“I came to a time in my life when I knew I still had one thing I wanted to do – to reach out to mothers with young children,” said Kristin Lasher, founder of Mother Mentors.
“I had a rough time myself when I had young children, so my heart goes out to them,” she said. “I know how alone a mom can feel.”
Mother Mentors started in 2009 in South Whidbey as a grassroots effort to support the real and practical needs of families.
The group initially operated under the umbrella of the Readiness to Learn Foundation, but in May it became a separate nonprofit organization.
Mother Mentors volunteers all have experienced the uncertainty of new motherhood and the feeling of being alone with a formidable job to do.
“We’re all nonjudgmental because we’ve all been there, done that, and we care about easing the way for new mothers,” Lasher said.
Volunteer Linda Morris understands those new-mom worries, too.
“You have the expectation that you should be able to do it all when you’re a new mom,” she said. “Having help offered to you can be a blessing.”
Morris sees her mentor role as that of a compassionate friend who is willing to play with a toddler, fold clothes, wash dishes or mind older children while a mom takes a shower or nurses the newborn.
Such simple acts of kindness can make the new mom feel supported and help energize her for the important work she must do each day.
New moms have high expectations for themselves, and often they are away from traditional sources of support such as nearby grandparents.
It can be lonely being at home with a newborn with no one to talk to about the anxiety of trying to do a good job raising their new child.
Add a toddler into the mix, and many moms find they don’t have time to take care of themselves because they’re too busy making sure everyone else’s needs are met.
“We hope our caring and help will help mothers feel their work is important and appreciated,” Lasher said. “Our most important role as mentors is to act as a cheerleader and to accentuate the positive.”
A strong motivation for volunteers is spending time with babies and young children.
Morris said she became a Mother Mentors volunteer because “I felt I didn’t have enough babies in my life.”
“I volunteered because my husband and I have raging grandparent hormones,” said Cynthia Trowbridge, who just completed her training and has been assigned her first family to mentor.
Mother Mentors donate a few hours a week for a minimum of three months to help parents of newborns and young children.
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.
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.
Clients are referred to Mother Mentors by social services agencies or health care providers, or they directly contact the organization at 360-321-1484 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All information provided by the family is kept confidential.
The Mother Mentors “matchmaker” interviews the family at home and assigns a volunteer who then contacts the family to arrange for a convenient time when the volunteer can come to the home and help out.
That help might be as simple as folding laundry, reading a story to a toddler or visiting over a cup of tea.
“Mothers need to know that what they’re experiencing is normal, and just talking to another adult can be so helpful,” Lasher said.
Lasher is hoping to expand the Mother Mentors program to Central and North Whidbey.
There are plenty of families on Whidbey Island who need help, she said, and both the Navy and Washington Child Protection Services are urging additional outreach. The key is finding the volunteers to provide it.
“We know the need is great on the north end of the Island, but we need more people to help us there,” she said.
To learn about volunteering in Central and North Whidbey, call 360-321-1484.
New board member Teri Jo Summer, who lives in Greenbank, will serve as liaison for the Mother Mentors program as it expands to Coupeville and Oak Harbor.
“It’s all about empowerment for moms,” Summer said.