A Success Story
It Takes a Village’s Home Visit Program has served over 150 families since it began in 2009. Every once in a while, there is a match between a volunteer and family that goes beyond the typical practical and emotional support and creates a brand new extended family. Jean and Erin wanted to share the story of their unique Home Visit experience.
Erin arrived at the Village Closet on a cold morning in January. She had heard about It Takes a Village — a local nonprofit providing free postpartum support for families in Western Mass — from a flyer in town. Her son Mattox was only a few weeks old, and Erin had just moved back to Massachusetts from Virginia. She was juggling work and school and being a single mother, so a place offering free baby stuff sounded appealing. After collecting some of the bigger items they needed, like a swing and a high chair, Erin started chatting with the It Takes a Village staff. They asked if Erin had heard about their Home Visit Program, and waved down Jean Cherdack, who was volunteering at the Village Closet that day, to tell Erin about it. Jean had been volunteering with It Takes a Village for over 5 years and had visited 14 different families across the Hilltowns.
Jean and Erin left the Village Closet that day with a plan for Jean to visit the following week (she lived right down the street from Erin). Erin had just started college, studying pre-med, and was having trouble getting her homework done with her boys around. “I was kind of hesitant to sign up for the family visiting program,” Erin told us. “I like to think I can do everything alone, which I can’t. But Jean was just really friendly, and she lived right down the street, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Jean started visiting, and did her usual tasks of laundry and dishes. She also took the kids out in the snow and kept them busy while Erin studied. A few weeks into their visits, Erin admitted to Jean that she was really having trouble with calculus. It turns out Jean’s husband, Bob, was a retired applied physicist and high school AP physics teacher. “Do you want me to ask him to help?” Jean offered. The following week, they met at Jean’s house, with her husband Bob tutoring Erin in calculus, and Jean watching the boys.
This new visiting schedule evolved into a year and a half of tutoring sessions. “We just progressed through courses,” Erin says. “We started with calculus, we moved to physics — which was Bob’s favorite — and then we both learned physical chemistry together.” Sometimes they were at Jean and Bob’s house, sometimes they were at Erin’s house. Sometimes Erin’s mom or uncle would take Erin’s older son Logan, while Jean watched the baby. Sometimes tutoring happened after bedtime.
When asked what would have changed in her life if she hadn’t found Jean, Erin immediately replied, “I would have failed calculus, that’s for sure.” Without Jean (and Bob), Erin’s pre-med career could have been put on hold, or have ended completely. Because of her home visit volunteer, Erin is going to go to medical school. “We’re going to have doctor in the family,” Jean says, beaming.
She is not exaggerating when she calls Erin “family.” Late last year Bob was in a serious bicycle accident and broke his neck in two places. Erin was at the hospital with him that same day. Logan and Mattox feel at home at Bob and Jean’s house — and know exactly where the toys are that Jean keeps ready for them. “They’re like my second parents,” Erin says. “They’re so much more than my tutor or someone helping with my boys. They really are like an extension of our family.”
The Home Visit Program at It Takes a Village matches a new family with a carefully-screened and trained volunteer, who visits once a week and helps out with things like dishes, laundry, playing with older children, or simply holding the baby so mom can take a shower. “I find that a lot of the moms would rather do their own chores, and have me watch the baby,” says Jean, who often helps train new volunteers for the program. “When the baby is an infant maybe mom will want to take a nap, so I will keep an eye on the baby and throw in a load of laundry, or sweep the floor, or do the dishes. I like to cook and bake and sometimes I bring stuff over. Sometimes they just want to sit and chat so that works too.” The program is free to any family living in the Hilltowns with a baby under the age of one.
Studies show that home visiting programs can increase a parent’s confidence and self-esteem, parent-child bonding, and access to resources. Visits from volunteers can decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness, depression and anxiety, and child behavior problems. Mothers who have visitors are more likely to breastfeed, will get more sleep, and are more likely to ASK for help when they need it. “It’s more than just help with laundry and help with the boys,” Erin says. “It’s emotional support too. It’s support through everything.”
The It Takes a Village Home Visit program has served over 150 Hilltown families since 2012. We are actively recruiting volunteers from all over Western Massachusetts to support our families, and we are honored to serve all families in our community, including single-parents, grandparents, fostering and adopting families, same-sex parents, and transgender parents, and do not discriminate on the basis of race, income, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age. While this program is completely free for the families, the recruiting, screening, training, and running the program takes time and money. That is why this November 28, Giving Tuesday, we are asking all our fans and supporters to donate to our Home Visit program. With your donation, you can help make sure there are enough volunteers for any family who needs one. Click here to donate today.
What’s been happening
New People …
We are so pleased to welcome several new members of our team here at It Takes a Village.
Kat Pangborn has joined us as our new Program Coordinator. She will be overseeing all our Parent Groups, and will be facilitating our Families of Spirited Children group Tuesdays in Williamsburg.
Sarah Lewis is a new face at The Village Closet! Sarah brings a lot of retail experience, and has already helped us streamline our HUGE inventory at the Village Closet. Sarah is a mother of two, loves all things Halloween, and lives in Westhampton.
Sara Rose Rachlin has joined us as our Parent Group Childcare Provider. Sara taught preschool for 8 years, is a Postpartum Doula and mama, and lives in Florence.
We are also excited to have our long time volunteers Nykky Steins and Helene Tamerin officially join us at the Village Closet! We have a great team doing amazing work, so please say hello next time you are at The Village Closet.
Finally, welcome baby Morgan, who arrived October 10! You may have seen her big brother Hunter working hard at the Village Closet alongside his mom Nykky.
New Partners …
We are excited to announce new partnerships with Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Women’s Health Associations of Westfield. It Takes a Village received a generous grant to help support The Village Closet, ongoing support to fund our home visit program, and $500 worth of diapers.
New Projects …
The Village Closet Open House in September was a huge success! We distributed $2,630 worth of baby and kids items, and welcomed families from 29 different towns all over western Massachusetts. We also met with the folks at The Treehouse Foundation and Re-Imagining Foster Care in America, and handed over the 301 backpacks we collected during our Backpack Drive. These bags will go with the social workers who remove children into foster care, so kids can bring their belongings in their own bag or backpack instead of a trash bag. A HUGE thank you to the area schools who kept collection boxes out during our drive — RH Conwell School, Gateway High School, Hampshire Regional High School, Northampton High School, Jackson Street Elementary School, Littleville Elementary School — and to everyone who donated!
Mark your calendar for Tuesday, November 28 – Giving Tuesday, a world-wide day of charitable giving. You may get some great deals on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday (where you’ll use Amazon Smile, right?), but use Giving Tuesday as a chance to give back.
This year we are raising funds for our Home Visit program. Right now we have families on a waiting list for our program, because we do not have enough volunteers.
If everyone reading this newsletter gave $10.00, it would cover the cost of volunteer recruitment and trainings for the next year.
The story above shows how powerful a home visitor can be. We NEED more volunteers, because families NEED this kind of support. Your donation can help more families receive home visits.
Besides knowing that you have made it possible for a new family to receive the support they deserve, you can enter to win some pretty great prizes. On Tuesday, November 28, we will be giving away gift certificates to local cafes, restaurants, cleaning services, and classes, and anyone who donates over $50.00 will receive an It Takes a Village t-shirt or onesie. RSVP to our Facebook event and check after Thanksgiving for the full list of items.
So many families have benefited from It Takes a Village services, and have seen first-hand the difference a community can make for a family, whether it’s baby clothes, place to come together and share, or a helping hand at the end of a long week. They have seen the difference a Village can make.
Can you make a donation to help support other families in our community? Can you be their Village?
Click here to give today and #BeTheVillage.