Self-Sufficiency on the Syllabus

From program volunteer to beneficiary; a once-struggling single mom comes full circle

Jacque Ruddy started out as an annual sponsor of Project Self-Sufficiency’s “Adopt-a-Family” holiday program. She and her then-husband purchased holiday gifts for families of single parents who were struggling to make ends meet while earning their college degrees. The gifts would ensure a happy holiday for a family stretched thin, and it was a nice way for Jacque to give back.

In 2011, Jacque returned to Project Self-Sufficiency (PSS) — this time, as a struggling single parent herself.

“I was a single mom with a son who was still nursing. I didn’t have the ability to make a meaningful income. I would have been working three jobs just to pay for childcare,” she said. “A few people said, ‘Why don’t you go to school?’ I thought that was absurd, but I went to PSS and they became my village.”

In addition to its Adopt-a-Family program, PSS offers “student parents” childcare reimbursements, scholarships and emergency rental assistance to help families avoid homelessness or to provide security deposits to house them if they are homeless. The program had been initially funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and then was funded by the City of Huntington Beach and the Project Self-Sufficiency Foundation for more than two decades. In 2017, the agency became an independent nonprofit organization that needed a new home.

Brigette Beisner, who ran the program for eight years out of Huntington Beach, spoke with Hoag about relocating the program to the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living.

“At the Hoag monthly networking meeting, they mentioned a collaborative nonprofit space and asked if we were interested. We certainly were,” Beisner said. “Hoag was already providing us grant funding, but now we’ve taken it to the next level in our collaboration with Hoag.”

PSS moved into the Center for Healthy Living in January and immediately saw the benefit of working out of the same building with so many complementary resources. The program currently helps 60 to 80 families a year and is now on track to add 25 clients per year for three years.

“Our clients are able to access all the services in the building without driving,” she said. “It cuts down on time and gas money, and we’re seeing our clients enrolling in various programs and taking full advantage of the services at the Center for Healthy Living.”

Jacque joined PSS before its move to the Center, receiving childcare reimbursements, scholarships, grocery cards and emergency rental support as she worked to earn her AA degree from Orange Coast College (OCC). Things weren’t easy, but they were moving in the right direction. That’s when she found her first lump.

“The day that I got word that it was breast cancer, [the women at PSS] cried with me and supported me. I was never alone,” Jacque said.

“I told myself, I have taken a 20-year break from school, I’m not taking another break. I stayed in school and carried 14 units. I scheduled chemo around my classes. I had never felt such empowerment and drive.”

With the support of PSS, Jacque was able to earn her AA degree from OCC and receive a full-ride scholarship to University of California, Irvine (UCI), where she earned her Bachelor’s degree. But her hardships were far from over. While at UCI, Jacque was diagnosed with breast cancer once again, this time stage 3.

“She never missed a semester during all of her treatments. She has also raised two sons while doing everything else. She is amazing,” Beisner said.

PSS supports parent students through their Bachelor’s degree, but to pursue her chosen career as a social worker, Jacque would need to earn her Master’s. On the first day of graduate school at the University of Southern California (USC), Jacque and her two sons were living in the family’s car, but she was still determined to succeed.

Today, Jacque and her sons live in Huntington Beach. There is a roof above their heads and a clear and promising career path ahead of her.

“What Project Self-Sufficiency did was help us keep food in our mouths and a roof over our heads. They made sure that my kids and I never went without a special Christmas or birthday,” Jacque said. “I can’t stress enough the emotional support they gave us. There’s no dollar value for that. I remember crying to Brigette, ‘I need you to believe in me.’ And she did. That’s all it took.”

For more information call 949-478-1914 or visit www.pssoc.org.