West Oak Lane’s Eudora Burton opens doors for first time mothers-to-be

Eudora Burton knows the struggles of single motherhood having raised seven children by herself shortly after moving to Philadelphia from Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I soon realized that I was in the same boat as other young mothers who had children without a husband,” said Burton. “The only income I had was public assistance and stipends from volunteering.”

Today, the 58-year-old West Oak Lane resident and, now, mother of eight helps new mothers-to-be get access to the housing, resources and life skills that they’ll need to provide for their children.

“I use my life as an example, I was a late bloomer,” said Burton. “I tell my clients, your child won’t remember the struggle. I encourage them to be a role model for their children.”

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Advocate and spokesperson

Burton works as a social-services specialist for the Opening Doors program of the Philadelphia Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), a group that partners first-time moms with nurse home visitors.

Within the “Opening Doors” program, Burton works to secure affordable, safe housing arrangements for her clients, who might otherwise be homeless.

“Eudora is an advocate and spokesperson on behalf of our hidden near-homeless and homeless mothers and children,” said Katherine “Kay” Kinsey, PhD, RN, FAAN, administrator at PNFP, who nominated Burton as a ‘Local Hero.’ “She challenges systems and organizations that close doors to those with needs. She is determined to pry open doors that have been closed to young families in distress.”

Kinsey said NFP’s staff and families say Burton is “inspiring.”

“Eudora sees the potential in everyone she works with,” continued Kinsey. “Based on her life experiences, she knows that anyone can make giant strides [in] life.”

For the love of ‘helping people’

More than 200 mothers-to-be have been through Burton’s office at the NFP.

“I’ve always loved helping people. It’s in my DNA,” said Burton, who noted that both her mother and grandmother shared the same sentiment.

When her children attended Martin Luther King High School, Burton began volunteering there and eventually became president of its Home and School Association.

During that time, she sought services for her child, who has a learning disability. She was able to contact a counselor from William Rowen Elementary School who connected her with the Philadelphia Society for Services to Children, which is now known as Turning Points for Children, a group that provides programs for families struggling against difficult economic odds.

“They had this empowerment program that helped children and families with disabilities,” explained Burton. “Once I was involved in the program, I gained so much support from it. I loved being involved, too.”

Educational pursuits

By the age of 35, she enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia and received an associate degree. She continued her education by obtaining a bachelor’s degree at Pierce College and, later, a master’s degree from Capella University, where she is currently a PhD candidate.

“I always knew I wanted to be in the social-services field,” said Burton, who wasn’t deterred by people telling her the field wasn’t lucrative.

Although she admits there are times when her job can be emotional, she said she relies on offering encouraging words and is constantly looking for solutions.

“A lot of my job is word-of-mouth. I listen to people talking around the office and on the train. One time I was able to get a monthly TransPass for a client who needed to get to-and-from work,” said Burton.

All in a good day’s work

When a visiting nurse identifies a mother who doesn’t have a place to stay or who is in jeopardy of losing their home, Burton steps in.

“Our clients may have gone through some trauma,” said Burton. “I can start working for them from where they are now and get them into a safe and stable place.”

Burton defined her strategy as “building from the ground-up.”

“A lot of it is planning,” said Burton. “One thing I explain to my clients is that there is no free housing. Once they understand that, I help them to become self-sufficient, to know where their resources are, whether I’m in their life or not.”

Burton said the mothers she work with vary in ages, with the youngest being 10 and the oldest in their 40s.

“I deal with them as individuals. For some, this is a way of life,” said Burton, who says some of her clients are “chronically homeless.”

She explained that people who live in places that are not normally meant for sleep, like in a vehicle or on the street, are considered homeless.

“A lot of them just have no place to go,” explained Burton. “They move from place to place and have no formal place to live.”

Teaching life skills

Burton not only provides individual counseling, she also hosts group workshops that focus on topics in life skills, housing assistance, budgeting, fiscal planning, job applications, voter registration and use of local resources.

“The workshops are great because they are really encouraged by one another,” said Burton. “I want them to be better, knowledgeable moms.”

She said she is proud to see her clients find housing, obtain jobs and earn degrees.

“I’m just delighted to see the positive outcomes,” said Burton. “We all work as a team, the nurses and staff, to make this happen. The population we work with does not have a voice. I want them to establish their voice, their goals and their dreams.”

Disclosure: The Pew Charitable Trusts funds both the Opening Doors program of the Nurse-Family Partnership and WHYY/NewsWorks.

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