When she handed her son the last pack of noodles in their kitchen, Betty Mayfield came to a realization – she needed help. In 2009, Mayfield was the single mother of a toddler, a full-time student at the University of Southern Mississippi and working a part-time job.
"I had a decent job, but at the same time, I'm a single mother and I was paying rent, a car note, insurance and bills. Me and my son were really struggling," Mayfield said. "I decided I was going to go down to the food stamp office. Once I gave them my information and how much money I made, they denied my application."
Mayfield said she was in disbelief that she and her son, Jordan, were turned away when they needed help so badly.
Out of frustration and desperation, Mayfield sat down and began writing.
"I started to write a letter to the president, the governor – whoever would hear my story," Mayfield said.
"It started out of anger, and I said, 'I'm going to send this letter to whoever would hear me because something has to be done for single mothers who were trying to do something with our lives.' As I wrote, I just got more angry, and it went from two pages to 12 pages to 25 pages.
"I said, 'This is going to be bigger than what I thought. I might as well write a book.'"
Mayfield's letter-turned-book – "Secret Struggles of a Single Mother" – was published in 2011 by Author House Publishing and contains 184 pages of real-life testimonies and experiences. While writing the book, Mayfield said she realized the support of fellow single mothers was just as important as monetary assistance.
"I wanted to start a group to reach out and empower single mothers and help them realize there's a better life than just being a single mother who is struggling," she said.
Beginning in 2009 with a Facebook group created by Mayfield, Single Mothers Overcoming Our True Hurt (SMOOTH) began garnering attention.
Today, SMOOTH is a nonprofit that reaches out to single mothers worldwide by way of the organization's Facebook page. It has grown to more than 1,200 members worldwide.
The nonprofit raises money to help single mothers pay bills, purchase food and gas and clothing for their children. SMOOTH members also tour the country offering inspirational seminars and providing resources to those in need.
"Our motto is to inform, impact and improve the lives of single mothers, and that's in every aspect of life," Mayfield said. "We try to confront the totality of the single mother – make her a better person and help her become a better mother to her child."
Mayfield said if there's one lesson she hopes all SMOOTH mothers learn it's that spending time with their children is more valuable than anything that can be purchased.
"When you look at the life of a single parent, our lives are fast paced. But we need to spend that extra time with our kids. When you put that time into your children, that's what produces our presidents, lawyers, doctors and teachers," Mayfield said.
SMOOTH meets twice a month – once in Hattiesburg and another in Charlotte, N.C.
"We don't meet in the same place every month. We'll meet at Chuck E Cheese to let the kids play, and we'll talk. Sometimes we meet at the parks around town. Sometimes we'll meet at someone's house. We do that because sometimes people say, 'I can't come because I don't have anyone to watch the kids.' I have it set up so that you don't have to look for a baby sitter," she said.
After graduating from USM with a degree in child and family studies, Mayfield said she began teaching, but last year decided to devote her career to SMOOTH.
SMOOTH's Travel Coordinator Nyisha Edwards who has been with Mayfield from the first meeting said the organization changed her life.
"I always had a weight on me about being a single parent – why could I never catch a break or why did I have to go through this – but now I look at it in a whole different light. Everything happens for a reason and God sends us through those things for a reason and you never know, my story may bring someone else out," Edwards said.
Edwards said she hopes her daughter, Angel, 6, and the children involved with SMOOTH learn valuable lessons from their mothers.
"I hope they realize that 'I'm still loved. I may be living in a single-parent home, but I can still do things and have things other people with two parents have,'" Edwards said.
Mayfield and her fellow SMOOTH leaders help single mothers find life-changing resources.
"They can find resources for child care, resources for getting and keeping employment, resources on how to stay organized... and how to juggle the life of being a working single mother," she said.
"I've seen amazing changes in a lot of people. A lot of women have said they were in the street wanting to go to the clubs and SMOOTH taught them how to be a mother and not be so quick to be angry at their children."
Among the resources available for single mothers is SMOOTH's new domestic violence branch headed by Krystal Wilson.
"When it comes to domestic violence, everyone is afraid to speak out. I'm not afraid to be a voice because I've faced way more than domestic violence. I don't have a problem with telling my story," Wilson said. "I hope people think, 'If she can get up there and tell her story, I can, too.'"
Partnering with Single Parent's Advocate in Dallas, and working with private sponsors, Mayfield said she hopes to introduce SMOOTH to more single mothers.
"Anyone is welcome," she said. "The group is about being a woman and a single mother, not the color of your skin."