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Staff Spotlight: Amanda Read, Mother Love Coordinator

22 Jul

Our July Staff Spotlight features Amanda Read, MotherLove Coordinator. Amanda is new to the YWCA and to Asheville, and we couldn’t be more excited to have her part of our YWCA team & community.image1

How long have you lived in Asheville? I moved to Asheville in May, so I’m really new to town. Previously, I lived in Columbia, SC where I completed my Masters in Social Work at the University of South Carolina. I grew up in Greensboro, NC.

How long have you been at the YW? My first day at the YWCA was May 30th, so I have been here for just a little over a month.

Favorite thing(s) about the YWCA? I love the culture here at the YWCA. I am so happy to be a part of an organization that values the community served and its staff members. I like knowing that I am working for a purpose that will benefit peoples’ lives. It is also a perk to come to work every day and see people being active and working out. It motivates me to get moving for my own health and wellness.

What do you like to do in your spare time? I love to spend time with my family and friends. On the weekends, I like to watch live music. I will often drag a family member or friend to see a show with me regardless of the musical genre—I listen to anything from Hip-Hop, Indie, Grunge, R&B, Classical and Turkish music.

People would be surprised if they knew I… Love to watch Chinese and Thai soap operas. I find the acting and storylines more entertaining than American television. If asked, I will shamelessly recommend amazing dramas to watch on a rainy day.

What I Have Learned from 5 Years with MotherLove

10 Jun

 

Holly Gillespie, MotherLove Coordinator

Holly and her daughter Juniper enjoying the MotherLove 2016 graduation pool party.

Working with MotherLove has been a gift that I will always cherish.  I have been let into young lives at times of crisis, transition, power, and transformation.  I have spent my career at the YWCA so far.  I can’t imagine how different my life would be had that not been true.  I have learned so much from working in our community…

  • I have learned that listening matters more than I ever imagined.
  • I have learned to let go of trying to find the perfect thing to say to fix it.
  • I have learned that caring deeply for others means you must care deeply for yourself.
  • I have learned that teenagers can act like adults.
  • I have learned that adults can act like teenagers.
  • I have learned that teenagers often do act like teenagers, and that’s ok.
  • I have learned that you can’t really talk to someone about their love life.  You just have to listen and hope they can hear what they’re saying.
  • I have learned that the love a mother feels for her newborn baby is more powerful and magical than I ever dreamed.  I knew how it felt from the inside, but I cherish having witnessed the beauty of it time and again.
  • I have learned how tough and strong and determined and resilient a young woman has to be to have a baby and finish high school .
  • I have learned to ask for help.
  • I have learned that joy and support and laughter make a heavy load seem light, even if just for a moment.
  • And I have learned that we all have the power to affect each other deeply as we cross paths, and that small gestures of kindness and concern can impact others more than we can imagine.

Life must be about connections, or we are lost.

 – Holly Gillespie, MotherLove Coordinator

Holly Gillespie has been with the YWCA for 10 years. For the past five years, MotherLove has been a big part of Holly’s life.  At the end of the month, Holly will leave the program in the capable hands our new MotherLove Coordinator, Amada Read. We wish Holly the very best – we know she will continue to inspire and empower – and to learn.

The MotherLove program is made possible with support from the City of Asheville, NC Dept. of Health and Human Services – Women’s Health Branch – Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Bank of America, TD Bank, the United Way of Asheville, Buncombe County Services Foundation and YWCA donors.

Happy Holidays – and Thank You – from MotherLove

21 Dec

The MotherLove Alumni planned, coordinated, and led the festivities at a recent holiday party for MotherLove participants, their family members, and their children.

MotherLove Holiday Party 2015 023

Many donors participated in our Giving Tree, generously donating gifts for 32 families led by teen parents. These gifts were much appreciated!

MotherLove Holiday Party 2015 021

Thank you to Alpha Delta Kappa, an educator’s service sorority, for their contribution of food and decorations.

MotherLove Holiday Party 2015 024

And thank you to WNC Knitters and Crocheters for Others for their contribution of blankets, books, hats & burp cloths for our families.

The MotherLove program is made possible with support from the City of Asheville, NC Dept Health and Human Services – Women’s Health Branch – Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Bank of America, TD Bank, the United Way of Asheville, Buncombe County Services Foundation and YWCA donors.

Thank you, and happy holidays!

“I Want Them to Know They Can Do It!” MotherLove Alumni Give Back

8 Oct

By Holly Gillespie, YWCA MotherLove Coordinator

I want to celebrate with you a realization of the ideals of empowerment…  

MotherLove alum Gaines and her son

MotherLove alum Ahmarie Gaines and her son

The other week, 8 graduates from the MotherLove program gathered for the first Alumni Meeting of the year.  Several women came directly from a full work shift, most brought their baby with them, and no Alumni are older than 20.  That means 8 working teen parents took 2 hours of their busy and often complicated lives to come together to, in their words, “give back” to the program.

I was deeply moved when, inspired by a prompt from our star volunteer, Debbie Welch, each Alum offered her or his reason for giving up a weeknight of potential downtime to come to the group. The consensus sounded something like this: “MotherLove has meant so much to me and helped me so much.  I want to do whatever I can to help the program and to offer that support to young moms who are still in high school.  I want them to know they can do it; they can graduate!”

I asked the group how they wanted to spend their time together, suggesting a range of ideas from regular social gatherings, to planning Evening Support Group Sessions for the young parents enrolled in the program this year.  The group unanimously chose to take on the responsibility of not only planning, but facilitating a Group each month for the parents still in high school!

The 2015 Alumni Committee’s first delivered Evening Group Session will take place this month.  Alumni chose to begin the session by each sharing the story of their personal journey through parenthood and high school.  Afterwards, they will co-facilitate small groups to ask current participants what they want to gain from the MotherLove program this year, and any skills or information they feel they need to learn as new parents.

Nancy Herrera-Mendoza, MotherLove alum, in her high school graduation cap and gown

Nancy Herrera-Mendoza, MotherLove alum, in her high school graduation cap and gown

I want to highlight that the format of this session is top-notch, utilizes best practices, and is infused with the ethics of empowerment.  These women and men are fresh out of high school and leaning on instinct and personal experience… and they have created a model that scholars would envy.  

Words cannot express how impressed I am with this group of young parents.  I am deeply grateful for the privilege of walking with them on their parenting journey, and am inspired by their drive and motivation to share what they have learned.  This is the essence of empowerment.

Another Transformational Year of MotherLove

2 Jun

073Another school year has come to a close for the parenting students of MotherLove.  This year, we wanted to celebrate our graduating seniors with such style that our rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors would enter into their next school year with stars in their eyes for the good things to come.

Beth Maczka, YWCA CEO, with a MotherLove baby

Beth Maczka, YWCA CEO, with a MotherLove baby

MotherLove high school seniors, as well as MotherLove’s continuing high school students, were invited – along with family and friends – to gather at A-B Tech for an End of Year banquet in the Magnolia Dining Room, overlooking a gorgeous view of the mountains.  Little ones played with bubbles outside, babies gazed in fascination at each other, young moms and their families shared stories over lunch,  and members of the YWCA’s Eleanor Roosevelt Giving Society enjoyed meeting our MotherLove participants and their babies.

071After a delicious lunch, provided by the chefs of Green Opportunities, it was time to honor the parenting students’ accomplishments for the year.  Tender words of advice and wisdom were offered up by Senator Terry Van Duyn, followed by the distribution of MotherLove’s first ever Senior Scholarship Awards.  Seven graduating seniors received a fully loaded laptop to support their future educational and career goals.  Many thanks to former Director of Women’s Empowerment Diana Sierra for initiating the Senior Scholarship; we hope it will become an annual tradition for MotherLove.

The afternoon closed with reflective thoughts, sage advice, and words of encouragement from Ahmarie Gaines and Jocelyn Franks, two of MotherLove’s graduates from last year who have served on the Alumni Committee throughout 2014-2015.

Ahmarie Gaines and her son

Ahmarie Gaines and her son

Afterwards, Motherlove’s Coordinator, Holly Gillespie, administered a very serious homework assignment for the summer: “Play with your baby.”  The necessary equipment for the assignment (a gift bag of toys) was distributed and everyone left the afternoon full of food, smiles, and the knowledge that MotherLove believes in them.

We are grateful to all those who helped make the entire day a success, and are looking forward to another transformational year in 2015-2016!

A MotherLove participant and her father

A MotherLove participant and her father

Living the Truth of our Mission: Nancy’s Story

1 Jun
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Nancy in the YWCA’s Drop-In Child Care

By Alison Gooding

On any given day between Monday and Saturday you can find Nancy Herrera-Mondoza at the YWCA.  She works in the Drop-In Child Care Center, and is an active participant in the MotherLove alumni group.

Nancy is 19 years old and has lived in Asheville for at least 11 years.  She was introduced to the YWCA through her doctor two years ago during a prenatal visit when she sought help for loneliness and isolation.  The YWCA’s MotherLove program was recommended to Nancy as a nurturing and supportive place to meet young women like her who are pregnant and in high school. 

MotherLove helps pregnant and parenting teens stay in school, access higher education and vocational training, develop the skills and knowledge needed to become strong parents and delay another teen pregnancy.  The mentors and other moms in the group were welcoming and invited Nancy in with open arms.  Nancy was able to breathe a sigh of relief and think to herself “I can finally feel better now.”

Since her parents speak little English, the MotherLove staff were instrumental in keeping Nancy’s high school teachers informed of her appointments and flexible with her homework assignments. MotherLove also kept Nancy focused and aware of what she needed to do to earn her diploma.

Having her son Fernando was transformational, changing her life, and her career focus to wanting to work with children. 

Nancy in her high school graduation cap and gown

Nancy in her high school graduation cap and gown

After graduating, Nancy wanted to further her education but lacked the financial resources. She started working long hours at a low-wage job under deplorable conditions.  During that time she was missing out on her son’s developmental milestones.  She again felt stuck, anxious, and lonely.

That’s when the phone rang.  It was Holly Gillespie, the MotherLove Program Coordinator.  Holly called to tell Nancy about a job opening at the YWCA’s Drop-In Child Care.  Nancy applied, aced the interview, and quickly joined the Drop-In staff, working regular hours up to six days a week.

The YWCA is helping pay for Nancy’s education, and she has already earned credits toward a degree in early childhood education. Nancy is getting closer to her dream career of working full time in a child care setting.

Her almost two year-old son is with her during the day and she is thrilled to “learn and help my son out too.”  Fernando is thriving at Drop-In, impressing her with how he is learning to use the potty, wash his hands, and use his words.

Nancy and her son Fernando, May 2014. Photo by Sandra Stambaugh

Nancy and her son Fernando, May 2014. Photo by Sandra Stambaugh

Now that Nancy is working at Drop-In and has Fernando with her, she has found that many aspects of her life are improving.  Her relationship with her own parents has deepened and strengthened.   Nancy is able to prove to herself and her family that she is responsible and is prioritizing her son and her career. She is independent, she is empowered, and is on the road to self-sufficiency.

Nancy recently joined the MotherLove alumni group where she helps mentor high school students in the program.  She feels strongly about the value of having a peer talk to high school students about pregnancy and parenting, in addition to older role models and teachers.  She wants to be that peer-voice, helping young mothers and letting them know that “things are not as easy as you think – but I can help, and MotherLove can help too.” 

Holly says: “Nancy was very quiet and reserved for the first three months she was a participant in MotherLove. This Spring, she facilitated a powerful conversation with both teens and adults on a very sensitive topic – and she did a wonderful job. Over the past several years I’ve witnessed her find her voice. I believe she lives the truth of the YWCA mission.

Your donation is vital to helping create success stories like Nancy’s. Thank you! 

The MotherLove program is made possible with support from the City of Asheville, NC Dept Health and Human Services – Women’s Health Branch – Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Landwirth Foundation, Preyer Family Foundation, YWCA donors, and the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County.

Let’s Talk About Sex!

29 Apr

By Holly Gillespie, MotherLove Coordinator

MotherLove tried something new for our most recent Evening Group Session: we handed the design, planning, and facilitation of the session over to our Alumni.  It was a resounding and inspirational success!

MotherLove Alumni at a feedback meeting with MotherLove staff in November, 2014

MotherLove Alumni at a feedback meeting with MotherLove staff in November, 2014

The MotherLove Alumni Committee consists of MotherLove Graduates who have completed high school, but wish to remain active in the program.  At the close of last school year, several graduates expressed a desire to “give back” to MotherLove. They told us they felt the program made a huge difference in their lives and they wanted to help make that difference for young women who are still in high school and just beginning their journey into motherhood.  Thus, the Alumni Committee was born.

When the time came to make plans for an Evening Group Session on the topic of sex, the Alumni Committee convened to take on the challenge.  There were many unanimous agreements during our planning session:

-the conversation needed to feel relevant and valuable to the teen moms and dads,

-adult volunteers would be a welcome addition to the group dynamic, and

-whereas many women can articulate that they alone are the masters of their bodies, many women lack the skill set to assert their personal boundaries and preferences.

This last point drove the remainder of the conversation, for how can an individual protect his/her body from STI’s or unplanned pregnancy without the skills to assert their boundaries and preferences?

MotherLove participants at the MotherLove holiday gathering, 2014

MotherLove participants at the MotherLove holiday gathering, 2014

The Alumni ultimately chose to facilitate several small group discussions centered around 7 composed questions.  The questions ranged from ,”how does having a baby affect your sex life?” to “what if you love someone who cheats on you?”  The goal was to engage all who were present in meaningful, self-reflective conversation driven by an undercurrent of self-advocacy and empowerment.

The result was astounding.  Three courageous young women, all fresh out of high school last year, facilitated small group discussions for a mixed age audience on a tremendously sensitive, personal, and often taboo subject.  Each group created an atmosphere of support and confidentiality that made room for teens and adults to share deeply.  MotherLove staff also facilitated a small group for dads. They, too, were open, vulnerable, and reflected on the material in a meaningful way. The evening was truly inspiring.

The success of the evening offers new territory to be explored in MotherLove’s Group Session planning and design. Empowerment means placing power in someone’s hands.  If it is teen moms whom we wish to empower, then it is in their hands that we must place power.  MotherLove’s Alumni Committee continues to grow with each new, motivated graduate.  Their wisdom and perspective will continue to be sought as we aim to foster leadership and self-advocacy in this new generation of young women.

The MotherLove program is made possible with support from the NC Dept Health and Human Services – Women’s Health Branch – Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Bank of America, Walnut Cove Association, Buncombe County Services Foundation, Duke Progress, TD Bank, YWCA donors, and the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County.

For more information, contact Holly Gillespie, coordinator of MotherLove, by email at holly.gillespie@ywcaofasheville.org or by calling 828-254-7206 x 104.