Brandi Shephard knows what it’s like to be a single mom. For 17 years, Shephard was on her own, balancing her kid’s homework assignment, household chores and her career. It was “overwhelming,” she says — which is why she started Single Parent Advancement in 2017.
“It’s a massive job, being a parent,” she says. “In some cases, you’re working two to three jobs trying to make ends meet. And you have to keep going. There’s no choice. But it’s the joy on your kid’s face, and seeing that smile when something is accomplished, and seeing the victories you share with them when you’re at a game and they’re celebrating. There’s nothing that beats the feeling of being a mom or dad in that moment.”
Shephard founded the group after facing a huge disappointment in 2017. After moving to Columbus to try to pursue dental school after years as a dental hygienist, Shephard wasn’t accepted to the program of her choice.
“I really felt defeated,” Shephard says. “I decided to go Facebook Live one day and tell my story about how I was a single parent trying to get into dental school. I wanted to encourage single parents in that moment that you don’t have to feel like a failure as long as you put your best foot forward.”
Shephard’s endurance and positive outlook in that video encouraged many strangers to reach out to her. They shared stories of their own struggles as single parents and asked for advice from Shephard, who was feeling less and less alone with each new person she connected with.
“It was kind of odd having them reaching out to me, because I was like, ‘Did you guys not hear that I didn’t get accepted?’” Shephard laughs. “So I thought maybe I should start a support group to bounce off ideas and encourage single parents.”
After the Facebook Live, Shephard moved back to Akron and continued her career as a dental hygienist. On the side, she started meeting with parents once a month, where they would all get together “with no plan at all” and talk.
In 2019, Shephard launched Single Parent Advancement as an official nonprofit organization. She experienced a stroke that year, and that changed her outlook on life, Shephard says. She wanted to take the group to the next level.
“I wanted to focus on what my true purpose was here on earth. It’s my passion to help single parents overcome adversity and it’s my goal to help them overcome poverty and break cycles,” she says.
Before the pandemic, the group would meet twice a month for nine months at the Reach Opportunity Center in Summit Lake.
The group is organized in three-month increments and goes over financial literacy, self-awareness, career and education, and health and wellness. Shephard says her goal is to empower parents to “break the cycle of poverty,” as she did years before.
“I became a parent when I was 18 years old. I went through the generational cycle with my family of teenage pregnancy and living in poverty,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second child that I was like, ‘this can’t be life. There has to be more than this.’ I was tired of going back and forth from the welfare department, submitting my income and having to live in a certain confinement.’”
Though the group took a break in 2020 because of the pandemic, Shephard says it’s now being offered virtually and sessions will be recorded to accommodate busy schedules. Sessions are meant to provide support, educational opportunities and resources. And though the group attracts a lot of moms, Shephard says it’s open to all parents.
“If I can teach you how to manage your money and how to budget and fix credit and how to confront your past and things that are hurting you or people who’ve let you down, it’s a different story. Even stuff like how to fill out a college application or how to fill out a FAFSA,” Shephard says.
Sign up for upcoming sessions by Single Parent Advancement group by visiting their website or their Facebook page.