By Sarah Bahn (Estimated reading time: 7 minutes)
While PEPS focuses on programming in the Puget Sound region, parents everywhere need support and connection. Luckily, our parent peer-support model has expanded to other parts of the country through our Network Partners program. PEPS created this Network Partners program in 2014 to enable other nonprofits to use the PEPS model and curriculum in their communities.
We recently caught up with one of our nine Network Partners, Triangle Area Parenting Support (TAPS), in North Carolina. TAPS is a nonprofit that works in Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, and surrounding communities in North Carolina to support parents using the PEPS model. We spoke with Monica Richardson, the Founder and Executive Director (and past PEPS parent!), to discuss TAPS, the organization’s partnership with PEPS, and how the pandemic has impacted TAPS programming.
Monica Richardson grew up in Durham and lived in Seattle when she participated in a PEPS group with her first child in 2010. During that time, many of Monica’s friends back home in North Carolina expressed a desire to participate in a program like PEPS after hearing about her experience. There were church community groups available for new parents in the Triangle Area. Still, those programs didn’t provide specific education around issues like Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, colic, or developmental delays. Some of Monica’s friends even had Postpartum Depression that went untreated.
Monica earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the Evans School at the University of Washington during her time in Seattle. Based on her positive experience with PEPS, the feedback from her friends back home about the need for a parent support program there, and her newly acquired knowledge around the intricacies of starting a nonprofit, Monica was uniquely positioned to fill the need for parent support in the Triangle Area. “When I shared my idea with my PEPS group while we were still in Seattle, they were so encouraging. Their constant cheerleading helped me finish my degree and lay out the plans for what steps to take next,” Monica reflected. With a skeleton plan laid out, Monica and her family moved back to North Carolina, and began exploring the idea of creating a pilot group there using the PEPS model.
With advice and support from PEPS staff around program design, the first TAPS parent peer-support group finished in 2016 when Monica was 37 weeks pregnant with her third child. Participants from that initial pilot group went on to become Board Members of the organization and TAPS officially formed into 501(c)(3) nonprofit, becoming one of the first PEPS Network Partners. Partnering with PEPS allowed TAPS to avoid reinventing the wheel, using PEPS training materials, videos, and curriculum to launch their program. “Working with PEPS just made sense to me and my new board agreed that parents in the Triangle would really benefit from it,” Monica remarked. Since its founding, TAPS has expanded its programming to include Prenatal PEPS Groups, Newborn PEPS Groups, weekly drop-in support programs, groups for Spanish-speaking families, and PEPS play groups.
Shifts During the Pandemic
A couple of weeks before the country shut down due to COVID-19, TAPS started its first bilingual English-Spanish group. The group was meeting in a local community center and mainly consisted of lower-income Spanish-speaking families. When only two moms showed up the first week, TAPS staff wanted to figure out the best way to connect with families who had been verbally enthusiastic about the program but didn’t attend the in-person meetings.
To determine the best way to build connection and support among families who were now more isolated than ever due to the pandemic, Monica reached out to another PEPS Network Partner, Partners In Parenting (PIP), in Austin, Texas. PIP shared that some families they were serving had expressed interest in meeting for regular video calls with their staff. They also discussed the prevalence of WhatsApp as a common way for Spanish-speaking families to communicate with family members in other countries.
From there, Monica worked with PIP staff member Marcia Del Rios to devise a plan to convert the typical two-hour weekly in-person parent support program to make it compatible with families’ capacities by using WhatsApp, a secure mobile text and video messaging service. This program would allow families to benefit from connection and support from other parents without requiring the time and resources to meet at the same time every week. “When we started meeting this way, we were surprised and delighted by how much all the families contributed to the group virtually. Suddenly, all of the families who had signed up were interacting with each other every day, sharing videos of their kids, asking for advice from each other, and offering to help each other out when challenges arose,” Monica shared.
The WhatsApp curriculum divided meeting components throughout the week rather than covering all the topics in one meeting. On Mondays, participants discussed their highs and lows from the week. On Tuesdays, they covered Developmental Moments. Wednesdays and Thursdays were reserved for discussion of specific topics. Video calls were added in to create social time to build connection. After TAPS piloted the program, PIP did an official translation of the materials into Spanish. In September of 2020, a new staff member was hired at TAPS to develop the curriculum guide further and ensure it focused on local resources.
Highs and Lows
TAPS and PIP found that the new WhatsApp program worked very well for Spanish-speaking families already using the app to communicate with family members. When the WhatsApp model was used with English-speaking families, there was more pushback due to a lack of familiarity with the messaging app. Learning new technology to access parent support felt like too much for some new parents who were already overwhelmed.
In addition to technical challenges, some participants were reluctant to have deep conversations and build meaningful connections virtually. Participants were hesitant for the first few weeks. Still, facilitators helped build trust and comfort by doing one-on-one follow-up through personal phone calls, checking in on families regularly, and providing support with connecting the families to resources. “One of our recent participants shared with us that this program was literally the BEST thing to happen to her postpartum. We couldn’t be more thrilled with how well this modification is able to break down barriers to accessing the social and emotional support that parents need.” Monica commented.
The innovative partnership between TAPS and PIP to develop the WhatsApp curriculum has also benefitted other PEPS Network Partners. When PEPS began partnering with NISO Programs (a local organization serving Latinx families with children 0-5) for Spanish-language parent support groups, they also found themselves needing to pivot during the pandemic. Thanks to TAPS and PIP, NISO could use WhatsApp to overcome the hurdles of connecting families with different schedules and babies of different ages.
The PEPS Network Partners program makes building connections between organizations like TAPS and PIP easier by promoting collaboration and innovation between organizations in different parts of the country. As TAPS looks forward to future years, they hope to follow the footsteps PEPS is taking to expand programs to serve more diverse communities. TAPS is currently in the midst of a strategic planning process that includes exploring opportunities to reach parents of children with disabilities, similar to PEPS Little Wonders, a pilot program offered through a partnership between PEPS and Wonderland Child and Family Services. TAPS is also following PEPS’ trajectory by developing affinity groups for single parents, adoptive parents, and LGBTQIA+ families.
The PEPS Network model allows organizations in other parts of the country to use PEPS resources to build out parent support programs in their communities. Access to the PEPS curriculum and training resources alleviates some of the effort required to start a new program from scratch while leaving room for organizations to adjust the curriculum to fit their communities’ specific needs. The partnership between TAPS, PIP, and PEPS to develop the WhatsApp curriculum is a prime example of the power of leaning on partners to adjust programs to best meet the needs of community members in a time of unprecedented social isolation.
Interested in learning more about the organizations we partner with? Visit our Collaborations page to learn more.