An Austin group that has helped young mothers for more than 35 years is one of 15 finalists for The Renewal Awards, a $20,000 grant from The Atlantic magazine and Allstate that will be awarded to five organizations to celebrate innovative nonprofits across the nation.

“It is such an honor to be counted as one of the 15,” said Jenna Hania, director of development and communications for New Moms.

“We are really excited to be given this platform to share about the work that we are doing (to) highlight the importance of investing in moms and children so that we can make sure family units are growing in a strong way.”

The public can vote online until 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on March 1. New Moms is one of two Chicago groups on the finalist list; the other is the Healthy Schools Campaign. There were 9,300 nominations nationally and 680 in Illinois. To vote, visit 

Hania said when she first started at New Moms four years ago, the program served around 400 children and mothers – no older than 24 years of age – each year; that number has since doubled.

New Moms gives participants the foundational skills that will help them in their family and professional lives. “Every mother who comes into the program is categorized as living in extreme poverty; ninety-eight percent of all mothers coming into the program are 200 percent below the federal poverty line.”

Austin native Jasmine Stewart, 26, became a mother at 16. “I remember being in a struggling place, not just financially but in terms of support.”

She completed New Moms’ work force program and got help building a resume and setting goals. “I was around a bunch of peers who were just like me. This is allowed me to accomplish a lot as a young mom,” Stewart said.

She started making candles for Bright Endeavors – whose motto is “Light a Candle. Transform a Life” – before becoming a production associate. Since graduating from New Moms, Stewart has gotten married, bought a car and is settling into her career as a family support specialist with New Moms, where she has worked the last six years.

“After graduating from the development program, I found that I wanted to be a supporter to moms who were like me, who gave birth early in life and needed that additional support,” says the mother of three. “I wanted to be what I was getting.”

Eighty-one percent of the New Mom’s graduates have a job at least 12 months after finishing the program, compared to a national average of 39 percent for other programs, Hania said.

One key piece is housing; that’s critical because every mom that comes to the program has been homeless or is currently homeless. New Moms has 40 transitional housing units at its headquarters at 5317 W. Chicago Ave., the former home of the 15th District. Moms ages 18 to 24 can live there up to two years and access services such as job training and family support.

Additionally, 18 units of permanent supportive housing will be added soon when the new Oak Park facility opens. All apartments will be fully furnished in the $7.1 million facility and include welcome kits created by volunteers to provide young moms with the basics.

“Our goal in our housing program,” Hania said, “is to support our moms in accomplishing goals, so they can be living independently in the community, supporting their families and creating their own home.”

New Moms also provides hands-on job training in both Chicago and the western suburbs, with mothers earning $3,700 after 16 weeks. They build both “soft” skills such as time management and communication, as well as “hard” skills that qualify them for specific jobs.

Hania hopes New Moms will be one of the five winners later this spring so they can further spread their message.

“I think we were selected because our work is innovative and really comprehensive, we are the only organization in Chicago that focuses on the needs of young moms and their children who are experiencing poverty. … There is no one else doing this quite like we’re doing it.”

Allstate spokeswoman Kate MacGuidwin said the company sponsors the annual awards, now in their fourth year, to help put a spotlight on innovative work.

“Every year we are so inspired and proud to recognize not only the winners, but the finalists and all of the nominated organizations that each have an impact in their own way by engaging their community,” MacGuidwin said.

“We are trying to bring a spotlight to the work that is already happening with these organizations so more people have a chance to get involved and potentially benefit from the work organizations like New Moms and others in the Chicago area are doing.”