Getting through college as a single mother is hard enough — and the holidays can be doubly stressful — but some of that mental strain was alleviated Saturday when Helping Hands for Single Moms had its “Holiday for Heroes” event for about 70 students. The organization, which offers single mothers scholarships to help them get through school, as well as other assistance, paired the moms with sponsors to provide Christmas presents for their children at a time when money is tight.

“The response from the community has been overwhelming,” said Trina Maduro, the group’s board president.

The sponsors and moms celebrated the graduating members and got to know each other while wrapping the gifts at the event on the Arizona State University West campus in Glendale.

Angelique White, a graduate of the program and the event emcee, said 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 of the sponsors and mothers, and a total of $18,000 worth of gifts.

Dani Johnson, who will be graduating with a degree in nursing from Glendale Community College in the spring, said the event provided everything her children could want.

“It’s everything that they wished for,” Johnson said. “There was no way we could really do the amount.”

Shele Hauser and her husband Greg were Johnson’s sponsors for the event, and Shele said they really wanted to get involved with helping single mothers, even though they have been involved through their church and other charitable organizations for the last 10 years. The Hausers set out a collection jar at Greg’s chiropractic practice in Ahwatukee and contributed their own money to fulfill Johnson’s three children’s wish lists.

“We just wanted to adopt a family,” Shele Hauser said, adding she also wanted to bring along her own children to teach them about the value of philanthropy.

Not only was the event well received by the community, said Chris Coffman, Helping Hands For Single Moms executive director, but it also makes the holiday season much more enjoyable for the student mothers.

In addition to the $3,000 scholarships the organization offers to the student mothers, Coffman said it also offers a 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 way to assist his community.

“Helping these moms go to college is a calling on my part,” Coffman said.

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