Saffron Trust gives single mothers and their children the opportunity to experience the best.
By Cy White, Photo courtesy of Phyllis Everette
Beggars can’t be choosers. Or so the phrase goes. However, to Phyllis Everette, founder of Saffron Trust Women’s Foundation, choice isn’t a privilege set aside for a select few. Those who are most underserved have every right to luxuries society’s elite only deigns to have. Black mothers in particular, who face the unique circumstance of alarmingly high mortality rates during and post childbirth, should never have to beg for the right to live comfortably.
Like many single mothers of color, heartbreak marred Everette’s life. “I raised three children single-handedly, no fathers around,” she says. “My oldest child, my son, his father left when he was a year old. Then seven years later, I got married and the guy I married was abusive. I left him after my daughter was a week old.”
These experiences informed Everette’s life of service. She has a deep history of nonprofit work. Including helping women in the Congo, Kosovo, Nigeria and Afghanistan through Women for Women International. When the New Jersey native eventually settled in Austin in 2016, she had no real understanding of the landscape of the area as far as nonprofits specific to Black and brown women and mothers.
“I have to do something.”
“I came here to work for Dell,” she says. “Worked there for two years. A friend of mine who knew me from New Jersey and knew all the work I did introduced me to a nonprofit organization here in Austin that was a women’s health care organization. I became a program director for that organization…and had to learn everything there was about women’s health care. The first thing I stumbled upon was maternal mortality numbers in Austin. The amount of Black and brown women that were dying during childbirth.”
The lack of real attention to single mothers of underserved communities raised serious alarm bells for Everette. “I could not sleep,” she says. “Read every article. I could not understand how the mortality numbers could be so high in a state that everybody says is the best place to live. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I have to do something.’”
Thus in 2018 she opened Saffron Trust Women’s Foundation (a take on her pseudonym from her time writing for the Grit and Grace Project). Where Saffron Trust differs from most organizations is in how it addresses very real emotional, mental and physical strain. Known as the allostatic load, it’s a perpetual wear and tear on the body unique to Black women from an internalized and historical PTSD. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the constant worry that when a loved one walks, jogs or drives somewhere they won’t come back. For Black women in the U.S., this is real trauma that never really dissipates. It’s this trauma Everette has tasked herself to not only address, but remedy.
A Chance for More
“Saffron Trust looks to reduce and create positive health outcomes in women of color,” she says. “We start with my signature platform: Trendsetting the Table. I partner with five-star restaurants throughout Austin that open up their doors and feed women nutritional, healthy food that they prepare,” she continues. “It creates nutritional impact, community and a new beginning for women. That one event starts the wrap-around services and the resources we offer.”
Everything from diapers, to sanitary products, to partnerships with the Austin Ballet—“So every Black woman who wants their children to experience the arts can have a chance.” Everette is dedicated to giving Black mothers the resources they need to ensure their families live comfortable, enriching lives.
“People only think a woman needs help with her electric bill or her rent. But there’s a whole donut hole that people are not even looking at. Sanitary products aren’t even part of the anti-poverty program.”
A chance conversation with a friend of hers who worked for New Entry, a drug treatment and rehabilitation program that provides affordable residential options for those recovering, gave her another avenue to explore.
“When I think about my struggle and the tears and the nights that I cried on my pillow,” she says, “I know what it means to get into bed on a cheap mattress or an air mattress and just wrap myself up in 600- to 800-thread count sheets, knowing that my children had a good night’s sleep. I went straight to five-star hotels and said, ‘I need your bedding, don’t throw it away.’ Within a week, I was able to supply that program with enough linen for women to sleep on for the next two years.”
The Love of a Mother
Saffron Trust Women’s Foundation is predicated on the notion that Black single mothers shouldn’t have to choose between healthy meals and the dregs deposited in the various food deserts and swamps peppering lower-income neighborhoods in Austin. Or sacrifice a good night’s rest for their children because they’re not given equitable resources.
All of this work stems from the love a mother has for her children. “My children became my biggest heroes. They planted seeds in me to be a better woman. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the three of them. It was the community, the advocacy and the resources that were available that helped propel them to be such leaders.”
Phyliss Everette passes these on to other Black single mothers in Austin.