‘Prepares’ volunteer opens her heart to support young families

Pam Ames spearheads the Prepares ministry at her parish, helping meet essential needs for young families. Photo: Stephen Brashear Pam Ames spearheads the Prepares ministry at her parish, helping meet essential needs for young families. Photo: Stephen Brashear

Her first love, Pam Ames says, is her big family — eight siblings and their families, five adult children and 10 grandchildren.

But she has always had plenty of room in her heart to help other families, something she has been doing most of her life.

So when she retired after 40 years as a childbirth educator and La Leche League leader, “I was definitely looking for another means to help young families,” said Ames, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Lynden.

She heard about Prepares, the parish-based volunteer program launched by the state’s bishops in 2014 to support families of young children, from pregnancy to age 5. Ames signed up for a volunteer training session in Bellingham and came away impressed with a program that helps anyone in need, not just Catholics.

“That resonated with me,” Ames said. “As a cradle Catholic, we grew up thinking if you can do something for someone else, you should do something for someone else.”

And she knew the importance of supporting families during a child’s early years, to benefit both child and parent.

Before she and her husband started their family, Ames was a kindergarten teacher who saw students affected by a lack of love in their families. After becoming a mother, she wanted to continue helping other families and found her niche with childbirth education. It’s a way to encourage and mentor families, to help them “love these little people, because that’s where it all starts,” she said.

Now, as the Prepares coordinator at St. Joseph and St. Peter Mission in Deming, Ames and her volunteers are helping young families with necessities like diapers and clothing.

Ames, who has been involved for more than three years, initially trained to be a Prepares companion, a volunteer who journeys with a mother or family. So far, she hasn’t found someone wanting an ongoing relationship, “so I had to find other ways to really help the program to do what it’s designed to do,” Ames said.

With “zero budget,” she created two annual events at her parish: a fill-the-crib clothing and diaper drive in March and a baby shower in September to collect clothing and other items. (With COVID, of course, the in-person events couldn’t be held in 2020.)

Ames “is passionate about Prepares and helping moms in need,” said Carol Ryan, a regional coordinator for the program. “She is truly a gift for Prepares.”

A lot of need

Prepares offers support and activities for families, who may struggle to meet basic needs or may not have a support system to provide companionship and mentoring. In Western Washington, 77 parishes are engaged in Prepares, with 133 trained volunteers doing outreach directly to families, assisted by many more volunteers who do important work behind the scenes, according to Ryan.

During the year ending in June 2020, nearly 400 moms participated in parent support programs and 47 moms were matched with companions. Parishes around the archdiocese held 124 events such as baby showers, diaper drives and traveling cribs. As a result, parishes distributed thousands of essential items, including diapers, wipes, clothing and car seats.

“These events happen yearly; we can’t provide support for the moms without the hard work and support we receive from the parishes,” Ryan said. (See box for details on the bishops’ statewide fundraising campaign to help expand the reach of Prepares.)

An annual baby shower at St. Joseph in Lynden (canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic) honors parishioners with young children and gathers gifts for moms in the community. Photo: Courtesy Pam Ames

The traditional-style baby shower hosted at St. Joseph gathers parishioners to honor “any little new people in our parish under 3 years of age” and their mothers, Ames said.

The parish moms receive children’s Bibles and quilts made by parishioners. Gifts brought by those attending go into “Prepares bags” that are filled at the end of the shower and later distributed to families in the community.

There is a lot of need in the area, although it seems to be somewhat hidden, Ames said. So she has used the power of networking to find families in need. Family services coordinators at local grade schools have been “my eyes and ears,” she said, at times calling her with direct requests.

One summer, Ames took an unexpected donation of handmade baby blankets, bundled them with essential items, and delivered them to berry farms to help migrant families. The area has many Spanish-speaking families in need, Ames said, and a continuing challenge is finding bilingual volunteers to help with outreach.

Each year, Ames and volunteers distribute about 150 Prepares bags. They usually include diapers, wipes, clothing, information about age-appropriate activities, and a book or toy. “We try to have one fun thing as well as the necessities,” Ames said.

The items are donated or purchased with cash donations. “When the money comes in, I use it up,” Ames said. “I pray that more will come in, and it usually does.”

Such signs of divine providence aren’t rare.

A Lynden consignment shop contacted Ames, offering to give Prepares store credit when parishioners donate clothing and it sells. Then Ames can purchase items needed for the bags, or give families gift certificates to shop there.

“That has bridged the gap several times when we had no money,” she said.

And last March, the Prepares crib for the annual diaper/clothing drive had only been up one week when the pandemic shut everything down. Ames gathered up the few donations that had been placed in the crib.

“Here’s the cool thing,” she said. “What was in it was exactly what was requested for the next request that I got.”

Through her work with Prepares, Ames said, “I’ve just been amazed by seeing how God provides just what is needed when it’s needed.”

Open your heart

The bishops of Washington state launched the Prepares program in October 2014 to support families of young children, from pregnancy to age 5.

Six years later, about half of the state’s 309 parishes are participating in the program, which helps vulnerable families meet basic needs, provides one-on-one companionship and mentoring, and offers activities like play groups and parent support groups. Services are free of charge and open to people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Today, Prepares has nearly 600 trained volunteers who served more than 7,200 families across the state during the year ending June 30, 2020.

Now the bishops are launching a statewide fundraising campaign to help expand the reach of Prepares into more parishes and communities. The program is a way Catholics can “‘walk our talk’ about celebrating the gift of life and making sure that no child – born or unborn – is ever abandoned or alone,” according to the campaign flyer.

The campaign is underwritten by Knights of Columbus Seattle Council 676, which means 100% of donations will go directly to serve families in need.

Learn more about Prepares and donate at preparesforlife.org.

Northwest Catholic – January/February 2021

 

 

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at [email protected].
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Jean Parietti es editora local para el sitio web NWCatholic.org y destacada editora de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic. Pueden contactarle en: [email protected].