Getting through college as a single mother is hard enough - and the holidays can be doubly stressful - but one Ahwatukee Foothills chiropractor decided to help by taking part in the Helping Hands For Single Mother "Holiday Heroes" event.
The event, which took place Saturday, helped about 70 students by pairing them with a sponsor to provide Christmas gifts for their children at a time when money is tight.
Greg Hauser and his wife, Shele, sponsored Dani Johnson, a mother of three graduating with a nursing degree from Glendale Community College in the spring.
"I see a lot of single moms in my practice trying to better their lives and we figured any mother of three trying to get through nursing school could use a leg up," Greg said. "We try to do something every year, but now that I know more about the organization we might stick with this one. It was very personal to see the reaction and be able to know the change we were making in her life."
The Hausers placed Johnson's children's wish list in the lobby of Greg's chiropractic office so patients could donate items on the list. They also collected a jar of monetary donations, and Greg offered to allow new patients to pay for their first visit with a gift card for Johnson. They estimate they were able to raise more than $500, and a dentist in the same complex in Ahwatukee even offered to help fulfill the wish of Johnson's 13-year-old son - braces.
The Hausers were able to meet Johnson and get to know her while helping her wrap gifts at the event on the Arizona State University West campus in Glendale.
"It's everything that they wished for," Johnson said. "There was no way we could really do the amount."
Angelique White, a graduate of the program and the event emcee, explained that the organization was also celebrating 10 years of service to single moms.
Though the organization started out small, this year's "Holiday For Heroes" was so large it had to be split into two different sessions to have enough room in the large ballroom for all the sponsors and mothers, and a total of $18,000 worth of gifts.
Not only was the event well received by the community, said Helping Hands For Single Moms executive director Chris Coffman, but it also makes the holiday season much more enjoyable for the student mothers.
"You have no idea how much this means to me. My youngest still believes in Santa," Coffman told the crowd, quoting an email he received from one of the mothers.
In addition to the $3,000 scholarships that the organization offers to the student mothers, Coffman said they also offer a wide variety of additional services, such as medical and dental care, carpet cleaning, and auto repair, in case a flat tire, for example, keeps them from attending class.
The program, which has an 81 percent graduation rate for the mothers and an average starting salary of $45,000 after graduation, was started by Coffman when he was working as a minister and looking for a unique way to assist his community.
"Helping these moms go to college is a calling on my part," Coffman said.
The organization also hits close to home for the group's board president Trina Maduro, who grew up in a single-parent home herself.
"My mom was in the same situation," Maduro said, explaining her reason for getting involved with the group.
Shauna Harrison, a recent graduate of the program, said the uniqueness of the group helped her get through school.
"I learned that I wasn't alone," Harrison said, and it concentrates on personal interest in the mothers. "What's unique about this scholarship is that it focuses on the mom."
Harrison now works for the schools in the Gila River Indian Community as a nurse, but she plans to go back to school for her master's degree - while her first associate's degree was for her family, her bachelor's and any other schooling now is for her, and she is thankful for all the help from the organization.
For program director Joanne Grady, these mothers are also heroes.
"Very few people will ever understand the stress that a single mom college student is under," Grady said as she introduced the nine December graduates. "They did the hard work, we just helped them along."
Maduro said the organization is always looking for sponsors, and also accepts monetary donations, which are tax deductible, of which the majority of the money goes directly to the student mothers.
To learn more about the organization, or to make a donation, visit www.helpinghandsforsinglemoms.org.