Finding Hope Again
Six Inspirational Stories of People Who Launched a Single & Parenting Group
In this short book, we present six compelling stories from leaders scattered across the country. It is our hope that these stories will inspire you as you consider launching a Single & Parenting group at your own church.
How can you use this book?
Pastors: Share the book with members of your congregation who might be interested in becoming Single & Parenting lay leaders.
Current Single & Parenting leaders: Use this book as part of your efforts to recruit new leaders to your team. Or send the book to someone who has been divorced and shows aptitude for becoming a Single & Parenting leader.
Future Single & Parenting leaders: Read this book and share it with your church leaders, potential ministry team members, and others to cast a vision for the potential of a Single & Parenting group.
Finding Hope Again
Six Inspirational Stories of People Who Launched a Single & Parenting Group
About Single & Parenting
Single & Parenting enables your church to offer ongoing weekly support groups for single parents. We help you equip a lay-led team for effective ministry to people in your church and throughout your community. Through Single & Parenting, you can provide biblical, Christ-centered hope that will help struggling people survive and thrive.
The purpose of Single & Parenting is to share tips and wisdom that help single parents find rest, hope, and encouragement. But Single & Parenting has another ancillary benefit—changing and improving the lives of those who facilitate the curriculum.
The stories of transformation of these leaders are many. In this short book, we present six compelling stories from leaders scattered across the country. It is our hope that these stories will inspire you as you consider launching a Single & Parenting group at your own church.
To begin a Single & Parenting group, visit www.singleandparenting.org/start. Begin this exciting journey there.
— Steve Grissom, Single & Parenting founder
This book is dedicated to all Single & Parenting leaders—the thousands of men and women who have used the curriculum to bring God’s healing touch to so many. In a small way, the six stories contained in this book reflect the countless stories of renewal and redemption that Single & Parenting leaders around the world share in common. Our thanks goes out to them.
Shows Why Churches Must Minister to Single Parents
Location: Los Angeles, California
Cathy Trout serves in the Single & Parenting ministry at Oasis Church in Los Angeles, California. Here, she shares how God brought her to the Single & Parenting ministry and the wide-reaching impact it is having in Los Angeles.
Cathy Trout was married to her college sweetheart for 15 years. They had one daughter together. Her life was devastated, though, when her marriage ended in divorce.
Thankfully, she found hope and began the journey of recovery while attending a DivorceCare group regularly.
“I loved the videos and the sense of community we all shared,” Cathy said. “I will never forget how the leader, Gloria, reached out to me outside of group—even taking me to lunch one time when she saw me hurting and drifting into a very dark place. I went through two cycles of DivorceCare—Gloria knew I really needed both!”
That’s when God put Cathy on a journey that would eventually lead her to facilitate Single & Parenting. While her ex-husband had custody of their daughter on Saturdays, Cathy searched for places to volunteer. She joined a ministry group at Oasis Church that served a substance-abuse recovery facility in South Los Angeles and passed out lunches to the homeless on Skid Row.
While serving, she encountered other single moms who had experienced the same losses, but who hadn’t received healing like she had. Even so, they still shined with the light and love of Jesus.
“I was inspired by their stories, and it was healing for me to invest in others and not sit around and feel sorry for myself,” Cathy said.
“Immediately, I knew that I had found the right opportunity in Single & Parenting, especially since Church Initiative created it.”
One of the ladies on the ministry team invited Cathy to attend a married and single moms group at Oasis Church. In time, she became a co-leader. She noticed the silent pain of the single moms in the group, and it motivated her to create a distinct support group for them. For a while, she and her team members searched for the best curriculum until finally coming across Single & Parenting.
“The group was small, maybe 5-6 moms each week,” Cathy said. “But when we introduced Single & Parenting, our ministry grew exponentially and we were positioned to welcome dads.”
“Immediately, I knew that I had found the right opportunity in Single & Parenting, especially since Church Initiative created it. I was seriously overjoyed. I asked my church leaders to purchase it, and they loved the idea,” Cathy added.
In addition to using Single & Parenting as a healing mechanism, Cathy used her new single-parent group to meet immediate physical needs, too.
“We found out who didn’t have food in the refrigerator and who was on the verge of eviction,” she said. “We connected them with the right community resources, and the church gave me a small budget to help as well.”
Cathy always thinks creatively about her group. Every season, Oasis Church offers a personal development workshop that parents can enter once they graduate from Single & Parenting. Topics include goal setting, prayer, healing, generosity, and breaking bad habits.
Group participants also do an outreach each cycle. One Saturday before Mother’s Day, they went down to Skid Row and delivered gift bags of beauty items to moms in a shelter. They also held a worship service.
Cathy is always amazed at how quickly Single & Parenting impacts hurting people. “They are typically on the edge, break down in tears during the first discussion session, and then a couple of weeks later, they are glowing,” she said. “A few weeks after that, they want to serve in some way.”
The Single & Parenting group at Oasis Church is particularly impactful since it is located in a neighborhood with one of the highest percentages of single-parent homes in the United States.
“God has worked through me to start a ministry,” Cathy said. “If He can do it through me, He can do it through anyone.”
Seeks to Reach Single-Parent Dads
Location: Panama City, Florida
Ron Penton is a sociologist and retired professor who dealt with marriage and family issues in his vocation. He also served in the U.S. Air Force for many years before retiring in 1988. Ron has facilitated Single & Parenting at Lynn Haven United Methodist Church in Panama City, Florida, for over two years. His heart is for encouraging single dads to be involved with their kids.
Ron Penton spent six years of his life as a single dad. Due to that experience, he knows firsthand the challenges of being a male single parent.
“Those six years gave me lots of time for introspection and learning about the realities of forgiveness,” Ron said.
Eventually, Ron remarried. Shortly afterward, he attended lay pastor’s training at his local church, Lynn Haven United Methodist. At the time, he planned to pursue a ministry to married couples to help them grow. What he didn’t realize was that God had another plan—to guide him to single-parent ministry instead.
“Many Christian single parents out there would become more active in church if they knew that people cared about them the same way we do for dual parents,” Ron said. “I discovered there wasn’t a single-parent ministry with a church affiliation within a 100-mile radius of my home. So I knew I had to start one. That’s when I discovered Single & Parenting on the Internet.”
In facilitating his group, Ron has a special passion for helping single dads.
“Many times when you hear about single parenting, it’s only the moms—the maternal aspect,” he said. “For me, parenting is a neutral term. I have just as much responsibility to my children as the mother does. There is no distinction.”
In his own journey, Ron has learned the importance of being non-judgmental, non-critical, and having an open ear. This reflects the spirit of James 1:19: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak.” Ron also seeks to practice genuineness, empathy, and clear communication.
“For me, parenting is a neutral term. I have just as much responsibility to my children as the mother does. There is no distinction.”
Even though Ron is now happily married, Single & Parenting has taught him new parenting skills. He wishes that a similar resource had been available during his own season of single parenting.
Moving forward, Ron wants to encourage single parents with the truth that they can not only survive, but also thrive.
“A central theme I’ve encountered in all of the sessions so far is that every single parent, whether a mom or a dad, wants to be a better parent to their kids,” he said. “They just feel like they’re inadequate. But Single & Parenting is here to help.”
Uses Single & Parenting to Attract Strugglers to Church
Location: Anderson, Indiana
Kelli McCord views her service in the Single & Parenting ministry as a unique opportunity to reach a growing single-parent population in her community. Here is how she does it.
How does Kelli McCord stay motivated in facilitating her Single & Parenting group? By measuring success as the depth of lives impacted, not the number of people attending.
“To me, success is having just one person show up at our group,” Kelli said.
Kelli discovered Single & Parenting after becoming involved with the women’s ministry at Madison Park Church in Anderson, Indiana. She noticed a gaping hole in the ministry—nothing for single parents. As a single mom to a six-year-old son herself, Kelli aimed to fill the void.
“I wanted to get involved with Single & Parenting,” she said. “Little did I know that church leaders were praying about it, and they ended up asking me to lead our first group.”
Until that point, Kelli had limited experience with leadership, having led table discussions before but never an entire group. Soon, she took on the mantle of leadership and began her Single & Parenting group in fall 2013.
Kelli averages seven members per session of Single & Parenting. One critical aspect of leadership she has discovered is to help others share their stories, not continually share her own. “I am there to facilitate and ask questions,” she said.
Kelli views reaching single parents as a unique opportunity in her community. Her town of Anderson has seen the disappearance of manufacturing jobs in recent years and a corresponding rise in poverty and single-parent households.
“In the end, I have the long-term goal of bringing people into the church who don’t come to the church normally.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of times single parents feel shame in churches, especially small churches,” Kelli said. “There can be a stigma attached to single parents—that they’ll be a problem in the congregation. They’ll need so much help. I want to dispel that myth.”
Her ultimate goal is to create a safe place where single parents feel welcomed.
“In the end, I have the long-term goal of bringing people into the church who don’t come to the church normally,” Kelli said. “These are people who don’t know that they are accepted in the church. They might be feeling shame. I’d like to see them back in the church.”
Kelli adds that Single & Parenting has helped strengthen her own walk with Christ and inspired her to get involved with other ministries. Eventually, she envisions expanding the single-parent ministry at her church beyond Single & Parenting, perhaps by creating a monthly social for the parents.
Brings Single & Parenting “to the Nations”
Location: Bowie, Maryland
Single & Parenting is blessed to have a group of committed facilitators who give their time and energy to so many others. Rochelle Ford is one of them. Her vision expands far beyond the borders of the United States, however.
Rochelle Ford was an early adopter of Single & Parenting in 2011, using the curriculum to expand and improve her church’s singles ministry. But recently, Rochelle took a step beyond and initiated a first for Single & Parenting: taking the course to Kenya.
“A couple in my church recruited me to join them on a mission trip,” said Rochelle. “Unfortunately, divorce and single parenting are becoming greater problems in Kenya, so the need for this instruction is significant.”
Rochelle used the Single & Parenting materials to minister to a village in the Kerio Valley, located in western Kenya. She trained facilitators in six small churches to deliver Single & Parenting. The churches began the groups this past fall.
“I really want to go back and check in on the groups and continue to empower them,” Rochelle said.
In the meantime, she continues to serve as a Single & Parenting facilitator in the United States. Rochelle recently moved to New York to serve as chair and professor of public relations at Syracuse University; she is searching for a church where she can continue to lead a Single & Parenting group.
Rochelle was originally introduced to Church Initiative’s teaching materials through the DivorceCare ministry, which helped her heal from her own two divorces. “I came to Christ as a teenager,” she said, “and like many teenagers, I had my ups and downs.”
As a young woman in her twenties, Rochelle got pregnant out-of-wedlock and married the father, which turned into an abusive relationship. After their divorce, Rochelle immediately remarried, a decision that she regretted. After four-and-a-half years of that marriage, her husband left.
“I came to Christ as a teenager, and like many teenagers, I had my ups and downs.”
At that point, Rochelle was at the end of her rope. But that’s when she found DivorceCare at another local church, where she later joined.
“DivorceCare was an opportunity for healing,” she said. “It helped me to understand my faults and to see God’s forgiveness, and how to learn to forgive the men I was married to.”
In the months that followed, she sensed God’s call on her life to minister to other single parents, but she didn’t know how. God showed her a way through the Single & Parenting curriculum, which she quickly decided to use at her church.
She launched the Single & Parenting group on Wednesday nights during Awana and the middle school ministry times. That gave single parents a childcare option while they attended the class.
One of the aspects that Rochelle most appreciates about the curriculum is its emphasis on Scripture.
“A lot of times, when churches have ministries for divorce or single parenting, they use more secular resources, while Church Initiative uses the Bible,” Rochelle said. “They know the issues people are going through, and they find the appropriate Scriptures that address those issues. So even though it’s put together in a nice little kit, it’s really the Bible that is doing the teaching.”
Encourages Single Parents to Remember They Are Not Alone
Location: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Violet Taylor, a Jamaican native and current resident of Palm Beach Gardens in Florida, guides single parents through the various hardships of raising a family. At the same time, she continues her own single-parenting journey. Single & Parenting has been the means.
When Violet Taylor was asked to help pilot the Single & Parenting group at her church in 2012, she eagerly jumped on board. Since then, she has had one mission—to encourage single parents with the truth that they are not alone.
“When you are a single parent and going through the hardships it can bring, you naturally begin to feel that you are the only one going through those trials and carrying them around,” Violet said. “As we continually hear each person’s story, it steadily surprises us all as we realize that we are not the only ones going through this.”
As a single parent, Violet has two older children—a teenage son and a daughter who recently graduated from college. She remembers when she first attended the Single & Parenting meetings and how she related to a story of a mother who received pennies from her daughter just to buy dinner for the night.
Since she began co-leading Single and Parenting in 2012, Violet still feels the initial sweet tastes of joy as if she were still a student in the class.
“Even though I am a facilitator, I am still learning something new with each session,” she said. “Even though my kids are not that young anymore, it continues to grow me as a parent.”
Violet’s personal story has touched many other single parents in her class. She was in an abusive marriage and struggled to raise two children on her own with no extended family nearby to help.
“We enter each meeting prayed up. That is the most important and effective thing.”
When Violet shares her own story, others in the class more readily open up. Everyone grows in faith and shares their burdens.
“They hold their pain in for so long because they have to be strong,” Violet said, “but as they start opening up, you see the tears of healing—both women and men. Here they are, realizing that it is OK to hurt.”
During her Single & Parenting sessions, Violet often uses a biblical example to help her group members know that it is OK to be in pain: Job was able to admit his hurt and anger to God while still trusting in God’s goodness and sovereignty.
The key, said Violet, is maintaining a healthy prayer life. She encourages her group to rely on prayer with the Lord as their foundation.
“I tell the class that I pray even before I buy a McDonald’s Happy Meal or a burger from the dollar menu,” Violet said jokingly. “We enter each meeting prayed up. That is the most important and effective thing. It invites the Holy Spirit in, allows Him to guide us where we need to go, and puts God as the true head of every meeting.”
Along with prayer, Violet points out that servant leadership makes her and her team into effective facilitators. They are not looking to play to role of a superior. Rather, they choose to walk alongside each individual.
“We are not in charge. We are there to lend support,” she said.
Violet’s focus on her ministry has her joyfully running the path of God’s mysteriously beautiful plan for her life.
“As a child we sing the song ‘Where He Leads Me I Will Follow,’ and that is where I am, where life has brought me—to be open to His guidance and His direction,” she said.
Mike & Sandy Astemborski
See the Need for Single-Parent Ministry Firsthand
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Mike and Sandy Astemborski have facilitated Single & Parenting for two years at Bethany Bible Church in Phoenix, Arizona. They came to the program by an unusual path—by witnessing the challenging path of single parenting experienced by their son.
Even though Mike and Sandy Astemborski have been married for 33 years, they have a deep life calling to reach single parents. That passion was born by witnessing the single-parenting journey that their own son experienced.
“By seeing his situation, the difficulties he had, we realized the great need for single-parent ministry at our church,” Sandy said.
Initially, the Astemborskis weren’t even aware of how dire the single-parenting situation is in the U.S.
“The more we got aware of it, the more we realized how much of a need there was and how big of a problem it is,” Mike said. “I mean, the numbers are just phenomenal. We’re finding out how many kids are being raised in single-parent situations.”
Leadership at Bethany Bible Church fully supported the Astemborskis launching a group. After doing a good deal of research, they chose Single & Parenting over a number of other potential programs.
“At first, we were extremely uncomfortable because we run an insurance agency. We’re not teachers,” Mike explained. “But we caught on quickly and it’s been very eye opening.”
Single & Parenting has become a vital outreach tool for their church. “There’s a lot of girls that have just processed through our group and are now are in other groups within the church, other studies, so I think it’s helped them at their point and time where they were at,” Sandy said.
“The reality is that church can be one of the loneliest places for single parents. We want to change that.”
The Astemborskis have also found it helpful to step beyond the weekly video sessions and group discussions and give the single moms in their groups time to connect and talk in a social setting.
“Some of the girls feel they don’t have anybody to talk to,” Mike said, “so providing that has been important.”
One of their biggest challenges has been to overcome the stigma of single parenting and still provide needed ministry opportunities. “The reality is that church can be one of the loneliest places for single parents. We want to change that,” Mike said.
The Astemborskis launched another cycle of Single & Parenting in October 2015. This is their third year.
“I have to say that we’ve gotten as much out of it—maybe more, sometimes—than the participants have,” Sandy said.
How to Launch a Single & Parenting Group
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Single & Parenting features more than 40 top Christian experts on single parenting topics.
Many churches report that over 85% of group attendees are not from their church, and half do not have an active spiritual life and are not followers of Christ. Single & Parenting becomes a great entry point for participants into the life of your church.
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About the Authors
David Bass oversees Church Initiative’s marketing and communications infrastructure, including marketing campaigns, brand awareness expansion, social medial, and blog editorial content.
A widely published writer, David has authored hundreds of articles and columns that have appeared in dozens of local, state, and national publications. His past roles include managing a communications department for a local nonprofit philanthropic foundation and serving as an associate editor and investigative reporter at a statewide newspaper. He is also a published author.
David has a B.A. in journalism. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his wife.
Earnest Johnson contributed reporting to this eBook. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Civil Engineering. He has been a blogger of his own Christian website for three years. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, he currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. Some of his hobbies include swing dancing, baseball, and being the best uncle in the world to his two young nephews.