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Moms 'earn while they learn'

Respect Life program offers education and material help to women in crisis pregnancies

Susana Pando-Taupier holds a baby girl jumpsuit that can be purchased with 3

Photographer: ANNE DIBERNARDO | FC

Susana Pando-Taupier holds a baby girl jumpsuit that can be purchased with 3 "mommy dollars" from the South Dade Pregnancy Care Center.

MIAMI — Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This ancient proverb is the philosophy behind “Earn While You Learn,” an enrichment program for pregnant couples offered by the Archdiocese of Miami Respect Life Ministry.

The Earn While You Learn program was developed by pro-life champion Dinah Monahan as a catalyst to make a positive impact on young women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy. The program is open to new moms and dads and prepares them to meet and embrace the challenges of having a newborn.

By participating in the program, moms earn “baby bucks” to purchase new items from the center’s “baby boutique” — an in-center store stocked with new or gently used cribs, strollers, and high chairs either donated by benefactors or purchased by the Respect Life Ministry.

“We are not a diaper depot or a revolving door. We are here to enrich somebody’s life and you don’t necessarily do that by handing things out,” said Joan Crown, archdiocesan respect life director.

According to Crown, the Earn While You Learn program was met with resistance by some of the volunteers when it was first introduced. They reasoned, “The people who donate these items don’t want us to put any unnecessary burdens on the mothers.”

But those concerns quickly faded. Crown points out that everyone is reacting very positively to the program and it is actually doing wonders for participants’ self-esteem.

“Unless you’ve been on the receiving end of a hand-out, it may be difficult to understand how strong that feeling is — that I’m not worth much because I have to go begging for stuff.”

In the past, the Respect Life Ministry would give away items to anyone who came by the pregnancy center. Government agencies and community centers would send women to the Respect Life pregnancy care centers to pick up “free stuff.” Every pregnant woman who comes in still receives a layette, but for the larger items, unless there are extenuating circumstances, it is now a requirement to come to the class and participate in the program.

The goal of Earn While You Learn is to help parents learn to take control of their lives.

“It’s not that we don’t still give out the used things, but the incentive for the new is to go to the classes and participate in the program,” Crown said.

Clients who enter the program are new moms who have either learned about the program when they came in for a pregnancy test, called a Respect Life hotline, or been referred by a social worker from a government agency such as the Department of Children and Families.

CURRICULUM
The program, which is also offered in Spanish, consists of nine modules and 45 lessons and covers the stages from early pregnancy to 12 months after the baby is born. Participants receive a worksheet and are required to complete homework before earning “baby bucks” or “mommy dollars.” Programs are offered at different times, depending on the pregnancy center, and are designed so that women can enter it at any point during their pregnancy and up until the child is one year old.

By the end of the program, participants will have learned about pregnancy, postpartum care, the development of the pre-born, the emotional needs and physical care of a newborn, first aid, discipline, bonding, financial matters and sexual integrity.

According to Crown, the sexual integrity component considers the world view of the client who does not attend church and is not living in accordance with Church teaching. Participants are taught not to sell themselves short as they reflect on what it is to have pride, integrity, and self worth.

“Everyone responds to that kind of language so we try to work with these young girls to dispel the myth that they are not worth as much as God thinks they are worth — a message that society has strongly influenced,” Crown said.

According to Susana Pando-Taupier, who volunteers on Saturdays at the South Dade pregnancy care center located on Sunset Drive, if 20 people sign up, about 16 will show up. This is considered a positive turnout. “Sometimes there are logistics difficulties and they are dependent on someone else for a ride.”

BONDING
Fathers also have the opportunity to earn “daddy dollars” when they accompany the mother to class, which is an ideal way for them to connect with the mother and identify with what she is going through. In fact, one off-shoot of this program is the Respect Life Ministry’s men’s outreach program, Project Joseph, which was developed exclusively for fathers.

“I have found that the Earn While You Learn program has been very positive for our clients and there has been a wonderful response from the dads,” said Pando-Taupier.

“What we’re finding is that they are bonding through the class; some of the girls are even bringing their mothers,” Crown said.

There have even been people who have received assistance who have come back to donate.

Pando-Taupier recalled one couple who stopped by to donate some items and did not want to exchange them for anything else. “The mother even asked for information on how to become a volunteer. She said, ‘I don’t know if I’d be a good counselor but I’d like to at least help.’”

“The program has made the clients appreciate more. It’s a positive impact and the only way you can make change is through education,” Pando-Taupier said.

GOD’S REALITY
“It’s funny because most people would say that we’re never going to be able to convince them, etc., but people know truth in their heart and they know that what’s going on in their life is not working,” Crown said. “They know there’s got to be some other way. When we talk about God’s plan for the family, that there’s a husband and a wife before the child comes — everybody wants that but some people have never seen that in their family. Everybody’s either had a divorce, is living with somebody, or has had a child out of wedlock, so to them it’s not their reality. But it is God’s reality and God’s reality is for everybody.”

“And so, when you set that up and give them that goal — that this is for them too — they respond positively,” Crown continued. “We say, ‘Don’t let society tell you that just because you’re from this ethnicity, or this financial background, that this is for others and not for you.’”

FIND OUT MORE
For more information on the Earn While You Learn program, visit www.respectlifemiami.org, email info@RespectLifeMiami.org or call 954-981-2922.
One thing a woman will always receive when she visits a pregnancy care center is someone who will take the time to listen to her needs and genuinely care about her future. 

“How would you want your daughter treated?” Crown asked. “Sometimes her support system has failed her — we can be that support system. A lot of times they just want to be heard. They want to know that someone has heard their point of view. It is shocking when you go into a counseling session and the person doesn’t want to leave.”

“Through that process, once you have bonded with the mother then you can save the child,” Crown added. “We have learned over the years from the post abortive woman who didn’t have that.”



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