Free to Give: Meet Anne Teschner

Free to Give: Meet Anne Teschner

Dec 30, 2021 Anne Teschner

The following interview is part of Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Free to Give” series highlighting the impact philanthropy can have when Americans have the right to give freely to the causes and communities they care about most. Learn more here.

“The Care Center has been around since 1986. When it was first formed, the teen pregnancy rate was extremely high in Holyoke–it was formed in response to that. The community banded together and said we needed to do something, so we began as a support program for teen mothers. Since then, our work has only grown.”

“The mindset of The Care Center, as an organization, is to identify challenges and address them, with the goal of moving women out of poverty. We want them to be economically self-sufficient. That is what we’re about.”

“Teen mothers are still the core of the population we work with, but we also work with other low-income women, and those who started with us as teens but have since grown up. We’ve really broadened our outlook: we’ve incorporated a GED/HiSET program, an in-house college daycare center, door-to-door transportation, a nurse practitioner, housing and more.”

“Close to half the families in Holyoke are woman-led households. That means any kind of community development needs to focus on those women and provide them with what they need to support their families. Holyoke is a city that struggles with high levels of poverty, racial discord, poorly performing schools and other hallmarks of a city in trouble. But for many, The Care Center is an exhilarating and guiding force in town–one that allows people to feel optimistic.”

“It’s clear to us that you can’t move out of poverty without a solid education. That’s what the impetus was for our GED program. We also did something highly unusual–where we are, in the Pioneer Valley, we're surrounded by top colleges and all kinds of private schools–we looked at what led other students to succeed in the schools around us. Time and time again, we saw four key things that we’ve added to our GED program: a focus on the arts and humanities, a focus on physicality, small class sizes and an assumption of success as a baseline.”

“It also became clear to us that if you’re a single mother, a GED isn’t enough to get you out of poverty anymore. We incorporated college prep into our work. We took all that and put it on top of our GED program, and the results were fabulous. It astonished us. About 75% of our graduates went on to college!”

“It's about providing the same tools and access and structure to low-income women and girls as you would to middle-and high-income women and girls. It was very exciting. But we also noticed that after our students went off to college, they often didn’t finish. Our goal was to get them to a degree, so we found ourselves facing yet another quandary.”

“When those supports went away, when they went outside of our institution, they didn’t do as well as we hoped. We could either remake the community college system, or we could bring a college into The Care Center. So, that’s exactly what we did. Seven years ago, Bard Microcollege Holyoke was born. Today, we’re officially a campus of Bard College.”

“What we communicate to women is that you are next, we need you to pick up the reins. And I think all of that is powerful and motivating for the women who come here.”

“We’re a very responsive and innovative organization, and donor-advised funds are very open to innovation. They’ve proven to be an important part of the work we do.” 

“Donor-advised funds have been open to our ideas and willing to try something new.” 

“For example, we have an extensive rowing program and we row every summer. When we first pitched the idea, a couple organizations and foundations found it ridiculous. But it was the individual donors who saw how it could be an interesting and powerful experience for women. Without that initial boost and trust in our vision, it would have never happened.”

“For that reason, donor-advised funds have been central to our growth and development. There is a human link with donor-advised funds. It signals to us that people see what we’re doing and understand why it’s valuable. That warmth ripples over to the students, too, when they know there are people they’ve never met who are willing to help them.”

“Through the pandemic, we definitely saw an increase in individual giving. Some of it was just through regular donations, and some of it was through donor-advised funds. I think there was a sense of urgency around our mission and protectiveness for The Care Center and the women we serve. The people supporting our work did not want to let those women down.”

“Another remaining barrier that derails women on their path is unstable housing. So, in the same spirit as we’ve approached all these other issues, we’ve recently been working to provide affordable housing. We now have 10 apartments for young mothers in college, affordable housing embedded with support and cultural programming.”

“Next, we’re hoping to launch an endowment fund for a microcollege. That’s not something we’ve ever done, but in the spirit of The Care Center, we’ll figure it out piece by piece. It’s clear to us that the microcollege model is a really solid one: it’s been replicated twice now, in New York at the Brooklyn Public Library and a new one about to launch in Harlem. It’s being replicated because it works.”

“We’ve been here for 35 years. We’re a place where aunties send their nieces, sisters refer sisters. We’re known as a place of support in the community and as the place to go if you want to get to and through college–that’s really exciting to me.” 

“It is incredibly fun to watch these young women recognize their capacity and how it changes their lives. It's why I've been here for 24 years. It's just a very gratifying experience to build these relationships and see the difference in their lives and the community as a whole.”

-Anne Teschner, executive director of The Care Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts. 

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