Carmel Sullivan is a single mother success story. When her marriage fell apart, she was able to turn her loss and loneliness into a resource that could benefit single mothers around the world.
Growing up in Ireland, with 7 brothers and sisters, Carmel Sullivan had always known the comfort and support of a large, loving family. That made dealing with her divorce all the more difficult. "I had just come out of a 17 year marriage and moved to a town where I didn't know anyone," she said. "The feeling of being on my own was so foreign to me. I actually started getting anxiety about feeling lonely."
When her 7-year-old son started school, after being home-schooled, the isolation was more than she could bear. "One day I had this full blown panic attack," she said. "It feels like you're going to die. I said I'm never going to experience one of those again."
The idea came to her to find another single mother to share a house with. ”It just seemed like a win-win situation," she said. "It became crystal clear that that's what I needed to do. But how do I find that?"
She started looking for a roommate and discovered some disturbing statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2002-2003) shows 41% of single moms live at or below the poverty level compared to only 8% of married couples with kids under age 18. According to the National Survey of Families and Households, the average single mother, who is the head of a household with children under 6, earns only about 1/4 of the income of two parent households while the basic expenses of food, utilities and shelter can be the same.
While interviewing moms, she was surprised at what she found. One mother was living in a garage apartment with her kids. Another was living with her parents and was completely miserable. ”For me it wasn't financial," said Sullivan. "It was emotional. I had no idea women were living like this."
Sullivan found a roommate but realized there were many women who needed help. That's when she decided to create CoAbode. A friend suggested she put her project on the Internet, so she approached a web designer. She went to some wealthy friends who backed her financially. Today, CoAbode is a non-profit web-based organization that serves as a resource for women across the nation who are raising children alone. CoAbode offers a mom-matching service to single mothers who want to share a home.
Home sharing not only offers a built-in friend to talk to but it can slice expenses in half and free up resources for things like education, investments and college funds. Mothers in shared home situations also enjoy more independence, as cooking and other household tasks are divided. They often have the freedom for an occasional night out or enroll in an evening class at a local college.
"I really feel like I was a vehicle. I basically just put one foot in front of the other. It really just had to happen," she said.
CoAbode started in Southern California but quickly spread across the country and is moving into Canada. Boss says the interest is world wide, with people wanting to bring the project to parts of Europe and Africa. She says she's even been contacted by the Australian government.
At first, most of her clients were women who had single-mother roommates but needed to find a house. As word spread, women turned to CoAbode when they were dealing with a divorce and wanted to hang on to their house, or nice apartment. Sullivan says a good number of women who open up their homes just need company but, often, strong friendships are formed.
"When I first started this, I thought it was a transitional opportunity for women but some will say, 'I'm doing this until my kids are 18.' Some even buy a house together and create a nest egg together."
"I have seen it happen where women get into thinking that they have to do it alone," she said. "That is really an illusion. We may think we have to do it all on our own but that's just not true. So many of friends and family members would be willing to help if people would just ask them. What we don't realize is that people love helping other people."
For more information about CoAbode, visit the organization's web site at www.coabode.org.