Mentors help young moms to succeed

WE'VE all heard stories of pregnant mothers in difficult circumstances - women struggling with few resources, no support, or health and addiction issues - and wonder how they can possibly cope.

But here on the North Shore, some people do more than just wonder, they roll up their sleeves and lend a hand. That's thanks to Spectrum, a unique charity founded by Capilano University instructor Sally Livingstone.

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As a young nurse in England, Livingstone witnessed special-needs babies living, sometimes dying, in hospital after having been left there by overwhelmed parents. The experience made Livingstone determined to make a difference in those young lives, and she began offering respite care to struggling families. Occasionally, she would foster a special-needs child in her own home.

That was put on hold when Livingstone moved to Canada and raised her own son. But about six years ago, she was telephoned by a North Shore community health nurse desperate to find help for a mother suffering from post-partum depression. Livingstone volunteered to babysit once or twice a week, and said that over the next few months "it was incredible to watch the mom come back to life."

Livingstone realized a relatively small investment of time could make a huge difference to a mother with few resources, and over the next couple of years she volunteered with other moms as needed. But the referrals from the health care community kept coming, and Livingstone soon needed help of her own. So she founded Spectrum, a group of caregivers and volunteer mentors who offer the referred moms parenting wisdom, a ride to the doctor's office, babysitting, or just a listening ear. Each woman is given an average of six hours of free support per week.

For a number of the mothers, it's meant the difference between being able to care for their infant and having to surrender it to foster care. That's a big enough success, but it gets better: two of Spectrum's former clients are now mentors themselves.

Spectrum is currently supporting 25 mothers, and the number keeps growing. It costs the charity $360 per mother per month, but the grants it gets from the City and District of North Vancouver don't stretch to cover the need.

Livingstone is doing all she can -- not only does she run the charity, she has three young adopted and foster children under her own roof. She is hoping other North Shore residents will step up to support the charity's mission.

"Christmas is an ideal time to think of babies born under difficult circumstances," she says. "Perhaps there is someone on your gift list who would love to know you've made a donation to Spectrum in their name."

Livingstone also welcomes offers of a Christmas hamper for one of Spectrum's mothers, and is always happy to hear from experienced parents interested in volunteering as mentors.

Livingstone's passion for helping is infectious. Not only does her adult son work with Youth Unlimited in the Downtown Eastside, her fiveyear-old adopted daughter has clearly joined the family "business." As she stroked her young foster brother's back recently, Livingstone overheard her say to him: "Don't worry . . . we'll love you to be the best you can be."

If you'd like to help, contact Livingstone at info@ or call 604 562 5530.

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