Northwest NEWS

October 23, 2000

Features

Mentors make a difference for young moms

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by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   The house is quiet and it's 3 a.m. Suddenly, the baby belts out a loud wail, waaaah! Then at 6 a.m., 10 a.m. and just as mom makes herself a hot cup of tea, her baby cries for her attention again.
   Of course new moms and dads love their babies and wouldn't trade them for the world, but soon after the birth of their child they realize that caring for their baby is a major responsibility.
   For mothers who have a strong support system, the demands of a baby can be eased with help from others. But there are many young parents who don't have support. And for those young moms, many who are still in their teens, raising a child is even tougher. Teens want to be a part of a group. But with babies in tow, they don't get out much. To add to the difficulty, some young parents find themselves without housing and with little financial means.
   However, there is help for any young parent who wants it. At Eastside Healthy Start, a Family Support Program, support is available to first-time parents, twenty-two and under. Through volunteer mentors, Healthy Start reaches young families early by providing support, access to community resources, child development and parenting information. In addition, the program offers weekly group activities which include parent education, holiday celebrations and family field trips. By successfully reaching out to young families early, Healthy Start services help to reduce the incidents of child abuse and neglect. The program serves young parents who may have dropped out of school or who are isolated from the community and are without natural support systems.
   Maria Brandt of Bothell is a Healthy Start mentor as well as the mother of a twenty-month-old son. She heard about Healthy Start's mentoring program from a parent in her parenting group.
   "I'd been wanting to do this for some time," Brandt said of the mentoring opportunity. Speaking from her own experience as a mother, she understands the need for support. "Parenting is very difficult and probably the most important job there is."
   She called the program and volunteered. After an interview with the Parent Mentor Supervisor, Brandt started the training program which met for four evenings. Training covered a wide spectrum of topics, including child development, substance abuse, how to talk to teens and how to be a role model. She was then paired to a young participant who shared her interests and lived in a similar geographical location.
   Karen Knight is the Parent Mentor Supervisor and visits the young parents, often taking stuffed animals or books to their children.
   "I visit the families before matching them up," she said, adding that after matching mentor and participant, the pair might stay together for as long as three years.
   According to Brandt, mentors find out the concerns of the participant they are paired with. At first, they spend time getting to know one another and establishing trust. As a mentor, Brandt is available to help set goals and help her young participant get connected to resources, such as a crib, diapers and baby clothes.
   "We're not here to promote our parenting philosophy. It's important they make their own decisions and stay on their own two feet," Brandt said. Her mentor relationship can take whatever course her participant wants and she said that she approaches it with the feeling, "I'm here for you."
   In today's society, the extended family is not available to many parents. People move from job to job and families are spread out. Brandt mentioned that the program is not just for young parents who don't have family support, but it's also for those who have the support but need someone who is neutral and someone who can be objective. Sometimes young teens get mixed messages from their families about their pregnancy.
   Healthy Start gives positive messages in a loving way. Brandt is pleased to be a part of a program that gives young parents the tools to raise healthy, strong children. And those tools, Brandt said, are passed on to the next generation. "It carries on parent to child," she said. "It makes a difference."
   Now in its seventh year of service, Healthy Start is a collaborative program of Friends of Youth, Youth Eastside Services, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, Northshore Youth and Family Services, Center for Human Services and Children's Home Society.
   For anyone wanting to be a part of this unique mentor opportunity, Healthy Start is offering training for new parent mentors, Nov. 6, 7 and 8, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Each mentor spends 3-6 hours per month for one year, supporting the needs of the family. A volunteer mentor needs to be 21 years old or over, have a valid driver's license, be a good listener, non-judgmental, supportive, willing to learn and willing to submit to a background check.
   If interested, contact Karen Knight at the Parent Mentor Program, Children's Home Society (425) 895-9813, ext. 184, or e-mail ehsparents@hotmail.com.