Featured Volunteer: Katja Petersen

Five years ago, Katja Petersen and her husband joined a PEPS group. “We are both originally from Mexico. When we were pregnant with our first child, we found ourselves with no support network. Thankfully, a friend of ours introduced us to PEPS,” Katja said.

“The experience of being an immigrant is not easy because people we love are far away. We are forced to build relationships and connections with people that might not speak our language, might not understand our culture, traditions, way of life nor food preferences, or even how we eat,” she added. “Having a baby under these circumstances is very hard. In our case, we were very lucky, because my family was able to fly in and help us out for a while. But many immigrants are not that lucky.”

Neither she nor her husband had experience with a support group and did not know what to expect. It can be challenging, even awkward at that first PEPS meeting, but Katja said, “As the weeks went by we became more comfortable. Soon we began to look forward to the meeting each week.”

She continued, “We enjoyed sharing highs and lows, moreover the sharing of tips and resources between families. We found in PEPS a great place to find help and build our own local support network.”

Katja and her husband had a PEPS experience much like any new parent, and their group was ethnically and racially diverse. Still, Katja explained that “In our group, we were the only Spanish speaking couple. Initially, we thought that the culture clash would be an issue,” and they also worried that it would difficult to express their experiences and feelings in English, a language, Katja said, “that is not your own.” But, she continued, “that was not the case. Notwithstanding our differences, we always felt part of the group, we became fast friends.” They remain close almost 6 years later with two of those couples. “It is great to watch our kids play with their ‘friends from when they were babies,’” as her son describes his PEPS friends.

When her second baby was a couple of months old, Katja decided to lead an evening PEPS group, wanting to share her own experience with other parents. “The first thing I realized is that many couples are looking for a guide to teach them how to be parents,” she said, “And that is not the job of a PEPS Group Leader.”

Katja has a wonderful way to describe the role of the PEPS Group Leader: “The job of a PEPS Group Leader is to help create a support network with the other parents by facilitating meetings and sharing the different resources available to them.” And, she adds, ”For me, leading the group is easy. The hard part is not to overshare and tell them what to do.” Although she described it as “a little bit overwhelming,” Katja enjoyed experience of leading the group: “I loved the feeling of knowing I made a difference in their lives.”

Currently Katja has been leading a daytime PEPS group, attended by new moms: “I have found that it is very different from leading an evening group, which are often attended by two parents. I found that moms get to know each other faster, but having partners in evening groups broadens the topic discussions. With partners sharing together, it is easier to appreciate the different points of view that all parents can bring to a single situation.”

Katja notes that “since joining PEPS, I have learned a lot about parenting and the importance of a support network. Sharing my experiences with other parents has helped me understand that I am not alone. That I share many of their concerns and challenges. It has helped me identify strategies for my own family. In addition, I learned that there are multiple resources available for new parents.”

Katja is a mom to 2 boys, and also an experienced educator. PEPS is grateful to Katja for volunteering her time as a PEPS Group Leader and supporting new families in our community. Thank you, Katja!

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