New initiative supports moms, dads and children from conception to age 5
Something happened when Eric Fredrickson stood before a judge in Pierce County’s family drug court, facing the possibility he could lose the right to raise his little boy.
“God got inside me,” said Fredrickson, remembering his decision that day in June 2014: “I’m going to find out how to fix this.”
Fixing the problem, which began when Fredrickson became addicted to painkillers and alcohol after a work injury in 2008, began with going to a 90-day inpatient drug treatment program in Spokane.
That’s where he met Carlos Alden, coordinator of the Fatherhood Project for Catholic Charities in Spokane. Alden stopped by to invite Fredrickson and other dads to join a weekly support group.
Through the Fatherhood Project, mentor dads meet with young fathers to share a meal and talk about being dads, and enjoy occasional social activities together. The goal is helping young dads build parenting skills and confidence in bonding with their children.
Fredrickson began attending, and found he looked forward to it each week.
“I really liked it because you didn’t need to be in any category. You didn’t need to have issues. All you had to be was a dad. That’s it,” he said. “And you could come and get some viable information to help improve your life and become a better dad, because that’s what I really want to be.”
Now, with more than a year of sobriety under his belt and back living in his hometown of Tacoma (where he attended St. Patrick School), Fredrickson is helping local parishes start a version of the Fatherhood Project.
The new Prepared Dads group, which began meeting in September at St. Patrick Parish in Tacoma, is part of Prepares, the new statewide pro-life outreach of Washington state’s bishops.
Christian and Eric Frederickson. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Walking with young parents
Officially launched at the bishops’ Cornerstone Catholic Conference in Tacoma last year, Prepares aims to “walk the journey” with moms and dads of young children, from conception to age 5. Some of these parents may be in crisis pregnancies, perhaps considering abortion. Others may be raising children alone, or without a healthy support network.
Prepares is an umbrella for programs and services to support these pregnant and parenting families. Services may include matching them with mentors or providing for more immediate needs, like diapers and clothing.
What makes Prepares different from other efforts is its focus on both moms and dads, with support available until children start school, rather than just until age 1 or 2, explained Erin Maguire, Prepares area coordinator for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.
Key to the success of Prepares is establishing parish-based services throughout the archdiocese. So far, the response has been encouraging.
“I have never been a part of a program like this that has received so much momentum,” Maguire said. After Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson introduced Prepares at the Cornerstone Conference, “immediately I had about 300 people contact me saying they were interested in being a part of Prepares, and that’s just here in the archdiocese,” she said.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain sent a letter to all pastors in the archdiocese to introduce the program, Maguire said, and she has met with some pastors individually or at deanery meetings. Already, Maguire is working with volunteers at parishes in Kitsap County, Kirkland, Tacoma, Seattle, Deming and Bellingham, and is planning orientation sessions at St. Joseph parishes in Vancouver and Seattle.
Each parish will decide what services to offer, and will provide volunteers and any funding needed for their efforts. CCS is providing volunteer training and support in Western Washington, as well as its own services, such as client intake, counseling and referrals for adoption and urgent needs, that build on the agency’s existing programs, Maguire said.
Prepares is also intended to grow from a parish’s existing services — such as the Gabriel Project for women in crisis
pregnancies — but not replace them.
“There are a lot of parishes that already have a lot of great services going on. Let’s not do what they’re doing,” Maguire said. “It will be fun to see what cool ideas people will come up with.”
Kathy Kelso, left, works with six parishes as lead Prepares volunteer in Whatcom County. Key to the success of the new initiative are parish-based volunteers like Betty Davenport, far right, and Rosemarie Desjardins, members of St. Mary’s Guild at St. Joseph Parish in Ferndale. The women presented Kelso with $500 and baby items collected by the parish.
Parishes design participation
In June, three parishes in the Bellingham area decided to start the Prepares program by collecting baby clothing and necessities in a “traveling crib,” distributing “Prepares bags” filled with age-appropriate items for young children, becoming mentors to those in need, and eventually offering parenting classes. At least 14 volunteers are already on board.
By August, the group had collected enough baby items to help more than 160 families, and mentors in the group were assisting three pregnant women: two on the verge of homelessness who were referred by CCS in Seattle, and a teenager who came to a weekly breakfast offered by St. Peter Mission in Deming.
“It’s like everything’s coming really fast,” said Kathy Kelso, who in July became the lead Prepares volunteer for six Whatcom County parishes: Church of the Assumption and Sacred Heart in Bellingham, St. Joseph in Lynden, St. Peter Mission, St. Joseph in Ferndale and St. Anne Mission in Blaine.
An Assumption parishioner who also attends Sacred Heart, Kelso has been involved in pro-life work for about five years. She has held signs outside Planned Parenthood and volunteered at an ecumenical crisis pregnancy center, and leads a pro-life rosary group in her parish.
Kelso feels God is calling her to work with Prepares, and she hopes many more people in parishes join its pro-life work.
“To be personally involved, I think, can make a big difference in our society,” Kelso said. “We want to bring families back together. I think it’s great if we can get Catholics to be involved and walk for a while with families.”
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Sharing fatherhood insights
When Fredrickson found out he and his fiancée, Amanda Wood, were going to be parents, it was a surprise, “but we were definitely happy,” he said. Their son, Christian, was born in September 2012, and Fredrickson remembers thinking having a baby would help him change his life for the better.
But in November 2013, when Fredrickson was found unconscious from an overdose, Child Protective Services stepped in. Christian was placed with Fredrickson’s parents, and any visits had to be supervised by the state.
“That’s the wake-up call,” Fredrickson said. “The state stepped in and said, ‘Look here, partner, we don’t let people like you be dads.’”
He knew he had to make changes to keep Christian in his life, and he needed some tools to do it.
While undergoing treatment in Spokane, Fredrickson gained new parenting skills by taking baby and toddler classes and joining the fatherhood group, which he said benefitted both the young dads and the volunteer mentor dads.
“It was neat to just have this group of people that probably ordinarily wouldn’t mix, mixing, and talking about some solutions” and offering insights about being a dad, Fredrickson said.
Although the Spokane group is facilitated by Alden, a professional therapist, the Tacoma group will be a parish ministry, organized by volunteer mentor dads like Joe Devlin of St. Patrick’s.
Devlin has been talking up the program with fellow Knights of Columbus members in the area. He tells them the bishops recommend Prepares and that Maguire has identified a need for a dads program in the Tacoma area, “so we’re trying to get it going,” Devlin said.
At a Tacoma workshop in August, Alden said he thinks the new Tacoma group — sponsored by St. Patrick, St. Charles Borromeo and Visitation parishes — will be a success.
“Even though you think, ‘We’re just sitting around talking about being a dad and having pizza,’ you’re offering so much of yourself and so much compassion that it can’t help but have a positive effect,” Alden said.
The goal, he said, is for young people with families to be good parents: “It’s better for them, better for the kids, and it helps them in this whole pro-life movement.”
Photo: Stephen Brashear
What is Prepares?
Prepares is a nurturing response of the Catholic community of Washington state to assist pregnant women, fathers and their families by walking the journey from conception to their child’s fifth birthday. Learn more or donate at www.preparesforlife.org. Keep up-to-date on Prepares events at facebook.com/PreparesWW/events.
Five ways to join Prepares
- Mentor a young mother
- Fill and distribute Prepares bags
- Start a fatherhood or parent support group
- Create a clothing closet at your parish
- Teach life skills to young parents
Northwest Catholic - October 2015