"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Debbie Quick, executive director of Single Mothers Outreach. Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: What kind of single mothers do you reach out to?
Quick: My target population (is) the single mom who works hard and doesn't make enough money to qualify for any services. And then that also touches the single mom who's going to school full time or the single mom who's going to school and working.
Signal: What kind of challenges do single mothers have as opposed to other kinds of mothers?
Quick: It really makes a big difference not having that other person there to help you not only emotionally, but financially, and just having the other physical person to help you, to pick your child up after school, to help with meals, pay the bills. It makes a difference when there are not both parents in the house.
I started this actually to heal myself and to find resources for myself, and through the whole process, we now have over 1,500 single mothers in our database in Santa Clarita.
Signal: You started this in 1995; what was your situation?
Quick: I went through a divorce in 1990, moved up to Santa Clarita from the San Fernando Valley because it is so wonderful here. I could put my son in a regular school instead of having to pay tuition and have him go to private school.
Signal: How old was he?
Quick: He was 11 at the time, and he was almost 13 when I started the Single Mothers Outreach.
Signal: Tell us about that.
Quick: (I was) trying to help myself. I was a homeowner; by chance, I lucked out and I got a foreclosure at a great deal. Therefore, I encourage moms to buy homes. They think that they can't; I try to encourage them to buy anything.
I had problems with, "What do I do with my child?" Kids get to a certain age, especially boys, they don't want a baby-sitter and they're a little bit too young yet just to let them run wild in the streets, so I started looking around for resources for myself and for my son.
I realized that food was a big issue, and I started this small food pantry in my garage. My neighbor is an electrician, and he put the electricity in the other side of my garage. One of my manicuring clients I worked as a manicurist for 20 years she donated a freezer, and it all started from that. Then I put a small ad in a local flier that said, "Single mothers helping single mothers. If interested, call Debbie." And it has just generated from that.
Signal: You say food was a problem, you were working; you had income; you had a son to support.
Quick: Right. I was working as a manicurist, and after the (1994) earthquake, I lost (about) a third of my clientele. I was living down in the valley. So I came up to Santa Clarita and I started working in a salon here. I just really felt at home in Santa Clarita. But I was raising this young boy by myself, pre-teen, and he missed his dad and we had a good situation. I get along with my ex-husband. That wasn't the issue. The issue was, it's still difficult being a single parent, being in the house alone with a child and just trying to financially make ends meet, and trying to be a smart shopper, trying to find medical, free or low-cost medical. Daily things. Car repairs.
Signal: What kinds of services were you able to find here at the time?
Quick: First of all, my son. I needed to find someplace where I could have my son, so I contacted the Boys and Girls Club. They had just a very small campus at Sierra Vista at that time; now they have the huge building. Through that I also have a good relationship with (Boys and Girls Club Director) Jim Ventress. He's been one of my mentors.
The food I realized it was difficult, and I was always on such a tight budget. (SCV Senior Center Director) Brad Berens ... he's another mentor of mine, and he helped me with that. He actually donated the shelves that were in my garage. For six years, I fed women out of my garage. And clothes, support group meetings sometimes you don't need professional counseling; you just need peer counseling. You feel like you're the only one that's going through this. Sometimes you feel humiliated; you feel abandoned by your friends, your son or (daughter) feels different in school. So we started a support group meeting in my living room. And we do give resources for professional care, free to low-cost, as well as those who have their own insurance and can afford more. And then we also have peer counseling, which is great support.
Signal: So how do you go from trying to help yourself and raise your son to getting the idea of helping other people?
Quick: To be honest, I don't think I had the idea that I could help other people. It just kind of evolved. Every week, I'd come home from work and there would be more numbers to call, more women, different situations, different ages of kids; some would need medical resources. There was one mom I kept bailing out with my AAA card.
Finally I took it to the board and we agreed that OK, we're going to help with up to $100 in auto repairs. That would be like a tire, a dead battery, a minor repair, something like that. We don't replace a transmission or anything, but just something minor so that that mom doesn't have to take off of work...
Signal: You throw out names like Jim Ventress and Brad Berens, but here it is, 1995, and you're new to Santa Clarita. How did you get plugged in so quickly to the nonprofit support system?
Quick: I am a wanna-be detective. I'm very resourceful, and if I want an answer to something, I just keep knocking on doors.
I was working as a manicurist, and I would come home at night and I'd start making phone calls. This mom needed medical assistance, so I started calling around: "How can somebody get medical assistance who doesn't have any insurance?" That's how I met Cheryl (Laymon) from the Samuel Dixon Health Center. As each mom called and had a problem, I enjoyed finding an answer for her.
Signal: You were running this out of your home; now you have an office?
Quick: Yes. ... It's in Canyon Country on Sierra Highway and Dolan Way. We've been in there for about five years, and we'll probably be looking for another space. We're on the second floor and we need something that's on a main level that's a little bit easier (to) access.
Signal: And now you're a California nonprofit corporation?
Quick: Oh, yes. In 1997 we became nonprofit when I was still running it out of my home. I just started with baby steps and had a home office and was working Single Mothers Outreach and as a manicurist. Finally we took the big step and we opened up our office. I remember sitting there because I was used to working in a beauty salon with a lot of chatter around I'm sitting there in the office by myself and I go, "Now what?" It's like, "Oh my god, it's five o'clock already? We can't get it done. We can't get caught up."
Signal: And now you've got employees?
Quick: Yes. We have a case manager, and she's wonderful. Everybody loves her. She's great. She's very proficient, very efficient, and she's very caring about the moms. She reminds me of a younger me when I first got it started. Everybody really, really touches her heart and I (say), "We can't save them all, unfortunately. We can't save them all."
Signal: When you say "case worker," do your people have mental health training?
Quick: We got to the point where we got so big that I couldn't do it all. It's interesting because if you ask somebody if they have substance abuse problem or a mental problem, they will tell you. I don't know if it's just a "girlfriend thing" or what, but they tell us, and then we would refer them on.
We also have a support group meeting on Monday evenings, and that is led by a substance abuse counselor. That isn't a substance abuse support group meeting. It just happens that she's a substance abuse counselor. So she helps us a lot. And then we also have a peer-led support group meeting. Not everybody is on drugs, not everybody is homeless, not everybody has a mental problem or is handicapped or is on disability. Not everybody is. But if they are, we want to be able to get services for them.
Signal: What about the executive woman who's making a good salary and has a couple of kids to support on her own? Is there something Single Mothers Outreach can do for that person?
Quick: Absolutely. That person is not going to call us asking for financial assistance. They're probably going to need some kind of extended child care because they're doing it all, and in order to keep above it all, they've got to work probably longer hours.
They might want to just come to support groups, just to talk to other moms who are going through the same thing as them. It doesn't necessarily mean you're having a mental issue; you just want to know, "What's going on? What can I do for my son? What can I do for my daughter? Are there any family activities coming up?" That kind of a thing.
Signal: With some of these mothers you help, do they have the idea that maybe they've done something wrong, since their marriage fell apart?
Quick: You know, that's very interesting. You're the only person who has ever asked me that. Really. You know what? I have really good self-esteem.
Signal: Maybe it was a stupid question
Quick: No, it wasn't. I was the kind of a person, I've always had pretty good self-esteem. And it is amazing, but when my husband left, I felt so little. I felt like, "What's wrong with me? What did I do?" And then it reflects down to the kids, too. There are a lot of kids who take it on and feel like, "What did I do? Why did my dad leave?" So, yeah, it makes you think.
Signal: Are these the kinds of things you address in the support group meetings?
Quick: Yes. And we talk a lot about our kids. (It) might be a group of moms who have teenagers and they're all (saying), "Oh my gosh. My kids are driving me crazy" or "They're doing this and doing that," And then another mother will affirm that: "That's normal. Don't worry. They'll get over it."
Signal: In your experience, are kids more at risk of getting involved in drugs and things like that in a broken family?
Quick: Definitely. I mean, we have latchkey kids, and if they're not in a situation where they are being supervised to a certain extent, then ... We're getting bigger. More people are (moving) into town. There are more influences, and kids are being tested more.
Signal: How do people find out about Single Mothers Outreach?
Quick: When I first got started, it was in a local flyer every week, Single Moms Helping Single Moms. It really surprised me how many calls I got from that tiny, little ad. And then there is usually something in a newspaper or magazine every month or couple months.
We're having an event coming up, and then also City Hall refers people to us; so does the Chamber of Commerce. And then some of the agencies, we all refer to each other because this is one blessing about being in Santa Clarita that I realize we are all there to help that person and that family. So if there's another agency that can help them, I'll definitely refer them over there.
Signal: One service you provide is a food pantry.
Quick: Yes, we do. We don't want to be in competition with the (SCV) Food Pantry. (Sometimes) I call (Food Pantry Director Belinda Crawford); she's a blessing. She'll help me out, whatever we need. But where our hours are a little bit later, maybe we're closer. It's not to be in competition with anybody, and it's only for single mothers. It's not for families. It's just for single moms who are struggling.
And it isn't Costco. It's not the Stop-n-Go, so we don't give out a case of peanut butter. It's enough to help that mom make it through just a week, three days to a week, until she gets her next paycheck.
Signal: Is this a 24/7 thing? Do you have a hotline? Do you get calls in the middle of the night from people who need help?
Quick: We don't have a hotline, but I'll tell you, when I ran it out of my house, I was getting phone calls at 2:30 a.m. on Mother's Day, Christmas, Easter...
Signal: If you're a nonprofit corporation, you must have a board of directors
Quick: Yes, we do.
Signal: Do they get together and tell you what to do?
Quick: Our first group of board of directors was all single moms, and it was interesting because we stood there and we all said, "OK, now what do we do?" But as we got more experience and things needed to change and grow, then as (board members) would leave, we would get people (who were) involved a little bit more in the community. Now we have somebody ... a Realtor; we have another Realtor who's going to be coming on our board, and a nurse who's with Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, and a pastor, vice-principal of an elementary school. I think we're getting a little bit more well-rounded now. But we need more board members.
Signal: Do you have somebody who writes grants?
Quick: Yes we do. I've really been lucky. This is something that evolved, also, and she's been writing grants for us since Day 1. I have never had anybody else write grants for us, and she's very successful. Her name is Kelly Kester-Smith, and she wrote our very first grant.
Signal: What kind of organizations fund this sort of thing?
Quick: The Weingart Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation, Parsons Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation, the Arco Foundation they were the first ones Los Angeles Women's Foundation; I think we got our biggest grant from the California Endowment.
Signal: Do you get funding from the city of Santa Clarita?
Quick: Oh my gosh, yes, we do. As a matter of fact, we got two grants this year. One of them is a community development block grant, and the other one is a service grant. So we will be putting on a women's health and wellness seminar. ... We don't have a date for it yet; we're getting that set up as soon as our nurse gets back into town.
Signal: When is your next fundraiser?
Quick: July 9. It will be our fifth annual luncheon at the Hyatt hotel, and we have a speaker coming in, an author from New York. Her sister is a single mother; she went through that time of her sister's life with her...
We (will) also honor our Mother of the Year and our Volunteer of the Year.
Signal: What level of volunteerism do you have?
Quick: Well right now, I have somebody who's been volunteering and she's actually been bringing her daughters in with her, too, because of summer, and they have been a great help. She has been doing our fundraising with us, and that's very time-consuming. We need people to help us with fundraising; we need to start a good database of people who want to volunteer in that direction. We get people to come in and volunteer on the computers and help with that. We get people to come in and help with our clothes closet, because we have a "dress for success closet." We need people to sort through things, fold up, hang up, throw away, whatever?
Signal: Do you help people find a job?
Quick: Yes, we do. As a matter of fact, I think one of our single moms we helped her through school, we helped with some utility situations she was in, her registration to get into school, and she is now a X-ray tech at Facey Medical. We also helped another single mother to get through school, and now she's a nurse at Henry Mayo.
And two weeks ago, we helped the daughter of one of our single moms. We paid for her kit for her to go to beauty school. Her tuition was paid for, but she had to have her kit. And I, myself, coming from the beauty industry I was a barber and I was in the beauty business I knew exactly what she needed. So we got that for her.
Signal: Do some of the people who come to you for help end up helping others?
Quick: Absolutely. We have a single mother who came into the office yesterday and she was helped a lot when her little boy was going through a cancer situation. She was helped so much by the community, but she had never heard of the Single Mothers Outreach. She came in (and said), "My gosh, if I would have known about you when I was going through my divorce, what an asset this would have been, what a help." And she said, "I want to do something to help you guys." So she's starting an exercise like a walking support group. That's a free gym.
Signal: You mentioned having 1,500 women in your database; in a valley of 250,000 people, there are probably a lot who don't know about you. How would you reach out to them? Do you plan to expand?
Quick: We need to expand. We really do. But our finances are so low right now they're the lowest they've been in 10 years. It's scary.
Signal: Why is that?
Quick: I think, in my honest opinion, I think that (because of Hurricane) Katrina, some grants weren't being offered. We're also at the end cycle of some of our grants and you can't apply, and even if I applied by today, you still wouldn't get the money for six months to a year. So now we need support from the community. Dollar bills.
Signal: Do you ever hear of situations where single dads could use some help?
Signal: Where do they go?
Quick: Well, when they call, we try to help them. Our issues are different. We wouldn't have a single dad at a support group meeting. I've offered to help them start their own support group, kind of use us as a template for them to start their own. I haven't had anybody who's been that interested to start their own. But we did have the brother of one of our single moms; he lost his wife, but it was his high school sweetheart and they had two kids and she died within four days, and she was only 28 years old and this was just before Christmas. The Jaycees had done a little event with 100 of our moms and their kids, and they treated him to a play at the Canyon Theatre Guild. So we invited him and his kids, too and just whatever he needed. I still see him occasionally. He's moving on and dealing with things better in his life.
Signal: How are the issues different between a single mother with a child and a single father with a child?
Quick: The biggest thing is, the single father is probably going to have a lot more money. So he's going to be able to provide maybe a little more comfort for that child. Another thing is, a mom at a support group meeting is going to feel a lot more comfortable talking about her situation without another man in the room.
And there are some women who have come from domestic violence, and it might horrify them. They need to heal and try to get on with their lives without having to I mean, we're not men haters. We all just hate one. No, I'm just kidding. No, we're not men haters.
Signal: It's a personal hate.
Quick: Yeah, but it's probably vice versa, too. But our issues are really mostly discussing our kids and how we're going to pay our rent; "My car broke down." That's one thing I think: In every divorce, a mother should get a brand-new car. Something reliable to get her kids around in, get to her job.
Signal: When a single mother walks through your door, how do you assess what she needs?
Quick: Well, let me start with when I was running this myself. I did a lot on the phone, because it was easier and less time-consuming if I dealt with it on the phone. Some women come in and they're so flustered and they want to tell you the story from when they were 2 years old. Sometimes they just need to be focused. And I say, "OK, I'm going to click my fingers; I want you to tell me three things that you really need help with right now." And they'll narrow it down. "Oh, I need child care and I need a lawyer and my car's falling apart." We kind of do it that way.
Now, with the case manager, she can spend more time; she spends a good hour with them in the office, at least, and really gets to know them and talk about their problems and their situations and their kids and what they need.
Signal: Where do people find more information about your fundraiser on July 9? Do you have a phone number or a Web site?
Quick: We don't have a Web site somebody can donate a Web site! Our number is 298-9593, and they can talk to anybody who answers the phone or they can show up at the Hyatt. We'd be glad to have them.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.