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Northside: Single mom looks for college and a good job

Fellowship Story Showcase

Northside: Single mom looks for college and a good job

Picture of Andrew Doughman

Mentors, social workers, community advocates and nurses are all working to help make the Northside a healthy neighborhood where people choose to live and choose to stay.

Andrew Doughman wrote this series of articles for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal as a 2012 National Health Journalism Fellow. Other stories in the series include: 

Northside: Being transformed into a healthy and thriving community

Northside: Story of the mill village is a familiar one

Northside: Neighborhood's future depends on healthy choices

Northside: City is following Atlanta redevelopment plan

Spartanburg County Council considers fee-in-lieu of tax requests

Northside: Cleveland Elementary plays part in redevelopment

Northside: Success of project hinges on housing

Late Spartanburg native behind Northside effort

Jessica Miller gave birth to her first child, Keylan Juwan-Agee Miller. shortly after graduating from Spartanburg High School last year. Jessica is on a college-bound track with dreams of starting her own business one day and wants to be able to support her son.
Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jessica Miller gave birth to her first child shortly after graduating from Spartanburg High School last year.

At the time, she had no job and was living at home with her disabled mother in the Northside neighborhood, but she hasn't let that stop her. She is on a college-bound track with dreams of starting her own business one day, and wants to be able to support her son, Keylan Juwan-Agee Miller.

“Don't let your child be an excuse or hindrance to what you want to do,” Miller said.

To achieve her dreams, she has the help of the Nurse Family Partnership, a nonprofit program that partners nurses with first-time mothers. Lisa Corkren, a nurse home visitor, is more than Miller's nurse. When she visited Miller's home one afternoon last year, Corkren spent the first few minutes talking to Miller about college and a higher education.

“I am a nurse, I am a mentor, a social worker, a guidance counselor,” Corkren said. “For me, it's for these girls to know where they want to go in 5 to 10 years.”

As planning for the redevelopment effort in the Northside gets underway, community members, city planners and many of the civic and business groups involved in the project know they need to not only develop mixed-income houses and good schools, but also bolster social services that can help determine how healthy the neighborhood will be in the next several years.

Mentors, social workers, community advocates and nurses like Corkren can work from home to home to help make the Northside a healthy neighborhood where people choose to live and choose to stay.

Finding a job

Corkren sees some of the challenges to creating a healthy neighborhood at a micro level.

Coordinating Miller's SAT test is a logistics and scheduling feat, because she doesn't have a car. She has to rely on her aunt, who lives miles away near Southport Road, for transportation outside of the neighborhood.

The same lack of transportation affects Miller's ability to find a job.

She applied to Church's Chicken, a 15-minute walk away. The main arterial road through the neighborhood is Howard Street, and it lacks sidewalks beyond the city-county line, where Miller lives.

It's mostly a safe walk, unless it's late at night, she said.

She's also applied at a warehouse on John Dodd Road, but she is worried a lack of transportation will prevent her from getting the job.

Despite her challenges, Corkren called Miller her “least drama girl.” Other clients face many more stumbling blocks toward healthy living.

In one dramatic case, a young mother's brother was shot by the police, but domestic violence, substance and drug abuse, and entanglements with the criminal justice system are common, she said.

“I can teach you how to read to your baby, but if you've just had a knockdown fight with your boyfriend, you're not going to learn right now how to read to your baby,” Corkren said. “You have to be flexible.”

Her experiences point to the need to look beyond institutional improvements in schools and housing toward broader community wellness, a key component of the city's redevelopment efforts.

Planners say that investments in social services will pay dividends in the future in the form of healthier neighborhoods, vibrant urban environments and successful families invested in their communities.

“The fact is that the city can't be strong and be a force in the region or area without really strong neighborhoods,” said Curt McPhail project coordinator of the Northside Development Corporation, the nonprofit created to handle redevelopment efforts in the neighborhood.

Changing plans

While Miller now says she wants to go to school to learn accounting and finance so that she can someday manage her own business, these weren't always her plans.

Miller had wanted to be in college or in the army, both of which she viewed as vehicles to broaden her horizons. She thought her pregnancy had changed everything.

“I knew I couldn't go away for school or the army. I knew I had to sacrifice it,” she said.

Frightened by her pregnancy and not getting support from the unborn child's father, she enrolled in the nurse partnership program during a prenatal visit to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center.

Women pregnant for the first time who live in Spartanburg County can apply to the two-year program if they are in the first 28 weeks of their pregnancy. The program is funded through a seven-year grant from the Duke Endowment.

“It all boils down to Nurse Family Partnership is for the family,” Corkren said. “Our goals are healthy pregnancies, babies reaching their milestones, being ready for school and helping the girls get to where they want to be.”

While Corkren advises Miller about Keylan's development and health, an extension of that work is helping Miller plan for her future. Helping Miller to go to college and gain financial independence are also related to Keylan's health.

“She really gets on me about school,” Miller said of Corkren. “If it wasn't for her helping me with financial aid [paperwork], I probably would've given up on going to school a long time ago.”

Miller has struggles with transportation and jobs, but she isn't going to let that stop her.

“I just don't want to work the rest of my life living paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “I want to have a better life for my son and have him go to college.”

This story was originally published at on January 29, 2013

Photo Credit: ALEX HICKS JR.