VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — They have children and they have a paycheck, but they don’t have a clear path toward financial security.

Organizers of a new partnership between the United Way, Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia, and ForKids, inc. say tens of thousands of local working mothers are caught in that dilemma.     

It’s an age-old problem, especially in Hampton Roads. But now there’s technology to tie together key agencies that can help. And instead of traditional case managers, this new program, called the Aspire Partnership, utilizes mentors that help mothers plot a course toward financial self-sufficiency.

“You can throw money at any problem, but people change people’s lives,” said Tracy Fick, the associate director and chief programs officer for Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia.

Changing lives is what motivated Meredith Larsen to become a case manager at ForKids, inc. — and what continues to drive her as she becomes a mobility mentor through the Aspire Partnership.

“That’s one great thing about mentoring — we don’t try to be the experts of anyone’s life,” Larsen said.

Larsen will work full time with 25 working mothers through the Aspire Partnership. These mothers are part of what the United Way calls ALICE — Asset-Limited Income-Constrained and Employed. These mothers have jobs, but don’t make a living wage. 

“And most people in our area — especially the ALICE population — are probably making between $10 and $13-$14 an hour,” Fick said.

But Fick says the living wage in Hampton Roads is more than twice that — anywhere from $25-$35 an hour.

“In South Hampton Roads it’s a pretty significant problem,” said Carol McCormack, CEO of United Way of South Hampton Roads.

In Virginia Beach alone, the United Way estimates there are as many as 52,000 ALICE households. 

“Housing is a huge, huge issue,” Fick said. “Affordable housing is what I should say. Just as one of the economic markers, it is very difficult to house a family here. Rents are really high.”

Instead of being a traditional case manager, Larsen will coach the mothers and serve as a link to a variety of social service agencies. 

“The goal with this is to get you beyond the situation where you have to worry day to day, and have the stress of worrying day to day of ‘am I gonna feed my family?’ ‘Am I gonna make the rent?” McCormack said.

The Women United organization within United Way raised $500,000 to kickstart the Aspire Partnership.

“It would have been a game-changer for someone in my family to have a mentor who cared enough to really know what was going on and ask the hard questions,” Larsen said.

Learn more about the Aspire Partnership through the United Way of South Hampton Roads.