Every semester thousands of students fill college campuses across America with dreams and aspirations of a bright future. While many go on to the career they’ve worked hard for, there are young women experiencing unplanned pregnancies and expect that their dream will never become a reality. A variety of factors such as costs, time, and relational support may prevent many young women from completing—or even starting—a college education. The MOMentum Network is an organization that exists to help single moms as they work toward their education. Below, Cara Hicks, founder and CEO, discusses the ways that they are living out a pro-life ethic and serving single moms.
Kadin Christian: What is the story behind The MOMentum Network, and what is its purpose?
Cara Hicks: Having experienced an unplanned pregnancy just before graduating high school, I realized the tremendous pressure to choose abortion. I hate to admit it, but I had heard people of faith respond unkindly to single moms and unmarried girls with unexpected pregnancies, and I was afraid of being judged too. I was scared and went to a women’s center out of town expecting to hear my options anonymously, but that center turned out to only focus on abortion.
They asked probing questions to understand my fears, then shared scary statistics that supported abortion only. “Less than 2% of teen moms graduate from college . . . growing up in poverty leads to the worst outcomes.” But I recalled the verse I had memorized for cheerleading that year, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Right before I was handed a pill that was promised to take my problems away, I felt like the Lord lifted me out of that place. I asked for my money back since they didn’t provide an abortion, but they refused. I realized it was never about empowering a woman; it was about profit only.
I never wanted another girl to feel pressured into having an abortion again.
I went on to shatter the statistics by completing college, thanks to the resources available by my college (campus housing & Pell grant for low-income students on top of my merit-based scholarships that I didn’t lose by continuing as planned), my campus ministry, my strong community of friends, and Christ—who was faithful—even when I stepped away from my faith for a season.
I later read from Guttmacher that when a woman decides on an abortion, “the reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%)”. However, I knew that there were resources available and that having a child helped me develop resilience and selflessness that I may not have had without a child to care for beyond myself.
Being a single mom doesn’t have to define us, but it can refine us and help us to be better. A woman shouldn’t be pressured to choose between a child and an education—she CAN choose BOTH. But no woman can do it alone. None of us can or should raise a child on our own. It takes a village. So that’s why we formed The MOMentum Network—to be a resource with relational and now residential community of support.
KC: What are the benefits of a single mom obtaining an education? What are some factors or obstacles that can hinder a single mom from getting an education?
CH: Institute for Women’s Policy Research has done some great research on the benefits of a woman’s education—including more earning potential for her and her child—as children of college graduates are more likely to complete higher education. They spiral up.
I believe the most prevalent deterrent is the lack of awareness of abundant resources that can help moms make a strong choice for life, especially on college campuses. Campuses tend to be very aware of abortion providers, but not necessarily open to referring to agencies that can empower a woman to continue her pregnancy while progressing through her classes. There are resources available, but more people need to know more about them. That’s where the MOMentum Network can help.
I can’t speak for all states, but Tennessee does have a multitude of resources to help women reach their goals, from public assistance that covers a large portion of childcare costs to Tennessee Promise and Reconnect that ensures a two-year degree can be attained tuition free. Insurance is available for pregnant women and their children. Temporary assistance for needy families even covers some transportation assistance and gives grace periods for their work requirements for up to one year. Additional funding has become available during the pandemic as well. Colleges also provide some wrap-around services that address issues specifically related to the challenges of being a single mom including counseling, food pantries on campus, and accommodations (through Title IX).
Admittedly, the systems aren’t perfect, but that’s where the church can step up and shine. We’ve had needs met by people in our community in amazing ways. In collaboration with our local pregnancy resource center, necessary and even extra material needs are almost always covered. And when they’re not, we’ve seen organizations like Abby Johnson’s LoveLine cover costs no one else would cover. We’ve been fortunate as an organization to have both pro-life and pro-choice supporters see the value in supporting women and children as our Scholar Mamas are pursuing their education. It’s something that we can all agree is a proven pathway forward.
And still, obstacles do exist. We need more childcare, and the biggest challenge with that right now is staffing. And we need more social support that goes beyond one-and-done gift giving. We need mentors who are willing to walk with these women long term. It can be messy; often life is chaotic before an unplanned pregnancy, so it doesn’t automatically get cute and comfortable. When I was close to giving birth, my car was stolen, my dad was murdered, and my life was extremely overwhelming. There was no easy fix. It was ugly before it was better. But I was fortunate to have a peer and a mentor who continued to meet me where I was. That made such a difference.
KC: What are the specific services that The MOMentum Network provides? How many women and children do you typically serve at a time?
CH: We are a network at heart, serving as a connector between any motivated single parent who is interested in completing college (including those who aren’t currently enrolled) and collaborative organizations by keeping track of the complex systems and resources to help clients see a way forward.
We served over 244 women and children in this way last year. We go more in-depth with moms who are willing to commit to a deeper level of transparency and accountability; we call these participants scholars because they are willing to learn, grow, and commit to at least a semester of individual and group coaching.
When a mom comes to us, we look at her whole life, first recognizing her value and the assets she has and connecting her to the resources she needs, until she achieves her dream of graduating college. Our scholars who commit to the highest level of engagement live on campus as residents. We currently have six residential spots and six “fellows” or off-campus spots. We are eager to increase the residential capacity to help more moms but would need more mentors and space to make this possible.
KC: Is The MOMentum Network a faith-based organization? If so, how has faith shaped its culture and operations?
CH: Yes, we are a faith-based organization. While there are a lot of organizations that do wonderful work in the same field, I’ve seen the power of the gospel make a hopeless situation seem possible. God really is a good Father, and his Word calls us to care for the fatherless. Christians have an opportunity to meet families in this time of need, and we have solutions that the world cannot provide.
Our staff and board are all Christians, however, we do NOT require participants to engage in religious activities if they do not want to. We ask about faith and honor their preferences. The MOMentum Network has seen the love of Christ work in the lives of women who are exploring their faith, largely because college is such a time of exploration. We encourage our non-believers to ask us any questions they have because walking with emerging adults is an adventure already. When they have a child to care for, their world opens up. While it’s not prescriptive to have a child while in college, it can certainly change their perspective—their world shifts to something beyond themselves, to something much bigger.
KC: How can individual Christians and local churches help support the work of places like The Momentum Network?
CH: Commit to a long game. We are really good at giving gifts, but what our moms and these babies need more than anything is a committed presence. Someone who is willing to get to know them and go beyond transactional relationships. When we commit to coming alongside moms for life, we get to be a part of multi-generational transformation.
KC: After the historic Dobbs decision, has The MOMentum Network been affected, negatively or positively? Do you anticipate any short-term or long-term effects from the decision?
CH: Yes, both positive and negative.
The negative: Women are making quicker and quieter decisions. The abortion industry has saturated the internet and college community. Pills are being shipped and abortions are happening in secret, no matter how dangerous that is. The pro-choice advocates united and poured so many resources into removing barriers to abortion. If the pro-life community united in the same way, two generations could be the catalyst for change. But I think a lot of pro-lifers have stepped back after the decision thinking that it’s over. It’s absolutely not over.
The positive: I do hope that more lives are being saved. We haven’t seen a huge increase in moms needing assistance yet (which concerns us that quick, quiet abortions are happening), but we’re working hard to pull together more support to be ready for it.
I pray that more Christians rise up and help us meet this challenge.