Amy Tarabokia’s son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006 just shy of his fourth birthday, and received his last treatment in 2009 on his seventh birthday. She notes that there are many support groups for families but very few, if any, just for moms. "Moms take care of everyone else and tend to put themselves 'on the back burner'.” One of the things she remembers most vividly is the overwhelming feeling of isolation, particularly when Nicholas was quarantined and her “only outlet was the phone.” She tried to stay positive but there was a “constant dark cloud” hovering over her. The Valerie Fund Mom2Mom program gives moms a way to connect with kindred spirits who understand what it means to have a sick child because they have been there themselves.
The program’s mission is to offer peer support to mothers of children with special needs through its helpline and support groups. The project employs two Valerie Fund Mom Peer Supporters within the Mom2Mom call center. They work part-time, in four-hour shifts. In year one, these individuals received extensive training at the Mom2Mom call center. They were taught how to (1) interact with callers to the toll-free Mom2Mom helpline; (2) co-facilitate support groups; and (3) reach out to Valerie Fund moms through calls, visits to Center locations, and visits to in-patient moms.
Tarabokia is thrilled to be able to help others in her role as the first Mom Peer Supporter. As she put it, “My son is alive and my family is intact. I can give hope to another mom that she will get through this diagnosis, get through that day.” With a service such as Mom2Mom, “We can bond in so many places, connect and talk about ourselves and our own mental health so we can help our kids. It’s hard to connect with someone who hasn’t been through it, but with another mom who has had a sick child there is an instant understanding and compassion.”
Social workers work with Mom2Mom to develop a comprehensive outreach and marketing effort to maximize awareness of the project within the Valerie Fund parent community. Mom Peer Supporters also organize and implement four outreach events and begin to integrate the service into additional Centers as needed. Staff make follow-up calls at regular intervals to maintain support for each case. Mom Peer Supporters are also informed of new diagnoses by social workers and reach out to moms at that time. While Mom Peer Supporters received extensive training, they are always a few feet away from the “access center” staffed by specially trained mental health professionals and clinicians. For TVF Board member Debra Gelband, funding the Mom2Mom Project was nonnegotiable. “I wasn’t leaving that board meeting until I convinced everyone how important this was for the kids,” she says. A critical part of The Valerie Fund mission is to safeguard the emotional well-being of the child. In order to do so, the primary caregiver—usually the mom—has to be strong enough to support the family and deal with other stresses such as work and finances. The Mom2Mom Project is one important way that moms of Valerie Fund patients may acquire these coping skills.
Debra visited the call center before the board meeting and was impressed with the organization, particularly the people who work there. “You can see the passion they have for giving emotional strength to others and making a positive difference in many people’s lives.”