Thursday, December 12, 2019 - Updated: 12:50 pm
Life has not been easy for Ashley. She first became a mother in her teens and now has four children. She has battled drug abuse. But after getting clean and with help from Catholic Charities, Ashley is working to make a better life for her family.
She takes part in the pro-life Roselia Pregnancy and Parenting Program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which offers supportive counseling and education for pregnant women and new mothers who don’t know where to turn.
Thanks to sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, an endowment allowed an expansion of the program to all six counties in the diocese, including Butler, where Ashley learned how to better care for herself and her baby boy, who is now 9 months old.
“The support has really helped, having someone to talk to,” she said.
The program serves about 80 mothers and their children in the Butler area, according to regional director Amber Crowe. An “Earn While You Learn” incentive allows expectant and new moms — and fathers — to receive points for acquiring parenting skills, which they use to “shop” in the agency’s baby boutique filled with clothing, food, furniture and other needed items like strollers.
Parents learn how to feed, bathe and dress their baby, when to move from milk or formula to food, basic infancy CPR and the importance of never leaving their child alone.
About 70 percent of participants are single mothers with low or no income. The rest are two-parent households living paycheck to paycheck. They learn how to budget their money and enjoy being part of a community.
“The women tend to be isolated while caring for their children,” Crowe said. “A growing number of moms are suffering from post-partum depression.”
Rachel, a former client, wants to help. She is starting a support group for other program participants called “Mom Talk — How to Survive Age 0 to 5.” Her daughter just turned 2.
“I like being a mom, but it’s not easy,” she said. “Instead of getting angry or frustrated with the kids or worrying because there’s not enough money, we’re focusing on patience and being a good mom.”
Caseworker Sue Reinhart calls the approach a hand up, not a handout.
“We try to give them hope and excitement for the future,” she said. “This program has been a light to women who need hope, showing them that we really care.”
“The staff are able to support them and provide opportunities and resources for them to become effective parents,” said Susan Rauscher, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. “The program clearly demonstrates our willingness to not only support a woman in a crisis pregnancy but to continue that assistance until she is stable.
“All of our parents know that we care about them and want the very best for them as they welcome new life into the world.”
Transitional apartments in Downtown Pittsburgh for homeless pregnant women and new moms is no longer in operation, Rauscher said, but they will work with mothers in need until they can find a long-term housing solution such as partnering with other social service agencies.
Ashley said she attends church and is brimming with optimism as she leaves old habits and influences behind.
“I have no doubts about the future,” she said. “I plan to live in faith instead of fear.”