“It’s almost like forming a new little band of sisters,” Alanah Melton said about attending the first two Single Mothers Empowerment Conferences (SMEC).
This year’s SMEC event, to be held on June 24 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the McWane Science Center, is geared towards helping single mothers in Birmingham by providing them with information specific to their needs.
A single mother herself, Melton works at the Birmingham Mayor’s Office as the operations administrator in the Division of Youth Services which led her in 2014 to volunteer — her first encounter with the empowerment conference.
Her office coordinates with agencies that help young people in Birmingham, she explained, either by partnering with their programming or doing direct service programming themselves. She went to SMEC to share information about available mentoring opportunities, summer programs, and education opportunities. While she was there giving out information, she saw the other moms at the conference and thought, “These women are me! I’m just like them. I should be here laughing and learning just like them.”
“I enjoyed it from the vendor side so I could only imagine what it would be like to be on the participant’s side,” she said. The next year, she attended as a participant and has gone back almost every year since.
“I’ve always dreamed of being a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, and a mom. The day that I became a mom was the day I accepted all of the other occupations as well,” Melton said. The challenges that come along with taking on all these positions are the atoms of what make up the SMEC.
According to Stacey Jernigan, board vice president of SMEC, it is “a conference we do every year to support local single mothers, provide them with info about local resources, and provide speakers and entertainment to give them an uplifting, supportive experience.”
The event also offers free childcare on-site. “I love that they have childcare and the childcare’s at the McWane Center. … It’s comforting to know that you’re away but that your child is right there,” said Melton. She enjoyed checking on her child between talks and said the caretakers were welcoming to her stopping by, “You don’t have to worry, ‘Is my child having fun?’ That was really cool and definitely an added plus,” said Melton.
This year’s conference is being put on with the theme Revive and Refresh! Life Gets Better! To support this theme, speakers Angela Rasheed, who blogs on Life Gets Better; life coach Anthony D. Sparks; counselor Sydne Stone; and others will give talks at the conference.
“We just want to encourage the moms to push through the moments that feel overwhelming,” Jernigan said regarding this year’s theme, “We want them to feel both revived and refreshed by the conference, ready to courageously face their challenges of single motherhood. Our goal is for each mom to leave the conference feeling both confident and hopeful that life will get better!”
As a result of attending the event, Jernigan said, “[We’ve seen] everything, from moms [who] have been able to receive financial education and purchase a home. We’ve heard stories about moms who have basically connected and networked with other moms there with support they haven’t had in the past. Moms come and say they’re rejuvenated and revived, who say this is now something they can handle.”
Melton enjoyed the support garnered at SMEC as a cornerstone of the event.
“The biggest thing was the networking,” Melton said, recalling a group of women she met at the conference with whom she keeps in touch. A member of the group, she said, will notify the rest of upcoming events she thinks they all might be interested in. And when they do get together, they all understand that childcare arrangements are a necessity for each of them.
Melton, who was born and raised in Birmingham, lost touch with a friend from high school after leaving for college in Georgia. Through SMEC, she reconnected with this friend. “When I did go to check on my son, he had fallen in love with this one volunteer. Well, turns out she was a friend of mine from high school I hadn’t seen since high school. Since that conference, we are back connected. And she wasn’t there because she’s a single mom, she was just there to volunteer. That was probably the best takeaway — to be connected with her.”
Another thing Melton gained from the SMEC was financial advice. “One of my sessions was financial planning. The sessions aren’t really long, so you get a lot in a little, but the thing that happens is that it’s oversimplified and broken down so that you get it. The financial planning message was just that; it was stuff you heard but made so simple that the light bulb came on for me. I left there thinking, ‘I could do this, I can do this, I can be a better steward with my money.’”
A session at the conference also led Melton to get involved in collecting coupons. “I had never done it before, but I took one of the sessions on couponing and I left there thinking, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and I did it and I’ve been doing it ever since that session,” she said. “It’s fun!”
If Melton could recommend the SMEC event to other single mothers, she’d say, “You’re in a place that’s just for you,” she said.” I can’t tell you how many times I hear ‘single mom’ and it’s not, ‘Single mom we celebrate you.’ It’s, ‘Single mom, oh, we feel sorry for you.’ And this isn’t that. It is very, ‘Yeah, we recognize it’s tough, but that’s not what we dwell on.’ We celebrate it. In there, you’re not a single mom. You’re just a mom in a room full of people who understand what your day-to-day looks like.”
Registration for the Single Mothers Empowerment Conference will be $30 in advance or $35 on site. The conference is seeking sponsors who would be willing to pay the $30 for a mom who can’t afford the registration fee, as well as volunteers for the event. Door prizes and lunch will be available. Free childcare service will only be provided to the first 50 participants registered online and only applies to children ages 3-15. To volunteer, call Stacey Jernigan at (205) 356-0374. To make a donation, register or find more information, visit singlemothersempowerment.org.