Audrey Dammer: helping single moms and kids at the Jeremiah Program

Three years ago, a friend of Audrey Dammer's asked her to help decorate for the Jeremiah Program's annual Bull Frog Bash fundraiser. For Dammer, a florist at the time, volunteering her decorating services to help single mothers and their families was a natural fit.

"Then I decided that I wanted to do some more hands-on volunteering, rather than simply help with the fundraising aspect," Dammer said.

Ever since, Dammer can be found Tuesday nights in the Hand to Heart Child Development Center at the Jeremiah Program campus, 1510 Laurel Ave.

"We read books, play outside and hold the little babies," Dammer said. "It's really a happy place."

The "happy place" known as the Jeremiah Program is home to 18 single mothers and their children. The program's goal is to provide housing, education, child development services and skill building that leads to well-paying jobs for low-income single mothers.

"The long-term goal is that hopefully we wouldn't see their children back here," Dammer said.

The Jeremiah Program began Dec. 31, 1997 and opened the child development center in November 1999.

The ground floor is filled with tiny voices of toddlers and preschoolers. During the day, both the Jeremiah residents' children and children in the community attend the Hand to Heart Child Development Center.

The upper floors of the Jeremiah campus have two- and three-bedroom apartments that provide residents with some independence and personal space.

The program's admittance requirements are strict. The women must be low-income single mothers, at least 18 years old, a resident of Minnesota for two years or more, have a high school diploma or GED certificate, be enrolled in post-secondary school or a training program, have children under four years old and be drug and alcohol free.

"We look for highly motivated women," Dammer said.

On Tuesday nights, while Dammer and others take care of the children, their mothers attend classes, do their homework, laundry or just have some time to themselves. Meanwhile, mothers know their children are in good hands.

"We have all these delightful little children. I've seen children from when they first get here to when they're ready to leave," Dammer said.

Though she's only been at the Jeremiah Program for three years, Dammer has been volunteering most of her life. "I've been volunteering since I was in seventh grade," she said.

Currently, Dammer also volunteers with theaters such as the Children's Theatre Company and Stages Theatre. She and her mother also volunteer at the Walker Senior Center, 3737 Bryant Ave. S., painting the residents' fingernails.

"It's wonderful to have both ends of the spectrum -- from kids to senior citizens," Dammer said. "The key to both is respect."

To donate to the Jeremiah Program, contact Audrey at 692-8711.

To volunteer, see their Web site at www.jeremiahprogram.org.