When you’re home alone with a new baby and maybe a toddler too, it helps to have support and a friendly helping hand.
That’s what Mother Mentors do.
Mother Mentors started in 2009 on South Whidbey as a grassroots effort to support the real and practical needs of families. Initially, the group operated under the umbrella of the Readiness to Learn Foundation, but in May 2012, they incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Mother Mentors volunteers have all experienced the uncertainty of new motherhood and the feeling of being alone with a formidable job to do.
They volunteer a few hours a week for three to six months to help parents of newborns and young children. The help might be in the form of playing with the toddler while a mother feeds her newborn, or minding the baby while mom takes a shower. Mother mentors are not babysitters; instead they offer practical help and a listening ear for new moms.
Mother Mentors Director Kate McVay describes them as “a great group of women whose hearts and souls are in the right place.”
Currently, Mother Mentors has about 35 volunteers. Prospective volunteers are screened by the Washington Division of Child and Family Services and by the Washington State Patrol, and attend training sessions taught by child development professionals prior to seeing clients.
Mentors are taught to recognize signs of stress in the home, such as postpartum depression or child mistreatment, and to refer the client to community resources for additional support. Mentors attend monthly meetings to share experiences and learn new skills from community professionals.
Mother Mentors President Linda Ade-Ridder said trained volunteer mentors work with about 15-20 families per year, and they’d like to expand to the North End.
“About 80 babies are born each year on South Whidbey, while the North End has 800 births. We know the need is there, especially with military families, but we need more people to volunteer to be trained as mentors first,” said Ade-Ridder.
Mother Mentors did expand their South End services in 2013 when they took over the Playscape program from the South Whidbey Commons.
Created in 2009, Playscape is a birth-to-kindergarten “play and learn” program for children and their caregivers.
Playscape is free and is offered three mornings a week at the former South Whidbey Primary School, taking up two classrooms and providing plenty of interactive toys and activities.
“It’s an excellent program that offers social time for parents and caregivers while giving babies, toddlers and preschoolers space to play and learn in an educational setting,” said Julia Sewell, one of two facilitators of the Playscape program.
“Playscape is not a preschool or child care program, though we have some organized group and school-readiness activities,” said Sewell. “All of our activities can be done at home too.”
Parents or caregivers must accompany their children and are encouraged to play with them and also interact with other caregivers.
“Parents and caregivers can use the time to socialize with one another and talk about parenting issues and developmental stages,” said Sewell. “It’s a great meeting place.”
April Sprague just moved to South Whidbey from Spokane, and she found Playscape for her daughter Harper, almost 2.
“We come here for a chance to socialize and for Harper to learn how to share with others,” said Sprague. “It’s given me an opportunity to make new friends too.”
Sprague also found her pediatrician, Dr. Bob Wagner, through a Playscape referral.
Wagner has been practicing on South Whidbey since 1989. For his service to South Whidbey parents and their children, he will be honored by the Mother Mentors organization at their annual fundraising tea on May 1.
Funding for Mother Mentors programs comes mostly from private donations and small grants. The tea on May 1 is a fundraiser as well as a chance to educate supporters about the Mother Mentors program and Playscape. The tea will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Freeland
For details about Mother Mentors, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-321-1484 or toll-free 1-888-265-6151, or go to whidbeymothermentors.org