Response: January 2015 Issue

A Head Start

A Head Start
Staff and children at Moore Community House work together on the children's garden located on the center's playground.

Moore Community House helps mothers and children in Mississippi end the cycle of poverty.  

Moore Community House is a United Methodist Women national mission institution serving low-income women and young children in east Biloxi, Mississippi. East Biloxi is a neighborhood rich in ethnic diversity and cultural history but poor in financial wealth. Moore Community House has served east Biloxi since 1924, which makes 2014 Moore Community House's 90th anniversary year!

In 1924, Biloxi was the seafood capitol of the world. United Methodist Women began mission work through Moore Community House by serving children in migrant families who came to work in the seafood factories and lived in the factory-owned camps located in east Biloxi. While preparing for our 90th anniversary celebration we ran across a newspaper advice column from 1931 that recounts a plea for help from a widowed mother of two young children. The advice columnist suggested, "You can work at the oyster and shrimp factories and leave your babies at Moore Community House where they will be taken care of splendidly while you are at work." Clearly we have been serving women and children in this community for a very long time. What a legacy of mission!

Today the challenges faced by east Biloxi families are primarily economic. These challenges are most severe for families headed by single mothers, like the widow who wrote for help more than 80 years ago. Today this demographic is growing in Mississippi. Women make up half of Mississippi's total work force but about two-thirds of our state's minimum wage workers. (A recent bill to raise the minimum wage died in committee.) Minimum wage leaves a family of two, mother and child, below the federal poverty level. In the United States, Mississippi ranks highest in percent of single-parent families, where poverty is concentrated, at 48 percent of children living­ in single-parent homes. Seventy-six percent of our state's poor children reside in single-mother households.

Moore Community House provides programs and services that respond to the needs of these families and make a tangible, long-term difference. The Mississippi Economic Policy Center reports that the programs that best move low-income families closer to economic self-sufficiency are: affordable, quality child care so the parent can work and the child is prepared for success in school and job training that leads to higher paying employment. Moore Community House offers such services.

Moore Community House Early Head Start program serves children from birth to age 3. This is the age range when child care is most expensive. For parents earning low pay, especially single parents, it is particularly hard to find affordable—let alone quality—child care. But single parents must remain employed in order to support the family. Moore Community House provides care all day, all year so parents can work or attend school.

Moore Community House Early Head Start program also provides early childhood experiences for young children. Many people wrongly think that infants and toddlers are too young to learn so all they need is a caring babysitter. Caring is important. But so is learning.

These young brains are rapidly building the neurological infrastructure to support lifelong learning, and Moore caregivers help build the foundational groundwork for successful social and emotional skills as well as math and reading skills. This is a critical time when quality interventions are key to enhancing long-term positive outcomes for children. Moore Community House Early Head Start provides these essential services for 104 children. Our waiting list exceeds 125. Clearly this is a vital service for the east Biloxi community.

Moore Community House also offers the Women in Construction job training program to build a pathway for women to higher paying jobs (see the March 2013 issue of response). This job training equips women with national certifications in commercial construction and operates in partnership with large employers along the Gulf Coast. Moore Community House places our graduates into jobs that are secure and pay wages that provide families economic security. Since this program began in 2006, Women in Construction has graduated hundreds of women who came from the women's shelter or the food stamp office or from our own Early Head Start program. Graduates experience a 70 percent job placement rate. This success strengthens mothers' independence and agency and models parental success for their children.

Mississippi Kids Count recognized Moore Community House's success moving vulnerable families toward economic security with an award at the 2013 Kids Count Summit. You can see a video documenting Moore Community House as a success story on the Kids Count YouTube page at Link to YouTube opens in a new

Moore Community House has learned through the experiences of the low-income families with whom it serves that public policies need to change to help reduce poverty. Mississippi languishes as last in the nation in women's well-being according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research and last in child well-being according to Kids Count. The Pew Forum also declares Mississippi the most religious state in the nation. The contrast between these designations is a rallying cry for people of faith to work for change. Moore Community House has launched Congregations for Children as a vehicle to build an ecumenical network of people of faith willing to learn about and advocate public policies to improve circumstances for Mississippi's low-income women and children. With the assistance of young adult United Methodist Mission Interns, Congregations for Children promotes state-level policies that improve circumstance for Mississippi's poor families in the areas of health, education and income. Through this work we bring good news for the poor from houses of worship to the halls of government.

Moore Community House is making a difference in the lives of individual women and children in east Biloxi and in low-income families all across the state of Mississippi. United Methodist Women is part of Moore Community House's success as you support the current and long history of mission in east Biloxi. Join us in celebrating 90 years in mission!

Carol Burnett is executive director of Moore Community House in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Posted or updated: 1/1/2015 11:00:00 PM