“If an unwed mother has a female child, that child has a 70% chance of becoming an unwed mother herself,” said Valerie Nutter, Owner of The Nutter Center for Empowering Women, a Columbus-based mental health nonprofit. “I was an unwed teen mother, so I do understand. Poverty is generational, so we have to examine our behavior patterns and the reasons for those behaviors. It’s hard work, but we’ve helped people transform their lives and their children’s lives.”
The Nutter Center offers a multitude of services to address poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and more. Their core program is the 5-step SUCCESS program — Single women, men, and Unwed mothers Committed to Empowerment, Education, Self-Sufficiency, and Success. “We offer a curriculum comprised of 26 aspects of life skills. All the topics are based on struggles I went through, what I learned from those experiences, and how to move on to something greater," she said. "I had enough sense when I started the program to track successes and demographics. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff took 12 years of all that information and certified our curriculum as evidence-based,” she said.
“I thought I was in love, so I snuck out of the house. I got pregnant at 15 and had my daughter at 16. There was this expectation that I would just get on welfare, have more babies, and not accomplish much with my life, but I had aspirations beyond that. God had another path for me,” she said. “I did get on welfare, but I didn't want to live my life on welfare, and I didn't want to bring up my daughter believing that she too would have to live on welfare for the rest of her life,” Nutter said.
Nutter, a Muskingum County native, noticed similarities between her and other women in her predicament. “I lived in subsidized housing and watched other women leaving in the mornings, struggling to get their kids on the bus. We would ask each other for support with broken-down cars and food shortages. I learned we had a commonality of unhealthy relationships, transportation issues, and daycare issues. So I just started beating on the doors of Job and Family Services in Muskingum County, saying, 'Please pay attention to us. Don't write us off because we're on welfare and we're single women.’ And they said, ‘Well, Valerie, what does this kind of help look like?’”
Nutter had a clear mission, but the center’s beginnings were humble. “I worked a factory job
for three years. After work, I’d walk into the library with my steel-toe boots on and use their free computers because I didn’t have money for one. I was building my program from the library, attending conferences, and doing workshops in my little free time. I created an email signature with 'Valerie Nutter at The Nutter Center,' and nobody knew I was operating out of the library," she laughs.
Nutter found tremendous success with her program in Muskingum county, but it didn’t come easy. Due to hurricane relief efforts, funding dried up. After moving the program to Franklin County, she found ECDI and the Women's Business Center. “Funding has always been a challenge. Grants are very competitive, and so are contracts, but ECDI has helped me so much. I got help to write grants, loan funding, one-on-one consultations, workshops, and networking conferences,” she said.
"ECDI has been instrumental in helping me with these projects. I tell everybody, if you want to be successful, go to ECDI. Show up, ask questions, and take advantage of every resource.”
In 2018, The Nutter Center for Empowering Women became an official nonprofit and the scope of her program expanded, with support from ECDI’s Minority Construction Resource and Social Enterprise Hub. "ECDI has been instrumental in helping me with these projects. I tell everybody, if you want to be successful, go to ECDI. Show up, ask questions, and take advantage of every resource,” Nutter said.
Nutter keeps her future plans mostly under wraps. "I can say that some entities in West Virginia, Florida, and Arkansas want to license our SUCCESS program and curriculum. Also, I’m so excited about projects I can’t quite talk about yet, but the impact could be huge,” she said. “This work is beyond gratifying. It makes me happy to help these mothers take control of their lives. It makes me happy to actually be able to pay my employees. My children are so proud of me, even though they had to go through all this with me. It moves and humbles me, but I have so much more work to do.”