Amanda & Chalene's Story
When Amy first joined Sisters in Support (SIS), a mentoring program through D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s, she was a young mother with two boys, a toddler and an infant. Amy was lonely, isolated, and “looking for a friend.” She was quickly matched with a volunteer mentor named Char.
At first it was difficult for Char to build a relationship with Amy because Amy was so shy. It was almost as if she didn’t believe she had a right to any thoughts or opinions. Eventually Amy shared with Char and her social worker that her boyfriend was not only isolating and controlling her, but also physically abusing her. Amy’s lowest point came when he assaulted her, and she had to call the police. It broke Amy’s heart that her children had to watch their father be taken away in the back of a police car.
This event gave Amy the courage to make positive changes in her life. She finally shared with her volunteer and social worker what had truly been happening in her home. The volunteer offered support and encouragement to Amy, and playtime for the children, while the social worker helped Amy connect to a variety of community resources. For the first time, Amy felt worthy of standing up for herself and her children.
With the support of SIS, Amy was able to secure her own apartment, navigate the maze of DHS assistance programs, file for child support and return to school. Now she works full time at a job in her field, with benefits! Amy says, “I never would have made it without Sisters in Support.”
Mara & Anne's Story
Three years ago Mara was referred to Sisters in Support by her home-visiting nurse. At that time, she and her infant daughter were living in a tiny apartment with Mara’s twin sisters. These young women had lost their mother when they were teens and experienced abuse at the hands of an aunt. Mara was desperate for friendship, mentoring and support. She was quickly matched with a lovely volunteer named Anne.
Mara and Anne clicked immediately. They spent time together every week which afforded Mara and her daughter the opportunity to get out of the small apartment and engage in fun, child-friendly activities. Anne often invited Mara’s twin sisters to join them as well. Anne also helped Mara start working toward her goals. Mara went back to school to get her CNA license and quickly found a full time job. In fact, she was so determined to support herself that she got a second part time job. A short time later she was able to get her own apartment.
As Mara’s daughter Jamie got older, Anne noticed that she was having some difficulties with her speech and problems with her behavior. Anne alerted the SIS social worker and together they helped Mara connect Jamie to in-home services and later to a specialized preschool. Now Jamie is talking well and loves spending time with her teacher and classmates.
Life can still be challenging for Mara. Her father passed away a few months ago, and Anne was there with Mara and her sisters in the hospital when it happened, offering comfort and support. Anne also arranged for funeral services to be held at her church. In fact, the entire church has embraced all three sisters.
The same month that Mara had to cover her father’s burial expenses, her car also broke down. These two unexpected events depleted Mara’s savings. Thankfully, she was able to contact her SIS social worker and receive some help from generous donors to cover a portion of her rent for that difficult month.
Being a young single mother isn’t easy, but Mara is managing in large part because of her own determination and hard work but also because of her relationship with Anne and her involvement in Sisters in Support.
Ginny & Leslie's Story
Nine months ago, 17-year-old Ginny was referred to Sisters in Support by her high school counselor. At that time Ginny was living with her boyfriend and his parents and expecting her first child. Ginny’s own parents were completely out of the picture.
Ginny was very open with her social worker during the initial interview process and spoke freely about the trauma she had experienced in her young life. Shortly after Ginny was accepted into the SIS program, she gave birth to her daughter Sally. When Sally was a few weeks old, Ginny was matched with Leslie, her volunteer mentor. Leslie lived just a few blocks away from Ginny so the match was perfect. Leslie and Ginny initially spent time together on Wednesdays, which was Leslie’s day off from work; but it wasn’t long before Ginny and Sally were joining Leslie’s family for Sunday dinners. During the warmer months, Leslie and Ginny often went on walks together with Sally in the stroller. Ginny quickly came to rely on Leslie as the supportive adult in her life. Leslie frequently gave Ginny advice about parenting, relationships, work and school. Leslie’s husband helped Ginny find her first car and connected her to a reputable mechanic who was willing to do the necessary repair work for a reasonable fee.
By the time Ginny turned 18, she was balancing full time work and full time school with parenting. Ginny graduated from high school in the spring and over the summer she was awarded a scholarship to attend Grand Rapids Community College. For Ginny, this scholarship opens the door to a world of possibilities. She will take two classes this fall so that she can still work and spend time with her daughter.
Recently Ginny moved into her own rented home. She invited her social worker, her mentor Leslie and Leslie’s children over for a tour. Ginny proudly showed them the place she will call home. Ginny feels like she is on the edge of something wonderful and she is filled with hope for the future. Even with all that Ginny has accomplished in the past year, she wants to continue her involvement in Sisters in Support and maintain her relationship with Leslie. Ginny has forged a bond with Leslie that just might last forever.
Ana & Claire's Story
Ana is an 18-year-old mom with a 4-year-old daughter Mara and a 2-year-old son James. Ana is matched with a lovely volunteer named Claire. Ana and Claire’s relationship clicked from the beginning. Claire quickly noticed that Ana’s daughter was receiving lots of services because of her special needs, but Ana’s son was rarely the focus of attention. Claire started bringing Ana and James on weekly trips to the park and the library. Claire modeled for Ana how to talk to James instead of over him. She also emphasized the importance of reading books.
It didn’t take long for Claire to realize that Ana had no idea how to discipline James, a rambunctious toddler. Claire taught Ana how to distract James and divert his attention to positive outlets.
Claire also discovered that Ana struggled with reading and writing in both Spanish, her native language, and English. Claire set up two notebooks, one for Spanish and one for English. Claire and Ana took turns with the notebooks, writing in whatever language was assigned. Then, on their weekly visits, they exchanged notebooks and checked each other’s work. This helped Ana improve her reading and writing skills in both languages.
One of the most special things Claire did for Ana was at Christmas time. Claire found a second-hand prom dress in the back of a closet at the school where she is a teacher. Claire’s friend altered the dress to fit Ana. Then Claire threw a dinner party and invited several guests, all of whom dressed up so that Ana could wear her special dress. Ana and her children enjoyed being the honored guests.
Ana and Claire have been matched for one year, and they will continue the match into the second year. Claire has already decided that they will spend the summer focused on James’ speech, play and socialization. With support from Claire, Ana is making progress on her personal goals and learning to be a wonderful mother to both of her children.
Paige & Amanda's Story
Paige was 15 years old and six months pregnant when her high school counselor referred her to Sisters in Support. Paige was quickly matched to Amanda, a young single woman in her twenties. Paige and Amanda spent time together each week enjoying food and watching movies. They often texted between visits. Amanda, an experienced nanny, helped Paige prepare for parenting a newborn.
When Paige’s daughter Lola was born, Amanda was one of the first to hear the good news. Amanda, who has a considerable experience as a photographer, has carefully documented the first three months of Lola’s life. Paige shows off the pictures to anyone willing to sit down with her in front of the computer screen.
Not everything has been easy for Paige. She is still trying to navigate a complicated relationship with the father of her baby. She is also trying to manage school part-time work while parenting an infant. Amanda gives Paige advice about healthy relationships and managing her time.
Recently, Paige and Amanda, along with four other matched clients and volunteers, attended a four-session cooking class held on the D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s campus. Amanda and the other volunteers took care of the children while Paige and the other young moms learned to cook healthful, delicious meals. The whole group ate supper family style while sharing stories about their lives. Strong bonds were built among the participants.
When asked about her relationship with Amanda, Paige smiles and says, “She is my best friend in the whole world.”