Joycelyn Hardy, left, coordinator of the Mentoring Moms program, and Suzi Peklo,director of Family Strengthening Services at Catholic Charities discuss program plans Nov. 3 at their Omaha office. COURTESY PHOTO

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Mentoring Moms program helps mothers facing hard times

Lisa* doesn’t remember where she picked up a pamphlet on the Mentoring Moms program. She does remember what compelled her to call the number on that pamphlet, however.

“I was going through a hard time in my life,” she said. “I was trying to find resources, positive resources. I was just at a point in my life that I wanted so much more, but I was stuck. I didn’t know what more was, what to do for more, where to go for more.”

Born and raised in North Omaha, Lisa’s parents were both drug addicts. By the age of eight, she was taking care of herself. At 14, she was pregnant with her first child.

Life on the streets was tough.

“I went through a lot, prostitution, drugs, all kinds of things,” Lisa said. “A lot of people aren’t able to turn away from those things, but I did.”

Without the support of her family or positive role models, Lisa knew she needed to surround herself with people who would help her keep from going back to her old ways. She found those people in the Mentoring Moms program at Catholic Charities.

“I felt welcome and cared for there, and they gave me the connections that I needed,” she said. “I used to pray to God many days for connections to people that would bring positivity into my life. I appreciate it in more ways than they even know.”

The Mentoring Moms program started in 2006 to support new and existing mothers. It is a small program, but Suzi Peklo, the director of Family Strengthening Services at Catholic Charities, hopes to expand it.

“It is not serving thousands of people, but it is very great and very powerful,” Peklo said. “It makes a difference in the lives of mothers and their children and families as a whole.”

Lisa calls Mentoring Moms her second family. Another member of that family is her mentor, Megan.*

Megan, a physician, was looking for volunteer opportunities that would fit her busy schedule when she saw a blurb about Mentoring Moms in her parish bulletin.

When she signed up to be a mentor, Megan expected to be paired with a teenager facing an unexpected pregnancy. She didn’t expect to be paired with a mother about her age who had more kids than her. Megan is the mother of two young daughters; Lisa has five children, ranging in age from 3 to 18.

“It was a little intimidating at first,” Megan said. “They told me her story, and I wondered what I could bring to the table. I was like, ‘She has five kids! She needs to mentor me!’ I mean, what am I going to say to her that can help her?”

Despite their differences, more than a year later, both women call it a perfect match.

“As we’ve gotten to know each other, I think our personalities are very similar,” Megan said. “There are lots of people, at a certain point, that when bad things happen, they just give up. But she (Lisa) is constantly saying she wants more out of life, and that is an attitude I have, too. I am always setting new goals. We both know there is always a way to become a better person and fight for something more in life.”

Like any friend, Megan listens, offers encouragement, and lets Lisa know that she is there for her.

“In dark places, she’s been my light,” Lisa said. “She would show up to our meetings and keep texting and calling me. Even during COVID, when everything was crazy, she was tough. She was my inspiration. I needed all of that because outside of my kids, I don’t have anybody, and I want to make the right choices.”

Joycelyn Hardy is the coordinator of Mentoring Moms. While mentorship is at the heart of the program, there are several other aspects. From classes to social gatherings to case management, once a mother contacts Mentoring Moms, the staff is there for her.

“We can’t give everyone everything, but we can help them find resources,” Hardy said.

The most important thing that Mentoring Moms offers is something many of the moms lost long ago – or never remember having in the first place – a sense of dignity.

“You see them for who they are, a child of God,” Peklo said. “They want to be loved because we all want to be loved. You see them broken. But you don’t focus on that brokenness.”

Moms and their mentors come from all walks of life. Despite different upbringings and living circumstances, once they get to know each other, they realize they are more alike than different.

“I think that is the beauty of women,” Peklo said. “We can all relate to each other, and we are all bonded in many, many ways.”

To learn more about the Mentoring Moms program, visit www.ccomaha.org/program-and-services/family-services.

*Names and some minor details have been changed.