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Bridging New Opportunities, McAuley Residence’s Educational Model

Issue 33

A bridge and a couple of miles are all that separate McAuley Residence in Portland from Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) in South Portland. But for the women of McAuley Residence, a two-generation residential program for women in substance use disorder recovery, getting to college, and receiving the benefits that education would offer them and their children, can seem impossible.

A partnership between McAuley Residence and SMCC, with support from the John T. Gorman Foundation, creates new education opportunities to help moms and their children close the distance.

Part of Northern Light Mercy Hospital, the nationally recognized McAuley Residence has two locations, with 15 family apartments in Portland and 14 in Bangor. A third location in Portland with 10 apartments opens later this year and will accommodate mothers and their teenage children.

Participants progress through three program phases over a period between 18 months to two years. In the first phase, women connect with a network of healthcare providers and community partners to stabilize and access treatment while building a durable network of support.

The second phase is aspirational, with women exploring career and education options.

In the third phase, they secure outside housing and receive continued support for a successful transition into their new lives.

What makes McAuley Residence even more successful is the two-generation model it uses to simultaneously support mothers and their children. If mothers have lost custody of their children, there is a closely monitored process with the state to reunify them, with many families eventually living together in the residence.

A parent coach from The Opportunity Alliance provides critical support and skill-building to help make reunifications successful. After being assessed for their trauma and needs, children in the program receive a range of coordinated support – including healthcare, counseling, and access to quality early education.

McAuley Residence has persistent, positive results for family reunification and sustained recovery. But Melissa Skahan, who heads the program as the hospital’s Vice President of Mission Integration and Support Services, said one trend began to concern her in recent years: a decline in the number of women enrolled in college. Eager to provide for their families, more women were choosing to enter the workforce in entry-level or low-wage jobs.

“When I saw the decline in enrollment, I realized we had to do something different,” Melissa said. “The last thing you want is to reunify a family and have them exit McAuley and live below the poverty level. You have to do that aspirational piece.”

In response, McAuley Residence partnered with SMCC to provide an education success coach at its Portland location – someone who not only works with women around their broad career and education goals but also acts as a bridge to help women enroll and take classes at the college.

Funding from the John T. Gorman Foundation supports the education coach position, as well as access to education support and the development of a family learning curriculum.

“What is impressive about McAuley Residence is the work it does to continually refine and strengthen its model, using research and evidence-based practices to respond to the emerging needs of the families it serves,” says Jennifer Beck, the Foundation’s Vice President of Programs. “It’s been very exciting to see this new partnership develop and to know that the moms are being supported on their education and career pathways, which we’re confident will bring many long-term benefits to them and their children.”

Women’s goals vary widely — some have little education or work experience while others have advanced degrees.

For most, though, the first step is helping women shift their perspective to define themselves by their strengths rather than by past mistakes and traumatic histories. The journey of their recovery is an asset rather than a liability.

The success coach works with women individually and leads a weekly group covering everything from resume writing and job applications to addressing recovery in a job interview. At the same time, the coach is reaching out to employers in the community to find supportive workplaces where women can apply their talents.

Melissa said the education program has touched every woman in some way, and it has been powerful to see several take the first steps down the college path.

“There is nothing more beautiful than women finding their voice, reunifying with their children, and embracing transformation,” Melissa said. “The education coach opens a world of opportunities and sets a path toward a life that most felt was out of reach.”

For more information on the John T. Gorman Foundation visit www.jtgfoundation.org and on the McAuley Residence and Northern Light go to www.northernlighthealth.org/McAuley-Residence.

John T. Gorman Foundation
John T. Gorman Foundation
The John T. Gorman Foundation advances ideas and opportunities that can improve the lives of disadvantaged people in Maine.

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