Most of us support PEPS for similar reasons. Maybe we were in a PEPS group ourselves, know and love someone who was, or lead PEPS groups in our spare time. Digging down, though, beyond our own experiences, I bet we are all compelled by the belief that no parent deserves to be alone. We want every new parent to find community and support.
Over time, organizations go through seasons of change…sometimes rapid periods of growth, sometimes moments of crisis, sometimes steady years of stabilization. The last few years for PEPS have been a season of transformation…of grounding and soul searching…of listening to the communities we have served – as well as those we haven’t – and charting our course to meet their needs.
Three years ago, we set out to make our programming even more accessible and inclusive. This was a new beginning, followed by many more to come. Most significantly, PEPS made the commitment to center on racial equity. For PEPS, this means not only being more inclusive and responsive to diversity, but also partnering with organizations who are leading equity efforts in the community, sharing resources, and using our voices to speak up about disparities that exist for parents and babies. As well, it means working within our community and PEPS groups to explore child development and community-building through a social identity lens.
We have learned and accomplished a great deal over the past year. With the help of many of you, we made significant investments in our curriculum and Group Leader support. To ensure that our program is as inclusive and responsive as possible, we conducted an anti-bias review of our curriculum and Leader training. Through this project, we added new topics that PEPS groups can cover, such as social identity development and race and identity. We also created and launched a new Leader training video on culturally responsive facilitation.
To assist Group Leaders in supporting parents in better understanding and shaping their babies’ healthy development, we created a new developmental moment guide for Leaders to use at each meeting. In an effort to uplift representative community leadership, we are now hosting Leader recruitment and training in each of our regions across King and Snohomish counties.
To expand access to PEPS, we launched a new flexible pricing model and did away with our standard participation fee. We now have a model where every expectant parent interested in our program, can sign up for a PEPS Group by choosing one of four fee options or opting for full financial assistance. This equitable model allows those who can, to pay a little more, thereby making lower program fees possible for those who may need it.
In this video, you can hear a bit more from these partners. We have worked alongside an incredible organization, Open Arms, over the past year. Open Arms provides culturally and linguistically-specific birth doulas to low-income, expectant parents. Together, we offered three PEPS groups for Spanish-speaking mothers. We have been so inspired from watching these groups grow and seeing leadership emerge from the participants involved.
We have also partnered for just over a year now with Cocoon House, Compass Health, and Snohomish Health District to offer 3 PEPS groups for teen parents who attend Crossroads Alternative High School. Not only are these moms building resilience and community together, they are also getting high school credit while they do it.
We served almost 4,000 parents in 2018. While this is a record for PEPS, we will not be slowing down anytime soon because babies are being born by the minute and there are many parents who are welcoming them without a community to lean on. So, we will keep forging ahead. We have big plans and new beginnings for 2019 and the years to come.
We will continue to partner with and learn from leaders in our community like Open Arms and Cocoon House. We will also form new partnerships with organizations like Valley Medical, Mercy Housing, Child Strive, and Southwest Youth and Family Services, to name a few. We will continue to adapt and respond to the needs of parents across our region.
I am thrilled to share with you about two new areas PEPS will be exploring in 2019.
You all know we are here for you when your kids are young…what about when they grow a bit older? For the first time ever, PEPS will be traversing the new terrain of serving parents of teenagers. This has been a need in our community that has been expressed to us for years, and we are ready to respond. Much like the early years of a baby’s life, the adolescent period is one of intense development, which presents amazing opportunities – and challenges. We have heard loud and clear that parents need community and support during this critical period of their child’s development.
More exciting news – PEPS has committed to be an organization that engages in advocacy efforts on a local and statewide level. The disparities that exist for children and families in our region are too dire for us not to speak up. We will be partnering with organizations and coalitions who are leading the way in racial equity work to advocate for policies and legislation that improve conditions for families who are the most impacted by inequities. For example, together, our voices could help push policy makers to make childcare more accessible or join forces with Open Arms call for expanding Medicaid to cover home visiting or doula services.
This year, we will be developing our platform and enlisting members of our community to help. We need the help of YOU and the thousands of families in our PEPS community. Thank you for showing up for parents and for joining forces with us as we advocate for a healthy start for all parents and babies.
Jessica Lawmaster is the Executive Director of PEPS and a mother of three young daughters. Jessica earned her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Oklahoma and is passionate about supporting ways to empower and build resilience in families. Jessica and her family moved to Seattle in 2016 and are fully enjoying exploring the culture, opportunities, and natural beauty the city has to offer. Contact Jessica at jessical [at] peps [dot] org.