The McAuley Residence for mothers in substance abuse recovery and their children is already seeing a positive impact from a new partnership with Southern Maine Community College designed to improve their education and career opportunities.

Through “Operation Ready” the women earn SMCC credits through lessons on personal development and the skills needed to be successful students. At the same time, their children receive “high-quality literacy instruction” and are involved in activities tied to what their mothers are working on, according to SMCC Success Coach Kristen Stevens.

Stevens works with four of the mothers and their children at the McAuley Residence in Portland, both one-on-one and during a weekly group session.

“It’s a two-gen course,” Stevens said. “For every lesson for the women, there is a matching lesson for the kids.”

The adults’ lessons vary depending on their needs, Stevens said, but all are intended to give them tools to further their education and careers after they leave McAuley.

“Some mothers have no legitimate or legal work experience, others are highly educated and have had long careers,” she said. “Addiction doesn’t discriminate.”


While a mom might be writing a research paper, her child is given a research question, too, such as “what is a funny bone?” or “what lives in the desert?” When the mother is instructed on employer and employee expectations, the child will be taught classroom manners, such as taking turns, being friendly and respecting teachers, Stevens said.

The McAuley Residence, which houses and provides support to 15 mothers and their children in Portland and 10 in Bangor, aims to “build a strong foundation in recovery” through a multi-phase program.

“Lots of times, mothers will come in without custody of their kids, so we work on family reunification,” said Melissa Skahan, vice president of mission integration at Northern Light Mercy Hospital, which manages the residence. “In phase two, families are reunified, and that’s truly where the partnership with SMCC has come in.”

While the partnership is just 3 months old, Skahan said Stevens has already made an impact.

“Prior to her work, people would most often be looking at lower-wage jobs,” Skahan said. “I am watching them be very mindful of what long-term career goals need to look like, providing for their families as a single mother.”

Some of the mothers have expressed interest in medical and healthcare careers, she said.


“I love that, and that’s new,” Skahan said. “I think that’s really a testament to the work Kristen is doing.”

The partnership has been so successful they plan to make it available to residents in McAuley’s first phase.

“We determined we’re going to move it into phase one so people can get further along their educational pathway,” she said. “I do expect we will see more people enrolled and advancing more quickly.”

The new program is funded by a $100,000 grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation, with one of the main initiatives to support programs that have “a whole family approach.”

“There’s a focus on both parents and children, supporting them simultaneously,” said Jennifer Beck, the foundation’s vice president of programs. “McAuley is rooted in this two-generation approach. It was really exciting to have them bring forth this interest in creating new educational pathways for the moms, and the kids, too.”

However, Skahan said the partnership with the JTG Foundation goes beyond funding.

“Not only have they been providing funding, but they’re also a wonderful ‘thought partner,'” Skahan said. “They help us understand what could be … try to understand and solve whatever the barriers are for vulnerable families to not only complete their education, but find stable, high-paying jobs.”

Stevens said she loves working with the mothers and looks forward to further developing the course.

“It’s very rewarding working with people who have the courage to explore new opportunities,” she said.

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