From single mom in crisis to success -- One woman shares her story

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    SUSSEX COUNTY-Over the past 15 years, Cheryl Brewer has gone from being a single mother on welfare, to an economically self sufficient person and an award-winning volunteer. In January of 1990, Cheryl was a part-time diner waitress and mother to three small children: Aaron, Tyler and Marie - ages three, two and one, respectively. Shortly after she learned that she was pregnant with a fourth child, Cheryl was fired from her job and her husband "went out for coffee and never came back." Cheryl did not face or overcome her young family's crises alone. She credits her successful personal journey, in large part, to the support she received from one local agency n Project Self Sufficiency. Cheryl quickly came to grips with the dire situation she now faced, applied for welfare, and looked through the phone book and found Project Self Sufficiency. "Back then they literally worked out of two closets at Sussex Tech," she recalls. Cheryl was assigned a counselor who immediately went to work on coordinating programs to help Cheryl get back on her feet. Cheryl received rental assistance, child care assistance, and counseling. She was also encouraged to enlist the help of the Northwest New Jersey Community Action Program, as well. "Applying for welfare was the most humiliating experience of my life," recalls Cheryl. "But with Project Self Sufficiency there was never a knock to your pride of self esteem. They treat you like a person, and support you through every step." On October 15, 1990, Cheryl became a mother of four, when Nicholas was born. Her added responsibilities did not deter Cheryl from her goal of becoming self sufficient. By January, 1991, Cheryl was enrolled as a full-time student at Sussex County Community College. Over the next two years, Cheryl earned an associates degree in Office Systems Technology, made the Dean's List during every marking period earning five scholarships along the way, and served as a Student Ambassador to the Chamber of Commerce during her final semester. To help make ends meet, Cheryl also worked in the school's financial aid office through a work study program, and ultimately was hired for a part-time position. In August of 1994, Cheryl secured a full-time job as an administrative assistant at the county's superintendent of school's office, making $15,000 per year, plus benefits. She got off welfare, and by 1995 received the child support paid back in arrears from the three years she was on welfare. "I couldn't have done it without Project Self Sufficiency," praises Cheryl. "I used every service on their account list: the food pantry to help feed my family, the ‘working woman's wardrobe' when I needed clothes for interviews, and they even had parties and presents for the kids for their birthdays when we just didn't have any extra money." In 1999, Cheryl left her job working for the county and took a position as an administrative secretary for the Child Study Team in the Newton school system. She nearly doubled her salary, and still works there today. During Cheryl's second year of college, she started speaking to other families in need of assistance on behalf of Project Self Sufficiency. After changing jobs, she was asked to be the agency's "wrap-up speaker" at their annual Project 100 fundraiser. Cheryl said she was overjoyed to be able to write a check for $100, as the first donation to Project 100 that year. After reaching that personal milestone, Cheryl took a seat on Project Self Sufficiency's Board of Directors, where she has served for the past five years. Now her teenage children volunteer for the organization's events n Her 16-year-old daughter Marie serves the agency as a Student Ambassador and her 18-year-old son, Aaron, assisted a chef at the agency's annual Taste of Talent at Perona Farms earlier this year. "My kids will do anything to help Project Self Sufficiency," says Cheryl. Cheryl Brewer received the Mary T. Stuart Community Service Award from the United Way of Sussex County in June, 2002. The following month, Cheryl received news that her ex-husband had committed suicide. Her foster parents and friends from Project Self Sufficiency were at her side at the funeral. "I never could have gotten through that day without their support," says Cheryl. Today, Cheryl modestly credits her "great support system" for her successful passage from a young family in crisis to an economically self sufficient single mom. She volunteers her time with the same organization that helped her over the years, to help others realize their dreams. And, like many moms, is preparing to send her oldest son away to school next fall to work toward fulfilling his own dreams. An aspiring chef, Aaron is deciding between attending the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales.