Though Cindy Shorey works distinctly in the people business, there are certain numbers etched in her mind.
Pew Research Center data say 26 percent of U.S. households were led by a single parent in 2014. Fifty years ago, the number was less than 10 percent, representing a historic shift in the makeup of American families.
“The majority of those are unchurched single moms,” says Shorey, showing her hand at her passion project.
The nonprofit she runs works with single mothers. It’s called The Caring People, and the connecting point is through local churches.
Spend enough time with Shorey, and another statistic surfaces: Nearly 80 percent of America’s 11 million single-parent homes are led by a woman, a 2016 number from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It’s just a huge mission field,” Shorey adds.
The mission started 20 years ago by JoDee Herschend, the wife of Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. co-founder Peter Herschend.
The Herschends are of the Christian faith, and JoDee was no stranger to volunteer service work. At the time, she began to feel a calling to something different, something more specific.
“She began praying about where to get involved in the faith-based community,” Shorey recalls. “The Lord showed her a specific task – that was reaching out to unchurched single moms with the love of Jesus.”
Following research and recruiting of like-minded people, the Herschends organized the 501(c)3 to work with local churches. Second Baptist in Springfield and First Presbyterian in Branson were among the first to come on board, Shorey says, and now there are 34 “care groups” meeting regularly.
Last year, The Caring People worked with an operating budget approaching $500,000, boosted by a sizable but unspecified donation by Pat Robertson of The Christian Broadcasting Network Inc.
Financial support has grown from a little under $300,000 in 2011 to the $400,000 mark and above, beginning in 2014, according to the IRS filings by The Caring People.
Since inception, The Caring People has served some 20,000 single mothers through what’s called care groups.
The model is designed for churches to agree as a host site and buy into the starter kit: $250 for a one-day workshop and first-year curriculum.
“Once they are in The Caring People family, they have the ongoing support of a local chapter,” Shorey says.
From the first care groups in Springfield and Branson, The Caring People have added divisions to the north, between Columbia and Kansas City, and the third covering Oklahoma last year. Shorey says the Robertson donation funded the expansion to three regions in the Sooner State.
Each division has chapter chairpersons leading volunteers who carry out the mission of holding the weekly meetings with single mothers. There are currently about 135 volunteers, Shorey says.
Shorey has walked in the single-mother shoes. And she understands the role of a father. Her dad is Mel Tillis, the longtime Branson entertainer whom she worked for since they moved to the area in 1990. Tillis, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, was instrumental in building Branson’s identity as the Live Music Capital of the World. While Shorey ran her dad’s theater for 12 years, she also served as a single mother.
“Sitting on a church pew by myself was the hardest part of my life,” she says, remembering how her dad, who died in November 2017, would regularly put The Caring People’s newsletters on top of the mail stack in the theater office. “I needed that support, especially spiritually. I needed that grounding.”
That planted the seed, and she began to volunteer with the organization in 2002. Five years later, she joined the staff and was named CEO in 2011.
“I’ve been part of the journey,” Shorey says. “When I started, we had six care groups.”
Today, Peter and JoDee Herschend serve as chairman and vice chairwoman, respectively.
Sherry London joined the board in January 2017, along with her husband Jack. They co-own Patient Pal, a patient advocacy network with offices in Branson and Las Vegas.
“I was a single mom at one time in my life,” London says. “Anytime smeone wants to help a singe mom, my heart goes out to them.”
The Londons have been involved with the organization for eight years and have sponsored the annual Run to the Lights 5K at Silver Dollar City, as well as care group families at Christmastime. She says the burning issue for the board is one of a mindset in the community.
“The challenge is changing the thought pattern that not all single moments are destitute,” she says. “It’s just changing the profile – the fact that the moms just need a support group to get through tough times.”
London says the board is eyeing further expansions. It’s ventured into El Salvador in 2006, where 30 care groups formed, and into Joplin in 2010.
It costs the organization at least $5,000 to launch a new division, Shorey says, and the goal is for those chapters to be self-sufficient. They handle their own fundraising and keep 90 percent while giving 10 percent back to the home office to plant new chapters.
Systemwide last year, fundraisers covered 40 percent of the budget and grants represented 20 percent. The Caring People’s largest fundraiser is its Honoring Our Mothers banquet, this year scheduled May 4 at Chateau on the Lake.
“We’re breaking down generational barriers,” Shorey says. “Your kids are understanding a different mindset and what a healthy home and relationships look like.”
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