Single females today head more than half of Black families in Pittsburgh. One local group aims to help improve the quality of life for these single mothers and their sons. Celebrating its 10th year supporting families, the Mother to Son program recently held its annual recognition dinner.

As a supporting group under Small Seeds Development, Inc., the Mother to Son program assists single mothers through self-help training sessions and special workshops geared toward helping mothers deal with the difficulties of raising adolescent boys. Families can participate in field trips, motivational speakers, confidential mother/son mediation sessions, financial literacy education, and goal-oriented family service plans.


Darnell Ramsey, MTS program manager, plans for the program to have a greater impact on both mothers and sons. “I want our mothers to be able to achieve some of their life goals, such as furthering their education, employment, or home ownership,” he said. “I want our young men to grow up to be responsible men so that they can help change the overall perspective of our young Black men,” Ramsey said. His vision is to help these youths develop their talents and skills to become productive contributors to society. “I also want our young men to grow up to be responsible fathers and husbands,” he said.

The program included a recognition ceremony awarding those who have made special strides and contributions to the organization over the past year. These include The Seed Sower Award, Tara Evans; the Everett Blanton Volunteer of the Year Award, Albert Peterson; MTS Staff Award, Stanley Green; Most Improved Award, Scott Boggus; Best Entrepreneurial Presentation Award, Ty­rique Anderson; Special Academic Achievement Award, TaVon Gilmore; Leadership Award, Jermaine Brown; and Candi Singleton Castleberry for her participation in the program.

In his recounting of the history of the Small Seeds, one of the founding members and current board chair, Rev. Dr. James H. McLemore, shared the humble beginnings of the organization that was adapted from a similar model in Ohio in 1999. From those early days with the assistance of Katie Johnson and Greg Spencer, the organization has grown to help countless families in the Pittsburgh area. Small Seeds has spread through four communities, including the Hill, East Liberty, Wilkinsburg, and Rankin. The organization’s programs and services focus on communication, academic improvement, self-esteem, character development, parenting and civic engagement of young men from single mother households from the ages of eight to 15.

The MTS program provides support groups aimed at helping to decrease feelings of isolation many single mothers may feel, and provides access to community resources through female facilitators. Self-help training sessions and special workshops help mothers to deal with the difficulties of raising adolescent boys. Mothers are required to participate in field trips, engage motivational speakers, receive confidential mother/son mediation sessions, financial literacy education, health and fitness, and goal-oriented family service plans are offered to each mother.

Young men benefit from the Manhood Training program by spending time with group facilitators, respected men from African-American and other communities. The boys are encouraged to utilize underdeveloped skills and share thoughts, feelings and concerns in the sessions. Academic improvement, cultural awareness, character development and accountability are stressed in this program. Participants meet other youths with similar issues, talents and concerns at events with a manhood- focused curriculum.

With six children, two biological, four foster children, one of the newest MTS program participants, Jolanda Carr, of McKeesport, said the program broadens horizons. Having been a part of Mother to Son less than a year, she said the program is encouraging and instills hope. “It puts things in prospective regarding the future,” she said. Other program benefits include helping build socialization skills, goal setting and achievement. She and her children attend the program at the Rankin Christian Center.

In her address, the inspirational and dynamic Candi Castleberry-Singelton, chief diversity officer at UPMC, related the story of a young girl, the eldest of three daughters, growing up in South Central, Los Angeles. Some of the situations the young girl and her siblings endured weren’t pretty, but it demonstrates how ambition—due in part to—parental involvement and expectation, can spur a child to success, no matter what. At the end of her story, to the surprise of the audience, Castleberrry-Singleton revealed that the little girl she had been talking about was herself. “Just seeing someone does not mean you know their story. You never know what inspires a person,” she said.

Castleberry-Singleton said that young people not only deserve dignity and respect, but a chance at life—a decent life that offers positive choices. She stressed the importance of young ones knowing that someone cares about their lives and supports their successes. Education did change Castleberry-Singleton’s life. She said it created a path that has led her to where she is today. Despite her humble upbringing, Castleberry-Singleton said that early in life she learned to smile, because sometimes it was all she could do. “I learned to move and try to make the best of each day. I smiled about the possibilities that life has to offer. I learned that a smile is in my control every day. It’s not that you won’t go through tough times, but you can’t let it permanently impact your life or your ability to smile,” she said.

(Small Seeds will hold a 10-year gala benefit Sept. 28 from 6- 9 p.m. at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. For more information on this event or any of the programs Small Seeds supports, call 412-665-2810.)

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