In the past three years, 5,000 families and children across the state have experienced the compassionate support of Prepares.
Their stories are varied: a grandmother suddenly raising two toddlers, a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy, a mom needing help to get through postpartum depression.
“The vast majority of families that come to us are somehow walking through parenthood alone,” said Erin Maguire, Western Washington coordinator for Prepares. The initiative was launched by Washington state’s bishops in 2014 to provide families assistance as needed, from pregnancy through a child’s fifth birthday.
“It’s been incredible to be able to respond to families when they contact us,” Maguire said. “Of course, it’s our Catholic community responding.”
Prepares has brought together parishes, Catholic schools and other organizations to respond at the local level to families in need — whether that’s conducting a diaper drive, donating basic necessities or serving as a companion to a mom, providing her with emotional and social support.
Statewide, Prepares has some 700 volunteers in nearly 120 parishes (50 parishes in Western Washington). In the Archdiocese of Seattle, the program is administered by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, but the parishes and their volunteers are the key players, with the CCS staff checking in monthly, Maguire explained.
The variety of ways to help has allowed volunteers to find their niche and has attracted parishioners who usually aren’t involved in parish ministries, Maguire said.
“You just have to have a spirit of wanting to walk with another family,” she said.
‘A listening heart for another’
Prepares hadn’t yet come to Sheila Davis’ parish in Everett, but when she learned that a local mom was seeking help from Prepares, she felt compelled to respond.
Parishioners can fill and distribute Prepares bags with essential items for babies and children. Photo: Stephen Brashear
“I thought, ‘This doesn’t seem so bad, I can be somebody’s friend,” said Davis, a member of Immaculate Conception/Our Lady of Perpetual Help in north Everett. She wasn’t afraid to reach out to the mom, but “I think I was more nervous [about] what I was going to be able to do to help,” Davis recalled.
Companions, Maguire said, don’t have to do anything complicated. Just being there for emotional support can make a big difference to a mom who is feeling doubt or stress.
When visiting parishes around the state to explain Prepares, Maguire said, she and her colleagues were surprised to find a lot of parishioners interested in becoming companions. “That is a much deeper dive and a deeper ministry, because you are agreeing to be in relationship with another person, having a listening heart for another person,” Maguire said.
Davis said she gives as much time to being a companion as she gives to a friendship. “It’s not hard. And it makes you feel good,” she said. “I want more people, particularly in my parish, to be more excited about Prepares.”
Besides making a difference for parents in need, “what we know now is there’s this incredible transformation in our volunteers as well,” Maguire said. “I’ve been able to see people’s faith deepen.”
Some volunteers “have never had an encounter with someone in poverty," she said. Seeing the resilience of those in need “makes you grateful, of course, for your own life,” she added.
The Spirit at work
In January 2017, Davis was asked to head up the Prepares ministry at her two parishes in north Everett, to help respond to the need in Snohomish County.
Since then, the parishes have used a “traveling crib,” setting up a crib at church and having parishioners fill it with items for babies and children. “Everybody loves that,” Davis said.
She also started “St. Gemma’s Closet” in the faith formation building at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where she is collecting clothes, diapers, highchairs and coats. “When we get more mothers, I hope to have them come and get what they need,” Davis said.
Davis feels the Holy Spirit at work in the effort. Out of the blue, a parishioner donated $800 to be used for whatever was needed, just at the time cash was needed to get a mom into an apartment. Davis has received several voicemails saying, “I hear from a friend that you need companions and I’m interested.”
Things are happening and people in her parishes are talking about Prepares. “It surprises me a little bit,” Davis said. “It’s something that I think God really wants to get going up here.”
- Mentor a young mother
- Fill and distribute Prepares bags
- Start a parent support group
- Establish a clothing closet at your parish
- Host a baby shower or traveling crib
- Join a prayer group
- Create or join a Prepares committee at your parish
- Donate items or money