Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Agencies seeking volunteers to assist families

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the July 3, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

In the photo at right, Molly Cikutovich (left) volunteers as a doula – a “mothering mentor.” Lisa Green is volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities’ Childbirth and Parenting Alone (CAPA) program. (IR photo)

Two people-helping programs connected to Catholic Charities are in need of volunteers. One is the CAPA Doula mentoring program for single mothers; the other is SpokaneWorks, which assists families making the transition from public assistance to work and self-sufficiency.

The Doula program, which began 10 years ago, operates under Catholic Charities. Doula is a Greek word that has come to mean “care-giving helper.” In the program, volunteers (doulas) are matched with young single mothers who are either pregnant or have children under one year of age, to give the mothers support and help them get their babies’ lives off to a good start.

CAPA volunteer coordinator Lisa Green explained doula training.

The requirements are minimal. Volunteers must be a parent, have a high school education and be at least 26 years old. They attend four training sessions, on two evenings and two Saturdays.

They learn about boundaries and the issues that face single mothers whose income may be low. A medical doctor presents information on attachment and bonding and a counselor from St. Anne Children and Family Center talks to the trainees about postpartum blues, depression and adolescent behavior. Two separate panel sessions are also included: one with mothers who have gone through the program and one with established doulas.

Once trained, the doulas are matched with a mother and make a one-year commitment to meet with her two hours a week. Their involvement can be anything from transportation to child care to social events.

The mothers can be referred by medical personnel or others who notice they have little family or social support. Occasionally they refer themselves when they come to St. Anne for other services and learn that doulas are available.

The current roster of doulas shows a wide range of ages, from 26 (the minimum) up to 60. “Some moms have fond memories of a grandmother, and they ask for an older woman,” said Green. ”Others want someone more their own age.”

Molly Cikutovich of Spokane is a doula. The mother of four young children, she volunteered because, first, “I wanted to get out of the house,” and also because “it’s what I know.” But more important she also wanted to “pass something on,” she said, of what she has received.

Two of Cikutovich’s four children are twins. The young mother she is mentoring also has twins. Cikutovich is able to share the experiences of her twins, age 3, with the young mother whose twins are only four months. The two mothers will go grocery-shopping, Cikutovich said, or to the movies, just spending time together. As they do, the mother can see how Cikutovich handles her own children.

One of the gratifying things that Cikutovich has noticed is that the woman she assists is befriending another mother at her place of employment. Green said the relationship with doula and mother doesn’t only affect the mother. “The volunteers make such a difference; it changes people’s lives and their children’s lives, too,” she said.

Marybeth Rickel (left) is volunteer coordinator for Spokane-Works. Patricia Bryant (right) is one of SpokaneWorks’ volunteers; she provides tutoring in English for a recent immigrant. (IR photo)

SpokaneWorks is a collaboration of several agencies, including Catholic Charities, that assist families referred through the Department of Social and Health Services. “We work with people who have multiple barriers,” said volunteer coordinator Marybeth Rickel, “to finding work or getting housing.” Many are mentally ill, some have abused drugs, some have just been released from prison and others don’t speak English. There are a large number of Russians in Spokane trying to adjust to American life and customs.

The families are matched with mentors and others who help them in the process of becoming self-sufficient.

Rickel came right to the point: “We are desperate for volunteers.” The only requirement is that the volunteer be 16 years of age.

Patricia Bryant is currently tutoring a Russian woman in English. “She works really hard,” Bryant said. “She wants to learn English so she can get a better job.” The woman used to be a teacher in her own country.

Rickel said clients are carefully screened for appropriateness before they are matched with volunteers. The volunteers can help the families in many ways: taking them to medical or court appointments, helping with child care or tutoring.

But the most important part, Rickel said, is “offering support and being a cheerleader. Sometimes we are the only support they have.” Volunteers also model appropriate behaviors to people who are often in a generational cycle of poverty. “We try to break that cycle,” she said.

SpokaneWorks has had 350 families go through its program since it began three years ago. Presently 150 families are participating. Said Rickel, “Ninety-eight percent of the people we see want to change, they want to work.”

Cikutovich, Bryant and the two coordinators say the benefits of volunteering in the two programs are many. All four women agreed they get back more than they give and they learn to be grateful for their own blessings.

But there are other rewards that the women pointed out. One is lasting friendship. Green told of getting a two-page letter from the woman she had mentored, eight months after their commitment had ended, thanking her for helping at a difficult time. The two have been in contact ever since, “which is seven years now,” Green said.

Cikutovich said it was gratifying when the woman she helped would call and ask her advice about something, which lets her know that their relationship is important to the woman.

The biggest benefit, though, is learning about the lives of people on the margins of society who have often gone through great suffering and economic hardship. “As middle class people,” said Bryant, “we often don’t understand that whole culture. We haven’t lived it and we don’t realize there is a culture of poverty.” When the volunteers learn it, they educate others as well. But helping people to become self-sufficient and giving them consistent relationships they can trust is a reward all by itself.

Any mother interested in becoming a doula can call Green at St. Anne, (509) 325-7667. The next training session begins in September. To become a volunteer at SpokaneWorks, call Rickel at (509) 325-7674.

Green and Rickel also offered to give talks about their agencies to any interested group.

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