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Healing Hearts: Make Momma Proud's Mission to Mentor Through Mourning

In the quiet aftermath of loss, the journey of healing begins. For Heike Jones, the Founder and Program Director of Make Momma Proud (MMP), this path turned into a mission to uplift others. Fueled by her own experience of bereavement, Heike transformed her grief into a source of strength, not only for herself but for countless youths facing similar challenges. We had the privilege of sitting down with Heike, whose foundation has been honored as a recipient of a DRW grant, to delve into the heart of her commitment to changing lives and to learn more about the empowering work of Make Momma Proud.

Your personal journey has deeply influenced the creation of Make Momma Proud. Could you share with us the pivotal moment that led you to establish the organization?

Losing my mother in 2011 at the age of 23 really impacted me. As I went through therapy, it really hit me that there were going to be moments in life that I'd have to face without her. It was during this period of personal grievance that I thought about flipping my negative situation into something positive. This realization ultimately became a part of my own healing journey. I wanted to create initiatives to support other experiencing grief and remind them that despite experiencing loss, you can still move forward.

Did you feel like you had the appropriate resources when dealing with your own grievance journey?

I had therapy, but having a village or someone that went through something similarly would’ve been helpful to me -- although I would not wish that type of grief on my worst enemy. I lacked knowing someone who had experienced a similar loss to guide me through the pivotal moments of young adulthood, such as navigating relationships, making career choices, or handling major life changes. It's during these significant life events that grief can be particularly overwhelming. Therefore, in designing programs for MMP, I draw upon my own experiences and consider what kind of support and resources would have been beneficial to me back then.

Your nonprofit offers a range of support for youth who have lost a parent. Could you highlight some of the key programs and services that Make Momma Proud provides?

We have three key programs:

The Life Skill Training Seminar (LSTS): The goal of the LSTS is to assist youth with the practical skills needed to transition from childhood to adulthood in the absence of a parent. We want to increase the practical aptitude and adult readiness in the areas of financial literacy, education, career, and healthy lifestyle. This is a series of workshops that will discuss topics that you won’t learn in a traditional class setting. They are learning things like how to budget, understanding credit, interview prep, entrepreneurship, and making health meals.

Teen Selfcare Workshop: The focus of this annual workshop is to educate mentees on the importance of internal and external selfcare. It encompasses the crafting of self-care kits, techniques for managing mental well-being, and empowerment through personalized affirmations. Mentees will learn strategies to cope with anxiety and various stressors common during adolescence.

Grief Counseling Support: A big part of our programming is being able to connect our youth to therapist to help combat negative mental health side effects and reduce the stigma of seeking therapy in the black community. My goal is to connect our youth with therapist with similar backgrounds whether gender specific or culturally.

For those who feel a connection to your cause and wish to contribute, what are the best ways for individuals and communities to get involved and support Make Momma Proud?

Our website is the best resource for learning how to get involved. There, you can access our intake form to sign-up as a volunteer or refer a child. That’s also where you'll find the option to donate.

And to stay informed about our programs and events, follow us on social!

Are there any stipulations around the children that you support when it comes to grieving?

We don't restrict our support solely to those experiencing loss through death. Various circumstances, such as single-parent households, parental incarceration, illness, substance abuse, mental health issues, disability, or abandonment, may require our support.

How do you envision its impact and growth in the coming years, and what goals do you have for the future?

Ultimately, I would love to expand to more cities to increase our outreach. I also eventually want to focus on helping students in different ways. For example, I've become a grant writer, so I want to use those skills to help students pay for school through scholarships. I also want to do room makeovers. Having a comfortable space is important, especially for students going off to college, so we could help spruce up their dorm rooms. In the short term, I see us continuing to partner with organizations to broaden our impact.

How did you hear about DRW?

I first discovered DRW through a grant writing program I participated in at DePaul University. This program not only provided me with valuable skills for initiating the grants research process but also introduced me to resources like the Foundation Directory Online (FDO) which is how I came across the DRW Foundation. I have to admit, enrolling in the grant writing class was the silver lining that came out of the pandemic for me.

What advice would you give someone that is grieving?

I always suggest finding meaningful ways to honor their memory through actions. For instance, even before securing grants, I organized a fundraiser in tribute to my late mother. Knowing she loved wearing red lipstick, I collaborated with a lipstick manufacturer to create a shade named 'Proud Red.' This initiative, known as Proud Red Lipstick, enabled me to raise funds as people supported and purchased it. On her birthday, June 7th, my friends would take selfies wearing red lipstick (whether they had bought the specific shade or not) and contribute to the cause. Discovering ways to commemorate your loved ones not only helps alleviate feelings of sadness but also creates a sense of connection and purpose.