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May7FriYoung mom finds support and meaningful connections at Bethany Hope Centre in Ottawa. May 7, 2021 by Leigha Vegh
Before Allyssa Campbell arrived at The Salvation Army Bethany Hope Centre (BHC) in Ottawa, life had taken an unexpected turn. Full of excitement, Allyssa had ventured from her small town of Pembroke, Ont., to Canada’s capital. Suddenly, Allyssa found herself on a new adventure. She was going to be a mother.
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“I was excited and nervous,” Allyssa recalls. “I asked myself, ‘Am I going to be ready for this?’ ”
Determined to get extra help, she called on BHC for support following a recommendation from a friend. “Just having support and knowing I’m not alone was good for me,” says Allyssa.
There, she accessed several programs, such as Buns in the Oven, a prenatal nutrition program that helped her prepare for motherhood. She also finished her high school diploma in the BHC Independent Learning Centre, and staff provided childcare while she studied.
“I was glad for the help so I didn’t feel overwhelmed with thoughts of ‘Who’s going to watch my child?’ ” Allyssa notes. She also learned essential life skills, such as how to file her taxes, and signed up for parenting and child development classes. “Attachment counselling with my son taught me how to cope with my child’s emotions,” she adds.
Now, a mother to her six-year-old son, Blake, Allyssa is in college to be a personal support worker. “I chose this program because I like helping people.”
“Allyssa is an example to other young parents because there are so many obstacles that she has overcome,” says Barbara Damm-Smith, director of young parent programs at BHC.
For a centre that prizes in-person interactions where mothers can form meaningful friendships to encourage each other, the COVID-19 pandemic was a new challenge. It was contact with other young mothers that made Allyssa feel less alone in the process of having a child unexpectedly.
Before COVID-19, group outings played a special role in helping Allyssa feel connected. “Special events like going to Valley View Farm were a really good time,” she recalls. “The other BHC parents and kids felt like a family.”
To continue meeting the vital need of interaction during the pandemic, BHC pioneered a Zoom play group for parents to join with their children. “It’s taken a burden off those who have difficulty physically coming into the centre for whatever reasons,” says Damm-Smith.
Another change in ministry was through the food share program. BHC saw a huge increase in the demand for food and care packages from new participants and alumni alike. They were able to use the program as a conduit to connect with young families to see how they were doing. “The food share helped me a lot with budgeting in times of financial strain,” recalls Allyssa.
What makes the programs at BHC unique is that they are developed with the science of brain development and trauma-informed care in mind. “Our goal is to come alongside young parents with a measure of humility, and to understand and respect what they are experiencing,” says Damm-Smith.
Through an understanding of the stages of brain development and healthy attachment formation, BHC counsellors can give meaningful feedback to parents. “Because brain science is not personal, but science, we find that most young parents welcome input about how to positively impact their child’s brain development,” she notes.
Connections is another program at BHC that promotes healthy, safe family relationships. The multi-disciplinary team also works closely with other organizations, such as the Children’s Aid Society, to ensure that young parents and their children avoid potential harm. Spiritual care is also available at BHC, with a variety of offerings from an on-site chaplain, such as relationship counselling for young mothers and their partners.
As a young mother, Allyssa shares words of encouragement with other women facing pregnancy, whether planned or unplanned. “It can be nerve-wracking to ask for help, but don’t be afraid to get support,” Allyssa says. “The Bethany Hope Centre is a positive environment, and they will always be there for you.”
“It’s important to not assume that a pregnancy isn’t expected, since many people start their families early and young,” notes Damm-Smith. “Having support and the sense of community is what’s really important to our clients.”
“The best part about being a mother is seeing my son grow into the most loving, funny, creative and soft-spirited person,” Allyssa smiles. “When I explained some of my son’s challenges in school, Bethany Hope was there to support me emotionally and they directed me to helpful resources.”
The one-on-one support that Allyssa received at the centre has played an integral part in her and her son’s development. “I was able to trust, open up and be comfortable sharing my life situations—this support helped me to get where I am now,” she says.
For more information on the Bethany Hope Centre, visit bethanyhopecentre.org.
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