Original Published on Nov 09, 2022 at 09:19
By Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
“Janice” is a single mom living in the Okanagan who was expecting her second child and at the same time facing eviction from her rental home.
With the approach of winter and the very real chance the government would take her children, her last remaining hope was the private organization Mamas for Mamas.
“For this young woman it’s just barrier after barrier after barrier no matter which way she turns,” explained Mamas for Mamas founder and director Shannon Christensen. “In the case of this lady, it’s a matter of us being willing to look outside the box and get comfortable with your own discomfort.
“We’re doing everything we can, we’re working with five different agencies and we now have a plan in place for her over the next few months to make sure she has the right support. She now gets to go home to food and shelter and the baby is going home with her.”
That assistance included finding her suitable accommodations, a private school for her son who has developmental challenges and qualified therapists to help her over the emotional hurdles in the coming days.
For Penticton’s Shakeela Springer, a new mother herself, her needs are not as desperate as those of Janice, but the support she is receiving is still critical.
“Especially being on my own, without the Mamas for Mamas program I would have been super stressed. Now, especially having such an awesome community of mamas there’s always someone there to help you,” said Springer who has a five-week-old son, Cayden. “The great thing is that no one judges you because there are lots of other people who are in the same place.”
One of the most important resources Mamas has is being able to help clients negotiate the administrative hurdles they face when getting help.
“When I first started this, I was already working in a field helping people who were disenfranchised. There was this common thread that there wasn’t anywhere where women could go and have someone walk them through the steps and that’s what we do,” said Christensen.
She started Mamas for Mamas in the garage of her Kelowna home with her two babies at her side and a single computer in 2014.
Now she has physical locations in a number of cities and satellite offices throughout the country, helping millions of mothers and children each year with everything from diapers to safe shelter.
The need was so great that she quickly went from a $40,000 a year budget to $3.6 million.
“I just thought there’s got to be a way to introduce dignity back into the poverty-relief experience,” said Christensen. “That’s when our at-risk program was born and we brought in social workers really just to walk these mamas home, literally.
“The whole goal of Mamas is just to reduce those barriers and increase the opportunities. It’s a hand up, not a handout.”
The organization provides services that aren’t offered elsewhere and does it with as little administrative layers as possible.
“I would say that Mamas for Mamas is a response to everything that is wrong with non-profits,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s collaboration over competition. For the moms you’re building a longer table, not a higher fence.
“For me it’s waking up every day with purpose and gratitude not just for the work we do, but the people we do it with.”
That caring is the reason many of those who now work for the organization are former clients.
People like Kayce Hopwood who now works as a moderator and resource coordinator after having volunteered for nearly two years.
One Christmas not long ago, newly alone with her son and unable to work due to a medical condition, she also had nowhere else to turn and reached out to Mamas.
“At the time we literally had nothing,” recalled Hopwood. “I didn’t really care about myself, it was more about my son but they dropped off bags and bags of things for us.
“That moment, I’ll never forget that moment. I carry that feeling with me every day and working for them is like a dream come true, I want to pass along the feeling I got that day. I’ve been there, I know how it feels.”
To Christensen that’s what it’s all about.
“It’s allowing yourself to be proud of what you have done,” she said. “I think back to those people I honoured and I loved and I feel like they’re watching me from the other side and I feel proud for them and me.”