Finding out that she would soon be a mother should have been one of the happiest moments of Peipei Dai's life. But the news was anything but joyful for her boyfriend, who did not want to be a father.

“Once he found out I was pregnant with twins, he left me,” she says. “I was alone.”

Dai came to Canada from China in 2009 in order to study accounting. When her boyfriend left, she had no idea where to turn. “I had no friends, no family here—I felt hopeless,” she says. “I didn't want to tell anyone I was pregnant because I felt so embarrassed to be in that kind of situation.”

As her due date neared and Dai prepared to meet her daughters, she knew she needed help. And thanks to the advice of a social worker at the hospital, she found it at The Salvation Army's Bethany Hope Centre in Ottawa.

“I called the centre and told them about my situation, and they said, 'Just come in.' They could help me.”

Problem Solving
When Dai first came to the centre in 2012, she joined the pregnancy circle, which helps expectant mothers prepare for birth.

“At the beginning, I was so shy,” she recalls. “I didn't want to talk to people—I didn't know how to talk to them. I felt weird, so I'd just sit there alone. But the staff at the Bethany Hope Centre would try to talk to me and understand my situation, in order to help me. So after that, I decided to take more programs, to try to solve my problems.”

Bethany Hope is a resource centre for young parent families, offering a wide range of services and programs, as well as a faith community. While it has a strong focus on helping young and single mothers, the centre also serves the needs of young fathers and couples.

Thanks to help from the centre's Hope Ventures program, Peipei Dai makes and sells jewelry Thanks to help from the centre's Hope Ventures program, Peipei Dai makes and sells jewelry

After her daughters were born, Dai took parenting programs at the centre to learn practical childcare skills. Once they reached the toddler stage, she joined two of the centre's employment programs: first the parent enterprise program (PEP) and, last year, Hope Ventures. PEP teaches parents how to make and market a handcrafted item, and Hope Ventures builds on that foundation with a 12-week entrepreneurship program. Participants receive one-on-one mentorship and learn the fundamentals of building a small business, including computer skills, marketing and customer service. Applicants submit a proposal for their business and, if accepted, are given a $1,500 start-up grant to get it off the ground.

“Because of Hope Ventures, I have a small home business, making jewelry and water-colour cards,” says Dai. The funds she received from Hope Ventures enabled her to buy jewelry-making tools and the supplies for the cards.

Dai now sells the jewelry and cards at bazaars and other places, as well as online. “Having my own business—I feel so good,” she smiles.

Support System
Dai also plays an active role in the faith community at the Bethany Hope Centre, which is led by Major Erin Verhey, the centre's chaplain. On Monday evenings, Dai attends Messy Church with her twins and her son.

“Going to Messy Church has given me more confidence,” she says, “and it's helped me to be positive when I'm going through a difficult time, to stick to it, to fight.”

The faith community at Bethany has provided financial, as well as spiritual, support.

“When I went to the hospital to have a C-section with my son, I had no money to pay for daycare, and the community here raised the money for me,” she shares.

“Peipei has a whole support system now,” Major Verhey smiles.

Mjr Erin Verhey and Peipei Dai in the playground at the Bethany Hope Centre. Dai says Mjr Verhey is like a “mom” to her Mjr Erin Verhey and Peipei Dai in the playground at the Bethany Hope Centre. Dai says Mjr Verhey is like a “mom” to her (Photo: Kristin Ostensen)

Dai says that Major Verhey has been an ongoing source of encouragement for her through all of her struggles as a single mom. “Erin told me, 'Just come here and talk to the people here. Think about God. He will help you,' ” she says. “I feel like there's always someone to help me. God is always around me.”

Major Verhey has also accompanied Dai to immigration hearings in Montreal, to support her as she seeks permanent residence in Canada.

“The Bethany Hope Centre is a big part of my life now,” Dai says. “They are my family in Canada and, since my parents are not here, I feel like Erin can be my mom.”

Opportunities to Grow
One of the newest initiatives at the Bethany Hope Centre is the Nourish Family Food Centre, a multi-faceted program that aims to give young families access to healthy, affordable food. Co-ordinated by Dennise Yarema, the program includes a community garden, meal programs, Foodshare (food bank) and a learning centre.

“I always wanted to take some kind of cooking course for my kids, because they are so picky,” says Dai, who started taking part in Nourish when it launched in September. “After taking this program, I feel like I can make something that they want.”

As Yarema explains, part of the success of Nourish comes from its focus on giving parents a voice in the process.

“We try to include our participants in choosing what we make,” she says, “so I'll create a program that includes fruits, vegetables, grains and different recipes. But once they get comfortable in the kitchen, I'll say, 'Let's hear what you want to make, what your kids want to eat,' and then find healthy options for that.”

Dai's children are allergic to eggs, so she has to be particularly careful about what she makes. Finding food that appeals to her children, while accommodating their allergies, can be a challenge—one that Nourish is helping with.

“We made granola bars and my kids were crazy about them,” she says. “I've never seen them eat like that—I was so surprised.

“This class is really good,” she adds. “Not only to learn the cooking skills, but also for the social time, because some people here I don't know well, and during the cooking, I'm talking to people and making friends.”

“Peipei is always looking for opportunities to grow, whether it's learning to cook or taking classes,” says Major Verhey. “She's done so well.”

Looking ahead, Dai hopes to go back to school and train to become an administrative assistant, while keeping her business on the side, so she can get a day job that mirrors her children's school schedule. And no matter what the future holds, she knows she will always have a place at the Bethany Hope Centre.

“I come here often,” she laughs. “They have everything for you here.”

“Peipei has come a long way over the past four years,” Major Verhey concludes. “She's a great mom.”

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