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How to Fuel a Courageous National Movement

Maria Kim

On occasion, and particularly in the time of Miss Rona (that’s what my colleague calls this time of coronavirus), I play a game with my friends called “what’s your number?” On a scale of one to ten, we each shout out or share out our number, where ten represents this day could not get any better, and one represents the pits.

Last week I was at a four.

“Oh, that’s not happening on my watch,” one of my friends replied.

Now don’t get me wrong. She was not trying to invalidate my feelings; she was trying to say we are in this together. That she is going to be there for me to lean on, to laugh with, to breathe with, to help me – over time – boost from a four on up.

She was, in that moment and throughout my life, being quintessential Cara, or the Old Irish word for friend.


Nicole, Employed Cara Participant, proves to her children that the future is full of possibility.

Cara Staff

Celebrating Cara Moms: Nicole

Nicole is a rock-star mom of four who came to Cara in search of opportunity. She encourages her children to work hard, continue their education, and pursue their dreams. “My hope is that they will achieve whatever success looks like for them,” Nicole says wholeheartedly. The most effective way to instill this message, she thought, was to prove it was not only possible but within reach. 

She decided to head back to school and earn her master’s degree. With a diploma in hand, she felt sure the new letters added to her name would be the key to unlocking a full-time position with a Chicago company. But unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple.

For years, the only positions she could secure were contract roles that took her way out into the suburbs. For one job in particular, she had to travel three hours one way. “How can I encourage my children to pursue higher education when I myself got a master’s degree and struggle to make a good salary?” she wondered.

This wasn’t what success looked like through Nicole’s eyes. Spending time with her husband and four children give her life purpose and direction. She wasn’t willing to sacrifice time with her family, but earning the additional income eased their financial stress.

It wasn’t until she learned about Cara that things started looking up.“Initially, I thought I would join Cara to inspire my son who was going through a lot of transitions into adulthood. I also thought about how I had searched for opportunities the same way for years. Cara could be good for me.”

Nicole came to Cara in August 2019, motivated to set the best example for her son and to start the career that she knew she was capable of having. Diving into our 4-week Transformations classes, she gained a newfound sense of optimism for her future and the support of an entire community. “We wouldn’t let anyone in our class slip through the cracks because we all have an objective: to get that job. For me, it wasn’t about finding one job but finding my career.”

Cara helped Nicole take the next step in her career as the Administrative Assistant & Office Manager at The Hatchery, a non-profit food and beverage incubator with the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC). “I couldn’t possibly list everything that I get to do in my role. I’m on a team that has this amazing ad hoc way of working. We are a family who figures things out and makes decisions together.”

Now Nicole has a family at work who makes sure she can take care of her family at home. She is a true Mama Motivator proving to her children that they can have a future full of possibility.

There are hundreds of moms determined to create a bright future for their families. Click here to read more stories of moms who motivate us!

Help a #MamaMotivator at Cara unlock power and purpose for herself and her family. Click here to donate.


Moms Who Motivate

Cara Staff

There are hundreds of moms who have walked through Cara’s doors determined to create a bright future for their families. In honor of Mother’s Day, we share just a few stories of moms who motivate us!


Dian, Cara Alum, teaches her son to love and care about everyone.

Cara Staff

Mother's Day : Dian and Hakeem

Dian is one of our alumni working on the front lines making a big difference in the community. It’s who she is; a firm believer that we should all care about the well-being of others. “Whether you are a billionaire or someone experiencing homelessness, everyone deserves respect and care,”  she says with absolute certainty.

So when Dian had the option of staying home during this crisis, it was a no-brainer. She knew her work with SEIU Building Maintenance provided the residents in her assigned building, many of whom are elderly, with a safe and clean place to live. She cares deeply about them. 

But there is one person she loves and cares about above all: her son, Hakeem.

Hakeem has always been the driving force behind Dian’s Cara journey. “I found out I was pregnant right before I came to Cara. I had been sober for two years and needed a job. I had to support my son, but I didn’t have any work experience.” 

Dian was fully aware that she faced significant barriers to employment. Before celebrating two years of sobriety, she battled addiction for over a decade. She had a background that she needed help getting expunged. And now, she was about to be a mom having grown up without one as a ward of the state.

Refusing to be defined by her past, Dian joined Cara in 2008 and got her first job through Cleanslate, Cara’s social enterprise that provides transitional employment opportunities in exterior maintenance services. Shortly after, Hakeem was born and changed her life forever.“My purpose became loving my son and making sure he knows how to love everyone around him.” 

Hakeem grew up learning how to care about others, just like his mom, and the Cara and Cleanslate community loved him right back. “We consider Cara as our family; people who care about us.” Our community lovingly named Hakeem “The Cara Baby” because he grew up regularly attending Motivations.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Dian continued to work full-time in the evenings, taking every precaution to keep herself and her son safe. During the day, she takes on the role of Hakeem’s teacher, so that he can keep up with school.  

“Being a single parent is hard, especially during these times, but the joy far outweighs the hardship. Hakeem has no idea how much joy he gives me. He won’t understand until he becomes a parent.”

We are grateful for Dian not just on Mother’s Day but every day. She is a mom who motivates her son to stay true to himself and finds strength in knowing that, although she didn’t grow up with a mother of her own, she can still be a great one to Hakeem.

There are hundreds of moms determined to create a bright future for their families. Click here to read more stories of moms who motivate us!

Help a #MamaMotivator at Cara unlock power and purpose for herself and her family. Click here to donate.