Two women sat in front of Shopko off South Reserve Street collecting donations late last week for Mountain Home Montana as part of the second annual Community Baby Shower.
The event, which continues through the end of June, is co-organized by Soroptimist International of Missoula, which works to improve the lives of women and girls.
“We want to help moms become successful community members,” said Colleen Piluso, administrative manager for Mountain Home Montana.
Mountain Home Montana is a local nonprofit offering shelter and support for young mothers. The organization was first founded by a nurse at the Community Medical Center after she continually saw young mothers who had nowhere to go, according to Piluso. After 17 years, the organization has helped more than 1,000 women and their families.
Every year Mountain Home serves more people, Piluso said. The four biggest issues facing young mothers are mental health care, housing, child care and employment, she said. Mountain Home works to help women overcome these obstacles and seeks to end the cycles of abuse, neglect and poverty facing many of these women.
In order to do so Mountain Home offers case management, therapy, housing, child care, workshops, health care and employment services. It has a community center on South Avenue, a seven-bedroom group home and five apartments. The group home is designed for women and their children experiencing temporary homelessness, while the apartments are meant for those who are chronically homeless.
Soroptimist International of Missoula and Mountain Home Montana both work to solve the problem of hard-to-find and expensive housing in Missoula.
After finding the mothers a place to live, Mountain Home seeks to stabilize home life. Often this is done with a case manager who supports them women by create parenting plans, offering life skills workshops and providing mental health therapy.
Many young women who come through the program didn’t learn the necessary life skills to thrive as adults or had healthy relationships when they were young.
“If you know better, you do better,” said Chris Kelly, president of Soroptimist International of Missoula.
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The next step is ensuring employment. This can be especially difficult as single mothers often have issues with work history, Piluso said. Some mothers have inconsistent work history because of the needs of children. There are young mothers who have never had a job. They don’t know that you have to call in if you’re going to miss a day of work.
Some employers are hesitant to employ single mothers, although it’s illegal Piluso noted. Employers worry that a single mother might miss more work than an average employee because they may have to leave if a child gets sick, or if they experience issues with child care.
Child care is a huge barrier for single mothers. Often child care is inaccessible or prohibitively expensive, Piluso said.
Soroptimist International of Missoula and Mountain Home Montana are working to tackle some of these large issues facing young and single mothers in Missoula. Both organizations appreciate the chance to help two generations at once.
“That’s the beauty of this partnership,” Piluso said.
They’re also working to encourage women to reach out and ask for the help they need. Many single mothers do not have a strong support network of friends and family they can turn to. Without that, they often do not know how to get help, Kelly said. On top of that there is a lot of judgment and pressure on single moms to do things perfectly, she said.
Piluso preaches that strong, brave moms are ones that ask for help when they need it.
“No one can do this alone,” Kelly said. “It takes a village.”
The community baby shower is one of the many ways Mountain Home Montana and Soroptimist International of Missoula tries to build that village. They are primarily looking for perishable items such as diapers and formula, Piluso said, but they welcome anything that could be useful to young children.
There are two drop-off location at the two Park Side Credit Union branches. All donations are tax-deductible and will be distributed to children living in Missoula County.