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Live United: Mom just wanted to create a safe, homey place for children

Live United by Erin Haag


For a variety of reasons, distance learning through the district was the best choice for my little family. I’m very aware of the fact that we have opportunities available to us that many don’t.

There are many that worry about the social connection missing from online learning. My son doesn’t miss a beat. He talks about his kindergarten teacher all day long, with the kind of hero worship that little boys have for their mommies and teachers. He quickly figured out how to share videos and make voice recordings. They have conversations back and forth about the lake, about the monarch butterflies. During their live meet times, they smile at each other and continue the conversation. His greatest accomplishment is that his first tooth fell out while his teacher was reading “Bear’s Loose Tooth.”

Erin Haag

Learning of any kind isn’t without it’s challenges for some families. I received a phone call the other day. One of our school administrators who works closely with me had sent this mother my way. I don’t know her full story, but she’s new to our area, leaving behind a difficult situation.

Whenever anyone calls me like this, it’s never a “what do you need?” Many times, callers don’t know what to ask for. So instead, I ask questions. It becomes a conversation about life in general, with me listening for clues to tell them about various programs and community supports. As I tried to figure out what exactly was needed from me, we chatted. I enjoyed her voice, low and smooth. She calls me, “Miss Erin” and would say, “Yes ma’am” in the way that someone would who has respect for others deeply ingrained in her. I could imagine her instilling that same respect in her children.

With five children, this single mama was wondering where she could find items for her home. She knew that often people give away furniture, but being new to town, she wasn’t sure where to look, and how to know if it was safe to accept. They have beds, but no furniture for their living room. I asked how school was going. Like my family, her children are doing distance learning. Unlike my family, they don’t have the advantage of a village of friends to help her.

Mama talked about looking for a job, and how she’s been putting in applications. Having cleaned hotels in the past, she laughed and told me, “I got five kids. I clean all day. Cleaning isn’t a job for me, it’s a joy.” I wish I had that same kind joy when cleaning up after my children.

There are job options out there, but she also worries about finding the right one for her and her family. She told me, “I just worry, because my kids — they need me. With what we left — well,  they just need me right now, and I’m not sure how to get a job and be there for the kids, too.” She’s still looking, but like any mama, she’s focused on what would be best for her children, beyond just survival.

There’s no official UWFC program for this sort of thing. So many families are in positions where they might have shelter, they have food, they’re just stable enough they don’t qualify for other supports. Yet they don’t have a kitchen table to do school work at. I put out the call to my personal network. Within a few hours, friends were calling me with a couch, a chair, a table. I collected the phone numbers and names, and this mama is going to call and arrange to pick up furniture. She told me that she feels better that they’re my personal connections. She worries about bedbugs or other things. Mama told me, “Mr. School Administrator told me you’d figure this out. I’m just trying to make this place more homey for my children.”

That’s what all of us mamas want. To create a safe, homey world for our children. I’m so grateful that she felt like even with distance learning, she knew that school was a safe place to reach out to. I’m grateful she connected with our school administrator, who knew there wasn’t an official program, but encouraged her to call me anyway.

Creating happy, healthy homes is a solid foundation for creating a happier, healthier community. While this isn’t an official UWFC program, and we don’t have the capacity to accept furniture, if you have kitchen items, microwaves, small appliances — I’ve found a lot of need for those this summer. I’ll know more after this weekend, but I suspect this mama could use kitchen chairs and some lamps.  UWFC works closely with SEMCAC to identify others in need as well.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll figure out how to make this into an official program. That’s the fun part of my job, learning the need and creating the programs to fit that niche so that no one falls through the cracks.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.