Tis the season to be jolly, a not-so-happy phrase for NeighbourLink after learning it’s doors may soon shut on local families despite all good intentions.
The well-known Christian outreach program has offered a safe haven of support in Vanderhoof since 1995. They help a significant number of young parents who have relied on the weekly drop-in Best Mom and Dads (BMAD) group since it’s inception in 2009. In the past, NeighbourLink has received independent grant money to fund their BMAD group but now must look to the people of Vanderhoof said Henry Bucher, NeighbourLink financial officer.
“We’ve been getting money through grants but simply put, grant money for the moms group has dried up and now were $20,000 short,” said Mr. Bucher. “Believe me, we wouldn’t go begging for money but we need resources to keep it going.”
The non-profit group owns the Act 11 Thrift Store in Vanderhoof which contributes $30,000 a year to NeighbourLink’s total annual cost of more than $94,000. Ten member churches contribute $8,000 annually and Saik’uz First Nations provide $6,000 to the food bank each year. Donations from the community have been strong but because the BMAD group is so extensive and rely on outside grant money no longer coming in, additional funding is needed. The BMAD group runs twice a week but could soon be shut down completely without the additional support.
Cora McIntosh 32, transportation and school-readiness coordinator, sees first hand what the BMAD program does to help. She is a Sekani council member who lives in Stoney Creek and drives families into Vanderhoof to attend the group.
“A lot of times these women are involved with the Ministry. This is a way they can seek voluntary support and keep their pride. Some of these parents were alcoholics who moved away and are now living a sober life. This group has to be here for them or they may revert back.”
The drop-in group helps parents who have often been abandoned by their spouse, beat the odds of raising a child alone by helping them get ready for kindergarden. It also gives the parents a safe place to socialize and build up their own self esteem.
Erin Smedley, program co-ordinator, says the main focus is to provide a consistently safe and healthy environment.
“Without the group some parents may step back into an unhealthy routine. It’s extremely important we remain consistent through till the summer months because risky lifestyles start back up again easily and we see it.”
Trista Barnett 26, from Vanderhoof has attended group every Thursday for the past two years and says her children are always excited to go to group. Not only do they enjoy it, but without NeighbourLink, her middle child may not have had the opportunity of preschool.
“Ava is a bit slower than an average three-year-old so I took her to Sekani Family Services. They did some testing to see where she was at psychologically and between them and NeighbourLink, they paid for her to attend early childhood learning. Now between preschool and group her speech is getting better and because I’m a stay at home mom with four kids it would have been very difficult.”
Deanna Patrick 24, lives at Saik’uz and for the past three years has attended group with her two children.
“It’s what I look forward to every week,” she said. “I’m a stay at home mom so this is where I get out and interact with other moms.”
Deanna says the kids look forward to coming to group to play and make crafts with others their age. Scrapbooking has also become one of her new hobbies. “It would make both my kids and I extremely sad if they closed the doors,” she said.
Sarah Louie 34, lives on Saik’uz with her four children and comes to group twice a week.
“It’s a lot of work to pack up the kids and get out of the house but it’s worth it,” she said.
Without group Sarah would be couped up in the house with four kids while her husband, who works at Avison, is situated outside Fort St. James or Mackenzie. Although she has never tried scrapping before group, she now loves recording her children’s lives in print. She also recently made a baby blanket for her youngest daughter Summer who is six months, all through group. When it comes to her kids, she especially loves the interaction they get at group with stations throughout the room for crafts, block building, and colouring to name a few.
“It really builds their self esteem because usually my kids are shy, especially my two year old. He wasn’t really into speaking but since coming here in March he talks and talks. Without this place he would probably still have limited speech.”
Roberta Antoine 33, attends the BMAD group with her two children and sits on the steering committee as a participant voice and volunteer. Yet it wasn’t too long ago that socializing wasn’t her forte, with her guard up she kept to herself.
“At first she came in with her black hoody up and head phones in,” Erin Smedley, group co-ordinator said. “For weeks she came in and didn’t talk until one day her one headphone fell out and she started listening to the conversations. Soon she had her hoody down and she started to became a part of the group. She was always a great mother but now she is so much more comfortable with socializing.”
When Roberta first started coming to group she was a single parent and introverted, but now fills in for the crafts co-ordinator when she is unavailable and has taken on a leadership role to help other mothers. Michelle Miller-Gauthier, literacy co-ordinator, says she has seen a full 180 in Roberta.
“She is now one of the driving forces having gone from participant to leader and will actually teach a group a craft,” Ms. Miller-Gauthier said.
Although, to this day, Roberta doesn’t receive any financial support from her children’s father.
“It was difficult in the beginning to start coming but they give you a ride here and a ride home,” Roberta said. “Last year they even helped us with getting a drivers-ed instructor. You benefit so much from coming here and you don’t even have to do something, you can just come and sit while your kids socialize. I would be stuck at home doing nothing. Especially if you don’t have a job and your a full time mom, this is the place for you.”