On May 1, Tyrone Poole officially opened a 6,000 square foot childcare center at 1030 N. Lombard St., with a growing list of 20 children already enrolled.
Set up as a private business, Amazing Grace Women's Resource Center & Childcare Services nevertheless functions as a sort of social services agency – helping single mothers find employment, housing and education while providing low or no-cost childcare.
Just one year ago, the 25-year-old Poole was running Amazing Grace from his mother's basement. Through several different locations, one successful summer camp and hundreds of volunteer hours from family and friends, Poole says it's taken a lot of work to be where he is today.
He says many low-income, single women have a hard time holding down a job even after they've received assistance from other social service agencies because they lack one thing: childcare. "The biggest rate for failure is because of childcare," Poole said.
Poole knows first hand how difficult it is to raise a family when a job or housing doesn't work out. He was attending the Portland Firefighter Trainee Academy when he seriously injured his leg, damaging a lymph node. After his injury, he was unable to keep jobs as an ironworker – his previous profession – or as a firefighter. His first child had also just been born.
For his entire life, Poole said he had been a hard worker, and didn't understand those who sought assistance from others. But after seeking help for his own family at a shelter, Poole said he realized "everyone had a story to tell."
It was at this moment that the first ideas for Amazing Grace began to form.
When he started the business, Poole focused entirely on finding employment for single mothers, while providing free childcare. He contracted with employers and provided childcare at no cost – as long as the Amazing Grace client remained on the job for a certain period of time.
Soon after, Poole and his business partner Nate Bostic realized the Department of Human Services already had a comprehensive employment services division. So they focused on another unmet need – affordable housing.
"DHS has networking for jobs; no one has housing," said Poole, who now networks with 16 apartment complexes that regularly accept his clients.
While there are affordable housing programs that exist in Portland, waiting lists abound. The Portland Housing Authority's waiting list is currently closed, and has been for about a year.
Kenya Boyer, a domestic violence advocate for Self Enhancement, Inc., has recommended several clients to Amazing Grace. Often when women in domestic violence situations come to seek help they need a lot of help – from employment to housing to transportation. And sometimes regular office hours can't accommodate their needs.
Once, Boyer said, one of Boyer's clients called to request help at 4 a.m. Boyer said she couldn't be reached, but the woman tracked down Poole, who picked her up 30 minutes later.
"Not only did he help this client, he was willing to have her stay at his house," Boyer said.
Much of Amazing Grace's funding came from last year's summer camp, which served as seed money for the center. Poole hopes this year's summer camp will be just as successful, but to start he must raise at least $10,000.
Last Saturday marked the first of four fundraisers Amazing Grace is holding to raise the money. This Saturday, May 10, Poole is hosting a small business networking fair – both to help raise money for the camp and help small businesses network each other's services. Other funding for Amazing Grace comes from DHS, which provides funding for daycare for some families.
Because Amazing Grace has remained a company – not a registered nonprofit organization – Poole said it is harder to attract donors. But as most things in life, deciding to remain a company has its upsides. Poole can use his money any way he wants – unlike grant funding that must be used for specific purposes. If a client needs an extra $200 off her rent for six months to make it affordable or if someone needs a small amount for a school supplies, Poole can accommodate. Boyer said Poole provided money for textbooks when one of SEI's clients was forced to choose between education and making the rent.
"There's no point to keep paying rent for somebody who's not (on their way to becoming self-sufficient)," Boyer said.
But Poole isn't content with just helping families find housing. The main goal is for women to become independent of government assistance through education and employment. He refers his clients to P.I.V.O.T. High School for women who don't have their high school diploma and Youth Builders for those interested in job training.
Most of all, Poole wants young mothers to know that their lives aren't over because of their economic and family pressures. He says that one 17-year-old mother of two came to Amazing Grace thinking that her life was essentially over — but after getting on the path to independence, things have changed.
"She feels like she's moving forward," says Poole. "Just putting the plan together helps, because she feels like she's been walking in circles for a long time."