Connecting Communities | January 2021
This year has brought many changes to Project Hope. However, the team of Doulas and Parent Educators have still provided quality services to young mothers and their families on Chicago's west side. In addition to the structured program initiatives, countless gift cards, formula, and diaper drop-offs, along with educational materials for mothers to work with their children at home and during home visits, provided the extra support families needed.
"I had the opportunity to deliver the support kit to one of the families," shared Project Hope Program Manager Laronda Castine. "The expression on the son's face when he saw the toy blocks was priceless. He hugged them and rocked. One of the moments that lets you know you are making a difference, and Project Hope has made a difference for families, even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic." The families will receive another delivery of material in January.
A Project Hope participant meets up with staff outdoors to receive formula and supplies in May 2020
One of the significant changes due to the pandemic's onset was moving from an in-person to a virtual platform. Staff experienced technical difficulty and many frustrations but overcame the challenges of learning to work in the virtual realm. Commendably, Mary Cossom, one of our more seasoned educators, not only learned to use Zoom but was able to make a presentation to colleagues in the field at an Infant Mental Health meeting. She shared how the program supported a mother who had experienced numerous incidences of loss and trauma yet has been resilient in parenting her two young daughters.
Home Visits and parenting group services continued to provide social connection, parent-child interaction activities, information sharing, and resourcing. Our program staff completed more than 350 home visits with participants. "We are still able to celebrate the successes of the children as they meet their milestones and goals," explained Laronda. A positive impact for the children is that the program provided support to parents for stress reduction/management and provided a listening ear. For some, Project Hope is one of the few supports they have.
Through group services, parents could learn more about their children's development and age-appropriate interactions. Reading, singing, and talking to their babies is emphasized in group and home visiting services. Group has also been a time to share and release as observed in the Mother's group for moms 20 – 25. Facilitator, Melanie McCullough, commented, "All you have to do is start the conversation, and they take it from there."
Some of the parents have achieved incredible feats during this time, like finding jobs, securing housing, and experiencing more parenting satisfaction. Parents picked up goodies bags at the end of October, and staff facilitated craft activities for parents and their children as part of the Thanksgiving preparation. The parents found this engaging and helpful.
Lanise Washington, a Project Hope Doula, works with the Healthy Mothers and Babies Project through which pregnant and parenting mothers involved with the Cook County correctional system receive doula support. Staff entry to the jail was prohibited, severely impacting the program, and mothers' access to services significantly diminished. Lanise has graciously been assisting with the teen program by providing doula home visiting services in the absence of a full-time doula. She also offered virtual hospital support during labor and delivery. Project Hope significantly increased inner program support between staff during this time.
Additional 2020 Project Hope program highlights:
- The team earned a Blue-Ribbon quality endorsement through Parents As Teachers (PAT). In addition to the accreditation, Laronda attended the PAT virtual conference and received an invitation to present at the 2021 conference.
Participants still received welcoming packs for births and received baby shower gifts even though we could not get together physically.
- Project Hope partnered with Rush University Medical Center to implement a trauma-focused curriculum designed to prevent childhood abuse re-traumatization during the perinatal period.
- Program staff began working with the Best Baby Zone to reduce infant mortality on the West Side of Chicago. We have just provided holiday meal boxes to families and bountiful bags of toys to families for Christmas due to generous donations provided to the agency.
- MSV's Foglia Center food pantry also continues to be a resource to program participants during weekly distribution.
The transition in March 2020 was not without its challenges and proved to be a learning experience for the Project Hope team. In addition to caring for participants and their own families, the quality endorsement and COVID-19 added stress, "but we supported one another through it!" exclaimed Laronda. Their shared support parallels their relationship with the participants and the support the participants provide to one another. Bonds of friendship and celebration form as the young ladies attend the program. Leadership at MSV was supportive with facilitating check-ins and providing up to date information for clarity throughout the time.
Staff and participants are still longing for the intimacy that comes from being together in person. Nevertheless, the team appreciates being able to approximate services in a meaningful way. The persistence and endurance of staff and the participants have been phenomenal. We are eternally grateful for the successes we have achieved during this time and are looking forward to continued success in the future.
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