SEARCY — Tonja Shourd knows what it is like to be a working single mother. When her two sons were growing up, Shourd cleaned offices to provide for her family. She said she worked seven days a week, sometimes bringing her sons along, but she worked hard to be able to take off for sports and activities in which her sons were involved. It wasn’t easy, but she said she did her best to make a decent living while not missing out on her sons’ lives.
Her sons are now grown, but that firsthand knowledge of the struggle and hard work many single mothers go through is one inspiration that led her into her new business venture, The Cleaning Company by Single Moms.
The other inspiration came in the form of a young woman named Valarie Freeland, a friend of one of Shourd’s sons. When Freeland met Shourd, she was a single mother between jobs, living with friends who spent a lot of time partying. Shourd offered Freeland a place to live so she could get her son out of what Freeland said was not an ideal living situation.
Now, Shourd and Freeland have a mother/daughter-type relationship, and in November, Shourd opened a special business to help single mothers like Freeland.
Shourd already owned The Arkansas Cleaning Service, which employs people to clean office environments, but she decided to expand into residential cleaning while specifically employing single mothers. The business provides child care, and the shifts allow employees to take college classes if desired. Shourd also said she makes sure her employees have most Sundays off, and if there is an emergency appointment, it is later in the day so the women can go to church.
“What we try to do is help the moms be more independent, to be more respectful toward themselves — try to teach them that they don’t need to be with someone who treats them badly and that they can take care of themselves,” Shourd said. “I want them to put God first and their kids second and their job third.”
Freeland is now the office manager and marketer for The Cleaning Company by Single Moms, and the company employs five single mothers. The office has a children’s area so the women do not have to spend money on baby sitters. Freeland’s son, who is now 3 years old, gets to come with her to work. She said he enjoys helping in the office, including his favorite task of shredding paper.
“He’s my life,” Freeland said. “I live, sleep, breathe that child. I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did without him. … This business has helped us prosper. I feel better about myself.”
Brooke Peterson has worked at The Cleaning Company by Single Moms for about a month, and she said she has found more than just a job.
“We have a good time,” Peterson said. “We all love each other. We’re like family. This is my second family.”
At one of her first jobs with the company, Peterson got nervous when she was by herself and noticed a car outside with its headlights on. She called some of her co-workers, and they dropped what they were doing to make sure she was safe. That experience, Peterson said, is just one example of how the company has impacted her beyond being able to make a living.
Shourd’s own life experiences have helped her in leading the group of women. She said she tries to help them through situations some single mothers experience: dealing with children’s disappointment when their father does not come to pick them up, exhibiting tough love and balancing work and family time.
“I’ve been through all that,” she said. “I’ve been through the broken promises and everything. That is sad, but I tell them to pray about it and try to help.”
Even beyond that, Shourd wants to help her employees and their children prosper. She is gathering information on helping single mothers go back to college, she hopes to start some kind of Big Brother-type program so her employees’ children have positive male influences, and she is working on building the moms’ self-esteem and practical life skills, such as budgeting.
The Cleaning Company by Single Moms’ hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (501) 270-2470.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.