Stefan Hard Staff File Photo
Good Beginnings of Central Vermont worker Katie O’Rourke, left, works with a young East Montpelier mom and her baby in 2011. Good Beginnings helpers work with young families having their first child, teaching parenting skills and providing blankets, diapers and other staple items.
Bringing home baby is a momentous event and Good Beginnings of Central Vermont is there to help a family transition as smoothly as possible.
“Anyone who is a parent understands what the transition is like when having a baby for the first time. It’s a vulnerable time and a stressful time, but it’s also a really magical, happy time,” says Alison Lamagna, 34, the executive director of Good Beginnings of Central Vermont, a nonprofit organization committed to helping families provide the best possible start for their new babies.
“What Good Beginnings is trying to do is build community supports for families during the first few months after birth. Generations ago, and in other cultures, families all lived together and that was a built-in natural support — there were grandmothers and aunts and mothers and relatives who were always there with an extra pair of hands; they were role modeling, setting examples, helping each other. Today that just isn’t there,” says Lamagna.
Good Beginnings was started in 1991 by three mothers and operated out of one the founder’s homes in Northfield for 21 years. In 2012, one of the founders retired from her post as executive director and leadership was passed on to Lamagna, a Montpelier resident and a mother of two young children who had been a volunteer coordinator for Good Beginnings.
With new leadership come both new opportunities and new challenges for Lamagna and her assistant director, Lauriana Capone, as they bring Good Beginnings into 2013. They recently moved into an office building on River Street in Montpelier, and they now have a website and a presence on Facebook.
“It’s been a really big transition — there have been a lot of challenges but also a lot of exciting stuff, new energy and new ideas. We’re both contemporary parents with little kids, so we’re trying to relate to the population that we serve,” says Lamagna.
“It was a kitchen table operation,” adds Capone. “Moving into Montpelier and having the exposure of the office, and the space and the foot traffic that we’ve been getting has contributed a lot to being refreshed.”
Between moving everything to the new office, updating their paper files to electronic versions, reestablishing relationships with the community agencies and organizations that Good Beginnings has worked with for the past two decades, as well as implementing new programs and creating a new face and new image, the two women have been busy.
The rejuvenation of the organization has increased self-referrals and Lamagna says the need for volunteers has likewise increased. Good Beginnings, in their efforts to promote health and security for families and children in the critical time just after the birth of a new baby, matches families with a trained volunteer from their community. The volunteer makes weekly visits to the home for one to three hours, generally for up to 12 weeks.
“We’re looking to make sure families have a healthy, stable environment right from the get go, so that there is the best potential for the child to develop and grow for the family’s overall success,” says Lamagna.
In that vein, she says, they are flexible and can extend visitations well past the three-month mark.
“We see families through to competency and stability, and make sure their most pressing needs are being met,” says Lamagna. “The home visitors will do a variety of things in the home including baby care, respite for the mother, whatever she needs; role modeling, mentorship, listening and encouraging, building a mother’s confidence.”
Lindsay, a mother in Waterbury Center, has had a volunteer come for about four months for both of her children — the first is now two and the newest member of the family is five months old.
“Good Beginnings is awesome. I was happy and surprised that the same volunteer I’d had for my first daughter could come. She’s just really wonderful and helpful. It was great to see that friendly, loving face again,” says Lindsay.
Though initially she was nervous about having someone come to the house, she says comfort was established quickly and a friendship has emerged from their time together. Volunteers are trained, and undergo background checks with references. Though they may come from all different backgrounds, all have some experience with infants and small children. The Good Beginnings’ volunteers also serve as bridges to community resources, connecting families with the resources they need to meet their needs.
“Whether it’s a referral for postpartum depression, resources for housing, furthering education, we are that link for them,” Lamagna says. “A relationship builds to a friendship, really. There is a trust formed, so families can ask for help and the volunteer can give them that help whether it’s with forms or phone calls, or simply to direct them to the nearest play group.”
Coming up on Saturday April 13th, Good Beginnings of Central Vermont will host their first Baby and Child Expo at Montpelier High School. Lamagna says it’s their first large-scale fundraiser. While the nonprofit is funded mostly through private foundation grants and some state and federal monies, the upcoming fundraiser will help Good Beginnings continue in their efforts to promote early bonding, early literacy, and also male mentorship.
Part of the expo will feature so-called “baby wearing.” Good Beginnings has a partnership with a group called Central Vermont Baby Wearers, as part of promoting early bonding. The group visits once a month and offers instruction and support to mothers and fathers, answering questions and helping them get comfortable with different carriers for their babies. Good Beginnings offers infant carriers at wholesale cost on a sliding scale basis.
“We’ve recognized over the years that part of the challenge for families to be able to do this [baby wearing] is the cost of the equipment,” says Lamagna.
They also have gently used clothing (maternity and infant) and baby gear, and can also help procure any item that a family might need.
Another weekly group meeting at the Good Beginnings office in the winter months is Mamas Circle. Each week they have a topic to start conversations ranging from healthy meals and stress relief to making handmade toys and communicating with your partner. They are sometimes able to have professionals from the community come in and do series on relevant topics.
“The goal is to reduce or prevent isolation. Moms with new babies are often feeling really isolated in Vermont in the winter, particularly if they live outside of the larger towns. This is a good way for moms to come in, be together, and receive support from their peers,” says Lamagna.
Countless families in the central Vermont area have been touched by Good Beginnings, and Lamagna hopes to find more volunteers so that the number of families served can continue to grow.
For more information about Good Beginnings and the Baby and Child Expo you can visit www.goodbeginningscentralvt.org, call 802-595-7953, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.MORE IN Central Vermont
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