During the summer, the holidays are far from the minds of most people, but Cheryl Przezdziecki is seeking people who want to help single mothers provide holiday magic for their families. Early registration has opened for The Empowerment Project’s Sponsor-A-Mom program.

In her work as the founder and Clinical Director at The Women’s Center for Healing in East Longmeadow, Przezdziecki said she saw firsthand the struggle of single mothers and wanted to do something to help. After discussing the issue with friends and colleagues, the nonprofit The Empowerment Project was created at the end of 2022.

The organization’s flagship initiative, the Sponsor-A-Mom program, matches sponsors with recipient single-mother families. Sponsors receive information about the family’s circumstances, their specific needs and wish lists for the holiday season. Recognizing that people may want to help, but not be able to fully sponsor a family, there are three tiers of support. People or businesses that sign up to be “individual” sponsors support the full needs of a single family. “Community” sponsors allow people to purchase a few items from a family’s wish list. In this way, several people can share the sponsorship of a family.

The third option is the “Holiday Meal” sponsorship. Sponsors can purchase meal packs, which are paired with the wish lists of recipient families so they can have a holiday meal. For those who wish to contribute but do not have the time to gather wish list items, monetary donations are an option. The money is put toward fulfilling wish lists that may not have been fully sponsored.

“We’re committed to making sure that every parent that signs up is paired with some form of help,” Przezdziecki said. To encourage people who register for the 2024 Sponsor-A-Mom program by June 31 will have their names put into a drawing for Meghan Trainor tickets.

In 2023 — the program’s first year — 10 families were sponsored. “These families had the full experience,” Przezdziecki said, adding that wrapping paper was even included to provide mothers with the experience of wrapping their children’s gifts.

Przezdziecki said she was surprised that more sponsors signed up than there were recipient families. For this year’s Sponsor-A-Mom program, she is hoping to double the number of families helped. The families are found through referrals from licensed care providers, doctors, therapists, teachers, educational staff or social service workers. Przezdziecki explained that because The Empowerment Project is a nonprofit, it must be able to verify the needs of recipient families. Vetting those who refer recipients allows them to do that without asking families to prove their financial status.

“We really uphold the privacy and anonymity of these families,” Przezdziecki said.

To that end, sponsors do not interact directly with recipient families. Instead, sponsors can drop off or ship items to The Empowerment Project, which then arranges pickups with recipient families. Otherwise, the person who referred them can deliver the items. This is especially helpful for those without transportation.

“The feedback we’ve gotten and the comments we’ve gotten makes us want to keep going,” she said of the organization’s four-person board of directors.

Sponsor-A-Mom is not the only program benefiting single mothers that The Empowerment Project is working on. This winter, it piloted the Feeding Families initiative, creating boxes of “hearty sustainable food items to get them through the winter” and pairing it with gift cards for fresh vegetables, Przezdziecki explained.

She also expects to have a Sponsor-A-Student program running by summer 2025. That program aims to fill the need for shoes and uniforms for families who need help with those expenses. Przezdziecki noted there are backpack programs that help provide school supplies, but uniforms are a cost that is often overlooked by charitable organizations. Referrals for that program will likely come from the schools, which already have information on which families are considered low-income.

“We’re kind of in an experimental phase,” Przezdziecki said of The Empowerment Project’s exploration of how it can best help single mothers. She believes it will continue to use a direct support model, facilitating person-to-person giving rather than raising money.

Przezdziecki acknowledged, “I don’t know what it’s like to be a single mom, but shouldn’t it be baseline that we can give things [like] holidays to our children?”

For more information about The Empowerment Project of the Sponsor-A-Mom program, visit werisehigher.org.

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