Community | 15 Mar, 2021

Below the Surface with Paolo Moreno

by Christina Almeida

The year 2020 was not just a bump in the road. It was one of those years that came down on us like an ice pick, jamming into the cracks of this country and splitting them open. Racial injustice, economic inequality, and a failing healthcare system, these intricately connected issues were revealed yet again to be America’s brutal reality.

One could list off statistics or facts, like that the number of women in the workforce has dropped to numbers similar to the 1980’s, or that women of color are disproportionately affected, but it’s possible that neither of those facts could grasp just how serious this year has been for a demographic that is often overlooked: single moms.

Now more than ever, the task of supporting communties has fallen to the communities themselves. In the digital age, that also means digital communities, and that’s one way (out of many) that Paolo Moreno has approached his work helping single moms. What started out as a business focused Club House discussion, exploded into a fundraising campaign and support group for single moms in dire need.

And the work hasn’t stopped there. Born to a single mother and a father at 16 himself, Moreno cares deeply about this issue. Yes, he’s a businessman, but from the way he talks it’s obvious that helping others is his true purpose on earth.

The Now talked with Moreno about his past, current work with single moms, and hopeful vision for the future.

You’re very open about your childhood, how did that impact your understanding of what it’s like to be a single mom? 

It taught me everything about it. That’s my upbringing, that’s my DNA.  Growing up on welfare and food stamps,  seeing my mom concerned about how to feed me or how to buy me a toy or an outfit, I watched her worry every day.  I don’t know anything else. My life growing up was through the eyes of single mothers. My mom was extremely loving. Even though we had nothing she still was always concerned about helping other people and feeding homeless people. I know that she loved me, but being abandoned at a young age like that messed my head up. Now I’m at a point in my life where I own my story, my story doesn’t own me. I’ve done a decade of prayer, meditation, twelve step work around codependency, that’s really transformed that trauma from pain to empowerment, and that’s been a big blessing.

Having a single mother that was in such dire need, she had to make the choice whether I would end up in a foster care system or be left with family that could take care of me. The social worker from the Department of Social Services advised her to leave me with her aunt, who was blind at the time. I’ve been blessed to have other women in my life after that. The first woman who I considered my second mother, my Aunt Alice, she had a one bedroom apartment and we used to stay there in the living room.  She never had kids and her husband died. So, that was another single mother type of situation. 

I became friends with this kid in fifth grade named Dion, and started being extremely truant. He had three siblings Victor, Louie and Yesennia that lived in a one bedroom tiny apartment. The four kids lived in the bedroom and the parents slept in the living room. His mother was another significant woman in my life. Her name was Alma. She took me into their home and started giving me motherly love. This became my family. 

At 16, you yourself became a parent. What was that like and how did it shape how you move through the world? 

When I became a father, I looked fear right in the eyes and walked through it. I got a ten speed and a job at Koo Koo Roo. I already had a job selling massagers in the mall, which is where I met the mother of my 3 kids who I ended up marrying at 18 and remained married to for nine years. But I saved every dollar that I made for eight months. My girlfriend was living with her mother and three brothers. The day she went into labor I got the keys and furnished an apartment that I had just gotten. While she was in labor I got my last paycheck, and went and bought a rocking chair, a crib, a bed, and a couch, and surprised her. I brought us home to our own apartment when she thought she was going to go home. That kind of stuff is intangible. 

There is another woman, Bonnie, she became a significant mother figure in my life. I was the son she always wanted and never had. When I was getting ready to be a father at 16, I got into the role of “I’m going to be a dad and work 80 hours a week.” Everyone told me I should go to college, because I was always testing into honors classes. I wouldn’t go, but I would test into them. Bonnie looked at me when I was 16 and was like “If anyone could do it, you could do it.”

 How did your Clubhouse community come to be? And what was the goal? 

At first I didn’t know what Clubhouse was or what to do with it. I started getting into different rooms around business, where I could share my 35 years of business experience for free. One night I was on stage at this quote on quote millionaire room, “Learn Tips from Millionaires.” I went to wash my hands and I overheard a woman saying she was a single mom and that she was in need. They had just started doing some money give away to random people who would come up and pitch ideas. She didn’t get through being able to present, and I heard the leading scam coach  guy say “Don’t bring your pity party to us.” I came over to the phone, and I exploded. I said “Yo, don’t you ever disrespect a single mom like that ever again. You’re onstage giving away money and a single mom just came up here and shared that? If she’s been on here for hours listening to you, trying to figure out how to get money for her kids, there must be more single moms in the audience. So, fuck giving money away to anyone who ISN’T a single mom.” 

I said, “Furthermore, I’m going to put up the first three grand, everyone on stage should match me, and now we’re only going to hear from single moms in the audience.”  I also shared that I was the survivor of childhood PTSD from being the son of a single mom that had been abandoned. 

I told everyone in the audience who was a single mom to DM me, and my DMs exploded. My son had to help me manage them. We had about 500 applicants, and we filtered through them to 55 who were in dire need. The host of the room was working with a 501c3 organization and they offered to host a fundraiser where we raised about 50,000 dollars that night. Mother’s in the audience donated, five dollars, 50 dollars. They were mothers who really cared. Out of all the “millionaires” in the audience, who supposedly had money, it was bullshit how much money we raised. The man who bullied her didn’t donate one dollar!

Besides helping these moms financially, what purpose does the group serve? 

What really got my mom through being in shelters, or on the run with my family, was meeting other women. There was a lady named Joan who had a house, and we would go eat there on Sundays and talk. That was more valuable than anything else.  I created another group chat of 200 single moms, not in dire need, to organize around those 55 women. Women empowering women. It’s a support group. It’s a community. It’s a survivor club. A lot of women are in that situation because of domestic violence. 

 It’s going to become bigger than me. It’s why I’m on the planet. I am a product of that environment, of the worst outcome of that environment, and I’m here to give back, to empower, and to motivate. And beyond the moms, it’s also about the kids. They’re the ones living in fear and they’re the next generation. The moms are adults. And it’s about helping to break the generational cycle of trauma. I am here to encourage others, and to be a voice for the voiceless. I am here to encourage all the soon to be teen parents. They have more drive then anyone on the planet and they have to make it no matter what. 

Can you tell me about the relationships you’ve made, and some of the moms you’ve met? 

The woman who was bullied and abused on stage, who the man said “We don’t have time for a pity party” to. I reconnected with her. Her name is Ebony, and heard her story. She was shot point blank in the face by a hollow point bullet and lived. I’m now super close with her. I told her, “If you didn’t live your life and have your story, and if I didn’t live my life and have my story, we wouldn’t have ever helped 55 women in dire need that night.” God used us to create that magic for those women, and for their 100 kids and grand kids.

How are single moms disproportionately affected by the pandemic? 

There are people whose husbands have died of covid. It was already hard enough when the economy was functioning to be a single mother. To be a woman in the workforce, to be a woman with a mouth to feed, to work with chauvinistic and misogynistic men who are running businesses. That’s already challenging enough. When the economy shuts down and businesses are closed? It’s unimaginable. They did an article in the New York Times, I was just happy to see that there was some coverage on it. There needs to be more awareness. 

 You said that your life is a mission, what did you mean by that? What’s your mission? 

My life is all about empowering others. I believe that the most powerful thing we have is the power of one human encouraging another human. That alone can change another person’s life and we can do it for free. Encouragement is so powerful. We call it the Banana Milk Tribe, and we’re anti-bullying.  We are all inclusive and support LGBTQ+ and all races creeds and religions. 

My son and I have always been big about giving back to the community. I told him to imagine being homeless as a man. How scary that would be. Now imagine being homeless as a woman. We put together feminine care packages. We buy in bulk at Costco and hand it out to women who are homeless. Tampax, wipes. 

This is obviously a very personal calling for you, what’s next for your work with single moms? 

My dream and mission is to have the ability to raise 100’s of million dollars to directly impact 10 million single mothers, and the 50 million children of those single mothers. We need more wealthy women stepping up and helping these single moms in dire need.  I read that 51% of the US personal wealth is controlled by women.  We need to get more organized and we need to work together. I want to find people to align with to bring that organization to life. And my story and my passion can be the awareness tool for this cause. It wouldn’t be “mine” necessarily. We would finance and fund small businesses that these mothers would be starting.

What would this organization be called? 

I think it’s called Women Helping Women. That comes up a lot. I would love to see leadership from women who are successful.  We as humans need to relate to believe.   I see a lot of women that have come from these circumstances that made it. That is so motivational for other women.