Every Wednesday morning, Mae Anthony and Ashley Leitch meet up to connect, grow and thrive together.
As one of about 20 mentor-single mom matches brought together through the innovative new Moms Arise! program at Rexdale Alliance Church, Anthony and Leitch have spent the last five months bonding over their shared experience of the struggles and triumphs of motherhood.
“We love each other,” said a beaming Anthony, a Rexdale Alliance congregant who volunteered to mentor single mom Leitch through the Moms Arise! program. “She’s a really special girl, and we’re learning a lot from each other. We’re at very different places in our lives, so we help each other that way.”
Funded by World Vision and officially launched last September, the Moms Arise! program reaches out to single moms in Rexdale who feel alone and overwhelmed by life, with the threefold aim to see them connect, grow and thrive together.
“We’re a faith-based organization, so we felt really strongly that God had called Rexdale (Alliance) to pursue this as another ministry...What we’re doing with Moms Arise! is we’re providing these single moms with the hope that there is an alternative and that there are other ways to live, to parent, to manage money – because they will admit themselves that they are in crisis all the time,” said Candice Pascal van Alphen, who runs the Moms Arise! program alongside Deirdre Thornton. “Many are very stressed about their children, and they’re stressed about money all the time. There’s a hunger to want to live differently – but knowing that and being able to do that are two very different things.”
Key to achieving that desired change, Pascal van Alphen added, is having a support system in place to lean on in the tough times, which is where the connect goal comes in. The Moms Arise! program brings together about 20 single moms from Rexdale each week.
“The connecting piece is really about helping the moms develop a support network, because for some of them there’s that strong stigma of being a single mother or an unwed mother,” she said. “That’s why our first goal is to really help them connect with other women in similar situations, so they know they’re not alone.”
The second goal of Moms Arise! is growth, which is where the program’s weekly workshops come in.
“The growing piece is really the essential skills workshops, where the women learn those practical skills that help to raise the bar for them and help them function better on a day-to-day basis – whether it’s just coping with stress, dealing with their children’s behaviour, or having enough money to last for the month,” said Thornton.
Divided into three learning “blocks” – Managing Myself and My Home, Managing My Finances, and Managing My Children – the nine-month workshop program attempts to tackle the problems single mothers face from all possible sides.
From September to December of last year, the moms and mentors learned all about Managing Myself and My Home, from exploring self-esteem issues and goal-setting, to practical life skills like meal planning and document organization.
Since January, the workshops have focused on Managing My Finances, where the moms have been learning basic budgeting skills, long-term savings strategies, the need for an emergency fund, and about how to teach their children about money.
“Really, we’re trying to change perceptions about shopping and teach them creative ways to save,” said Thornton. “We heard a lot of interesting things in our discussions about money so far. Many of the moms struggle with defining what is a need and what is a want – “I want it, so I need it” is the mentality we’re hearing. So it’s just concepts like that we’re trying to break down.”
Come the end of March, the last block of workshops will focus on Managing my Children – a subject Pascal van Alphen said she’s hoping to partner with Rexdale Women’s Centre on.
“The moms are really excited about that one, because it is such a challenge to manage their children single handedly,” she said. “It is hard work and, for single mothers, there is no relief, there is no back up.”
And that, said Pascal van Alphen said, is where Moms Arise! third goal – thrive – comes in.
“Thrive is all about connecting them with a mentor, and right now, we’re really blessed that we have enough volunteers to basically connect on a one-to-one basis. Our mothers have the undivided attention of a woman from our congregation every Wednesday who’s here solely to support, love, guide, share personal experiences, and provide encouragement to,” she said. “Our mentors feel very called by God to partner with and journey with women in the community. Many have come from similar life circumstances, and others just have a real heart for women in Rexdale who are having a tough time raising children on their own.”
For single mother Caroline Scott, having the back-up of her “sisters” at Moms Arise! has meant all the difference.
“Coming together, we bond like a family – it’s like a home away from home,” she said. “I look forward to it every Wednesday, because it’s a really nice, warm friendly group with lots of hugs. We express our feelings a lot because we feel open and honest to say what’s inside of us and get it off our chest.”
Moms Arise! meets every Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Rexdale Alliance Church. For mothers of preschool-aged kids, a children’s program is also offered.
For more information about Moms Arise!, call Candice or Deirdre at 416-741-1110 ext. 2338, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or attend the Moms Arise! Open House on Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Rexdale Alliance Church, 2459 Islington Ave.