When Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of “Random Family,” began speaking at All Our Kin’s benefit dinner Saturday night, she said her usual anxiety over public speaking had disappeared because she had already met her humiliation quota for the day.
Indeed, the beginning of LeBlanc’s evening may have been embarrassing: she said she went out to hail a cab in New York City without realizing that her slip was tucked into her underwear, and some pedestrians got to see more than they bargained for.
From that point on, however, LeBlanc’s speech took on a more serious tone. Referring to her book, an exploration of urban poverty in America, she drew parallels to the work of All Our Kin, a New Haven organization that trains poor mothers in childcare.
“In my book, one of the central issues was that the main character lacked decent daycare, and this greatly diminished her opportunities,” LeBlanc said. “[All Our Kin] is great because it makes a direct connection between caring for children and the success of adults. It’s about strengthening the community by caring for the children.”
All Our Kin was founded in the fall of 1999, and today it incorporates three programs and works with about 40 mothers a year.
Jessica Sager, the organization’s co-founder and executive director, said All Our Kin has an intensive nine-month program for parents with small children to take classes in child development, small business and computers.
“We also provide professional development through our family childcare network, which consists of childcare businesses run in private homes,” Sager said. “Our newest initiative is reaching out to unlicensed childcare providers with a program that helps them become licensed.”
LeBlanc’s book is based on her experience spending 10 years with a woman named Coco, who at 17 had an incarcerated boyfriend and was pregnant with her third child.
“The residual effect these stressors had on her made me cease to believe social programs had any effect whatsoever,” LeBlanc said. “I also began to have a physiological reaction to noise pollution, sleep deprivation and bad diet. I became moody and short-tempered, and I began to understand why certain [conflicts] happened in poor families.”
After reading “Random Family,” All Our Kin’s founders e-mailed LeBlanc asking her to speak at the benefit, Sager said. Within 40 minutes, LeBlanc replied that she would love to do it.
“In our line of work, sometimes we need someone who understands that work to remind us why we do it,” Sager said. “Her voice was that voice in our head that said, ‘You’re doing it for the women, for the children and for the community.'”
The benefit served as a fund-raiser for All Our Kin, which draws about a quarter of its budget from donations, Sager said. The organization’s preliminary estimate is that it took in $6,000 net from the event, through donations, an entrance fee and the help of corporate sponsors.
“The speaker was great because her speech tied into All Our Kin,” said Janet Lee ’06, who volunteered through Yale’s FOCUS program with All Our Kin. “They help train single mothers on welfare run childcare centers, so they know what to do to make sure their children develop in the best way possible. If Coco had been able to go to this program, she definitely would have benefited — All Our Kin is directed toward women just like her.”
A number of local merchants supplied free food for the event, and Artspace provided a discounted rate for the rooms. The staff consisted of volunteer Yale students.
“Yale undergraduates have made such an amazing contribution to our event,” Sager said. “They are so intelligent, motivated and idealistic. We just could not manage without their help.”