Sixty-one percent of children in Orleans Parish live in a single-parent household, according to data compiled by County Health Rankings. This shockingly high number is unique to this parish, exceeding the state average of 41%. While each family has a unique story, many share the struggle of stretching one income to cover the costs of raising children and basic survival.
When Maria Huete, sustainer and Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) President 2016-2017, heard these statistics, she reflected on her own family history and wondered how JLNO could help level the playing field for single mothers and their families.
“If we could provide the financial means for a woman to attain a certificate that would help her move up to the next level of pay or career, that could make an enormous difference for her family,” Maria notes.
Maria comes from a hard-working family who knows the value of education. Her grandmother was a laundress for wealthy families in Honduras. Maria’s mother, Consuelo Pardo, aspired to obtain an accounting certificate, but her family couldn’t afford the degree. Instead, she earned a secretarial certificate, a more affordable option. The certificate opened an incredible opportunity for Consuelo. When she was 18 years old, she was hired by a coffee importer who was launching a roasting business and immigrated from Honduras in 1962. She knew very little English at first, but she worked hard and sacrificed, sleeping on a colleague’s couch for two years.
“While the certificate enabled my mother to start a new life in New Orleans, with more education, she could have pursued further opportunities,” says Maria. “My mother’s consistent message to me was that education is crucial to a woman’s independence.”
Maria never forgot her mother’s wisdom, and during the JLNO presidency of Jeanne Boughton, she participated in discussions on the new strategic plan for the future of the League. As a result of this work, JLNO adopted the Issue-Based Community Impact Model that empowers women through diverse touchpoints like health initiatives and financial security.
“Thinking back to my mother’s story, I wanted to do even more to impact working women,” reflects Maria.
During her JLNO presidency, Maria saw an exciting opportunity to do just that. Aware of the high number of single-parent, female-led households in New Orleans, she was inspired to establish a scholarship that would help mothers achieve their dreams and provide for their families. Maria’s husband, David, enthusiastically supported this idea, adding, “We wanted to provide a small nudge to get someone over the finish line. It’s not often we get the opportunity to have so great an impact on a worthy cause.”
The Huete scholarship builds on the Junior League of New Orleans’ goal to advance the wellbeing of women. It helps non-traditional students obtain the degrees or certificates they need to join the workforce or advance in their careers. To date, there have been four Huete Scholars and two JLNO Scholars, with several thousand dollars awarded to recipients. Thanks to Maria and David’s generosity, the Huete scholarship will continue to make an impact on deserving women in New Orleans.