When Tasha Miller first moved to Whidbey Island in 2018, she was the mother of two young children and expecting a third.
The first place she landed was Playscape, a facilitated, drop-in play and learn program that has locations in both Langley and Oak Harbor. She remembers someone putting a cup of tea in her hands as her kids safely ran around the room.
“It was so affirming and just supported my wellbeing in ways that I still feel so much gratitude for,” she said. “And it’s the first place I made friends.”
Like many other parents over the years, Miller has received much-needed support from Mother Mentors of Whidbey Island, a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 by a group of mothers and grandmothers. Mother Mentors provides time at Playscape, in-home help from mentors and an open pantry of child care items, all free of charge.
Miller now serves as the marketing and outreach coordinator for Mother Mentors. In the years since the pandemic, the organization has expanded its staff and opened a parent pantry at a second location in Oak Harbor.
Last year, Kate Grossman McVay, the former executive director, retired. Jennifer Haase Morris is the new executive director.
“Under the leadership of Jennifer, we’re just really excited to explore partnering opportunities,” Miller said, adding that this could include like-minded organizations around the island.
Board President Linda Ade Ridder said partnerships with schools, churches and civic groups could involve more adults and teens in supervised volunteer support roles with young children and their caregivers.
Mother Mentors provides support for parents and caregivers of children ages 0 to 5. The board president added that the organization has a waiting list of families seeking assistance.
“We need adults and teens who can help support young children and their adults at Playscape, our in-person indoor playground where we focus on helping foster learning through play,” she said. “We also need adults who can make a commitment to a family to visit them regularly to offer support.”
Esther Iles is the family support program coordinator for Mother Mentors. She regularly meets with families who are seeking mentorship and the mentors themselves. Iles then makes a compatible match for each household. Volunteers make a 6-month commitment to help out a family for a few hours once a week.
Iles herself volunteered to be a mentor for a family in 2015, which she found to be rewarding.
“Going into the home and building that relationship in that setting, it just gives you a different kind of warm connection with the family,” she said.
Some parents need someone to keep an eye on the kids while they do something around the house or go shopping at the grocery store. Others are simply searching for another adult to talk to. Iles said she knows of one mentor who has helped a parent know what kind of activities are available for her kids to participate in.
“Sometimes when you’re a busy mom, it’s just hard to know what’s even out there,” Iles said.
Mother Mentors is currently in need of more volunteers, particularly on North Whidbey.
“In terms of skill set, it’s really just an open heart and the desire to connect,” Miller said.
But not all volunteers need to be mentors, which can be a bigger commitment. There are plenty of other opportunities, including helping out at Playscape or the Parent Pantry, which has locations in both Langley and Oak Harbor.
The Parent Pantry is one of the newer aspects of Mother Mentors. Here, parents and caregivers can find free formula, diapers, wipes and gently used clothing, books, strollers and high chairs. Miller said it is a great way to recycle items that children grow out of.
“Kids run through things so quickly when they’re young, and it’s good for the environment that we don’t have to keep buying these things brand-new,” she said.
Above all, Mother Mentors is about helping a person feel confident in their ability as a parent.
“It’s such a vulnerable transition that people go through and I always say a family is like an ecosystem,” Miller said. “Even if you’re not a first time parent and you’re bringing another baby into the family, they have different needs, different personalities.”
For more information about Mother Mentors, visit mothermentors.org.