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

Q: You recently graduated with your Master of Science after retiring from Cummins, where you worked as plant operations leader. What made you decide to go back to school?

A: When I first decided to go back to school, my intention was to move into the human resource department in Cummins. I felt that though we (Cummins) are a phenomenal company, the HR area could be stronger. The courses at Springfield College allowed me to reflect on my life experiences, the people I have helped, and the many people who helped me, and those who need help. I believe that my true purpose in life was realized as I worked on the projects which I was required to do at Springfield College. My passion in life is to help as many people as possible. I believe that this is done best through working to improve the lives of women.

Q: You spoke at Springfield College's graduation ceremony last week. What was your message?

A: That we are human service professionals. As human service professionals, our successes are predicated on what we do for others to ensure they are successful. Those of us that are seeking self-gratification or glory should truly reconsider our careers. Accepting this challenge, without expecting self-reward, is what makes us successful people.

Q: What is your most important advice for professional women who may be reading this?

A: That there truly is no such thing as can't. With every challenge, we must look deeper, past the "stuff" and take on the challenge with "the end in mind." Always remember that "you can, if you will."