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Profile: Project Matriarchs

When I sat down to speak with Pilar McDonald, Brown Class of 2024, about the fiscally-sponsored organization she started during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was expecting to hear about a passion project. I certainly didn’t prepare myself for the magnitude of Project Matriarchs and the way it has already made such a measurable impact in hundreds of households across the nation. She and her childhood best friend, Lola McAllister, a student at Stanford University, began the project during quarantine when they noticed the disproportionate impact on their own working mothers. Pilar explains, “My best friend, Lola, and I started Project Matriarchs in an attempt to connect college students, a workforce we felt uniquely tapped into, with working mothers who were often shouldering the majority of the burden of caretaking during the pandemic. We were overwhelmed and deeply saddened by the stories we were hearing regarding the disproportionate expectations of working mothers during the pandemic. Honestly, it scared us. It scared us to think that this was the society we would be inheriting – that these are the expectations of us as possible working mothers. It was clear that the pandemic was exasperating gender inequities that were present in both the home and workplace prior to the pandemic.” As college students themselves, enduring the pandemic also presented the unique opportunity to make a real difference. “We jumped in to connect college students who, at the beginning of the pandemic, had different and more flexible schedules with remote school or taking time off,” McDonald says. “We had talked to many mothers who were extremely overwhelmed, to the point of feeling they could no longer talk about it without breaking down into tears. We felt that our privilege and positionality as college students put us in the place that we had to do something.”

Since its inception in the summer of 2020, Project Matriarchs has assisted over 150 families and connected with nearly 500 college students. They operate on a “pay what you can” basis: “60% of our families are paying between $0 and $10 per hour. 40% are not paying anything for our service,” she says. No matter what, the organization pays their college students $15, their funds bolstered by donor support. Lola and Pilar are now on the hunt for both more families in need and college students looking to give back. More information on how to get involved or give back can be found on their website

As the pair looks forward to the future, they plan to build on the strong foundation they have created. “As we look towards the summer and into the next school year, we want to continue our service in the way that we can best support our families and any future families that need support,” Pilar says, “We want to continue to engage college students and other younger folks in conversations around caregiving and actually being there as direct support.” Additionally, they plan to expand from aid to advocacy in the coming years. To kickstart this, they are working to draft the “The Pledge,” a statement signed by students to put the pressure on future employers to institute policies and corporate cultures that prioritize caregiving. She explains, “We want to engage younger people into the caregiving crisis that is plaguing our world so that we can shift the expectations of both employers and employees before it is too late on an individual level. We are launching a summer internship program next week where we will be staffing organizers along with social media, marketing, communication, and outreach teams. Our goal is then to get signatures from every campus in the country so that we can go to employers and show them that young people care.” 

Now is the perfect time to get involved. Visit the organization’s website and sign up to be a tutor, donate to the cause, apply to the new summer internship program, or spread the word to any and all.

Maddie is a junior at Brown from Connecticut. She is concentrating in Economics.
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