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Nonprofit that helps young poverty-stricken moms opens new Oak Park facility

An Austin-based nonprofit that helps struggling young mothers get back on their feet unveiled its new Oak Park facility on Friday.

New Moms, which has served the Chicago area since 1983, provides impoverished and many homeless moms 24 and younger with job training and family support services.

The new facility in Oak Park will extend those services to moms in the western suburbs, where the poverty rate has risen steadily since the turn of the century. The four-story, 21,700-square-foot building features 18 single-and-two bedroom apartments available to moms who qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers.

“It’s hard to do much else in your life if you don’t have a safe and stable place to live. Our commitment to housing families is built around that,” New Moms president Laura Zumdahl said at the grand opening celebration.

Also in attendance Friday was Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who experienced homelessness as a child.

(From left) Laura Zumdahl, president and CEO of New Moms, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, State Sen. Don Harmon and Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb join dozens for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the nonprofit New Moms’ new facility at 206 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park, Friday morning, March 15, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“My mom struggled for many years to provide from my brother and I. We were homeless for a period of time when I was in high school,” the top prosecutor said before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “When we talk about interrupting generational poverty, I am the example of that.”

The $7.25 million facility was paid for by the James P. and Brenda S. Grusecki Family Foundation and other private donors.

A bedroom in an apartment at New Moms, 206 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park, Friday morning, March 15, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Suburban poverty has increased across the country over the last two decades, statistic show. According to the Brookings Institution, the number of people living in the suburbs under the poverty line in the country’s largest metro areas grew by nearly 60 percent between 2000 and 2015.

Chicago suburbs closely followed the national trend: Between 2000 and 2016, the  population of suburban residents living below the poverty line increased by 270,000 people — a 54 percent increase, according to a study by the Metropolitan Planning Council published in September.

The suburbs have typically lacked access to services people living in poverty need to get back on their feet,” Zumdahl said. “We decided we couldn’t just be frustrated with the lack of affordable housing in the community and decided that part of our work is about providing the housing ourselves.”

The reception area at New Moms, 206 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park, Friday morning, March 15, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

At the New Moms facility in Austin, there are 40 transitional housing units where women can stay for up to two years. The Oak Park facility will not have a time limit on how long families can stay.

Zumdahl said the organization’s annual budget grew from $2 million in 2014 to $5.5 million in 2018. New Moms has used those funds to double the number of full-time staff members and to serve 800 moms and kids last year, up from 500 four years ago.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.