Sister Kristen Oaks: How One Foundation Is Helping Single Mothers during the COVID-19 Crisis
Contributed By Sister Kristen M. Oaks, Church News contributor
“I find joy in service that transcends the previous understanding I had of what love means. The Prophet Joseph Smith sums it up: ‘If you would elevate others, the work itself will elevate you.’” —Stella H. Oaks
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many who have gone before us have bequeathed a legacy of overcoming challenges. One such example is Stella Harris Oaks, mother of President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency.
Stella Oaks was widowed at age 36 with three small children, whom she raised to follow her life of faith and service. She is a voice of hope to other single mothers with children, especially in this time of distress.
Left devastated after the death of her husband, a young successful physician, Stella overcame disabling circumstances by faith in a loving Heavenly Father. She earned a master’s degree in education from Columbia University, became a gifted teacher, was elected to the Provo City Council, served for four years as assistant city mayor, and was a member of the Young Women general board and a stake Relief Society president at BYU. Drawing strength from her Savior, Jesus Christ, Stella—ever the eternal optimist—used her faith grounded in the gospel to help others rise.
The Stella H. Oaks Foundation, named for this inspiring role model, is currently providing hope and scholarships to single mothers by paying for tuition, books, and fees. In addition, when necessary, it also helps with expenses that other scholarships do not, such as computers, printers, and other supplies (such as scrubs and uniforms) that are expensive and critical for single mothers seeking to advance their educations.
As the coronavirus has intensified, some recipients of scholarships from the Stella Oaks Foundation found themselves in desperate trouble as the computers they had depended upon to complete assignments were no longer available as schools, work, and libraries closed. For these women, thousands of dollars of charitable tuition and hundreds of hours of work and study were about to come to nothing.
Heike Samuelson, a single mother pictured with her three children, is a recipient of a Stella H. Oaks Foundation scholarship. Photo courtesy of Heike Samuelson.
As the foundation reached out to the community, friends, firms, and businesses, those learning of these needs immediately and generously donated computers, monitors, keyboards, and cables. Goodness just seemed to abound. Women and mothers rose to help other women and mothers in their time of adversity. An email campaign also helped gather needed funds.
An example of the challenges facing single mothers today is communicated by Cindy Cloninger, a computer and printer recipient and widow of a young physician—like Stella Oaks.
Many of our single mothers are on their own with little or no support systems. Aware of this, others provided essential supplies outside the scope of the foundation’s educational help, giving groceries, toilet paper, and paper towels. A local restaurant owner even provided hot meals and fresh produce and made home deliveries to the families.
With Mother’s Day approaching, these single mothers will also be treated to things of beauty and gift cards to lift their souls. With resources provided by many community partners, the foundation has assembled gift bags for its recipients.
In our time of grief, the pandemic has made many rise to the best within them. To quote Stella H. Oaks, “I find joy in service that transcends the previous understanding I had of what love means. The Prophet Joseph Smith sums it up: ‘If you would elevate others, the work itself will elevate you.’”
Shannon Woodward, vice president of development for the Stella H. Oaks Foundation, stands with computers donated by Durham, Jones & Pinegar for single mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Adriana Pinegar.