Giving back: A helping hand for moms
By KARA YORIO STAFF WRITER | The Record
Sometimes, it’s a request to look over a résumé. Sometimes, it’s a text reminder that support is there. Sometimes, it’s a phone conversation and joint prayer.
Rita Bakr and Tracey Dickson are mentor and mentee, part of the Bergen Volunteer Center’s Mentoring Moms program that connects struggling mothers with volunteers who “understand how hard it is to raise a family and want to make life a bit easier for another mom.”
“They’re not considered counselors or psychiatrists, they’re there as a friend,” said Yamilet Torres, the assistant program director. “It’s a support system.”
Mentoring Moms trains and supervises volunteers to serve as mentors. The women they support have been referred to the program by the state’s Department of Child Protection and Permanency. They are women who are struggling as they try to provide a safe, stable home for their families. The mentors are supposed to be “trusted allies who provide emotional support and practical guidance to mothers.”
Right now the program serves about 50 mentees, according to Torres. Bakr is a mentor to two women, whom she communicates with eight to 10 times a month in phone conversations, texts and in-person meetings when possible. Dickson and Bakr were matched in 2015, Bakr said.
“She’s a person with skill,” Bakr said of Dickson. “She’s trying her best to get in and stay in the workforce and manage her own challenges. She’s very ambitious and aspirational and creative. She bounces things off of me. I am able to journey with her and support her.”
When her now ex-husband was removed from her home by the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, Dickson had four children between the ages of 4 and 14 and was lost and confused, by her own admission. She was a self-described “walking zombie” when she walked into the offices of Mentoring Moms and met program director Cindy Andrake.
“She was such a good fan,” said Dickson. “She kept saying, ‘You’re great, you’re great.’ I was like ‘What’s wrong with you?’”
But then Dickson started "processing” her conversations, began to take in the encouragement and support.
“You wind up doing stuff, wind up having that belief back in yourself regardless of what’s against you,” she said. “Even if you think the whole world is against you, you have, at least, somebody. As a whole, that’s what the Mentoring Moms does for children and women of all levels, and that’s why it’s so important.”
Dickson has realized that in Bakr, she has a woman who encourages her and listens to her without judgment. Bakr comes with the experience of having been there, not in the middle of the same struggle.
“She’s already past it, so she’s able to really reflect, say, ‘Hey I understand,’” said Dickson. “She can look back and now she can give insight.”
It’s a unique relationship for Dickson.
“We’re friends definitely,” said Dickson. “She’s still also my mentor, so it’s still that different relationship where you take heed of instruction in a different way. You understand and you feel all she wants from me is my success. All she wants for me is my well-being. She doesn’t want to see me fall.
The program’s impact on her life has made her quest to find a mentor for her youngest son even more urgent. Advised to find him a male role model, she has tried and struggled to find anything but long waiting lists at the appropriate organizations. She knows firsthand what some outside support and understanding can do for someone who is struggling to find their way.
“I’m focusing on why it’s so important to have mentors and why we need mentors,” said Dickson, who has two part-time jobs and goes to school two nights a week. “If anyone could give up their time, especially for boys, if anyone can give their time, please, we need men or women – it doesn’t even matter – to just step up and help.”
Often those in need are not the ones people expect, said Dickson.
“People think in your own community, people are not struggling, hurting or facing challenges,” said Dickson, who lives in Ridgewood with her four children. “We all can’t save the world, maybe it’s just one person at a time.”
That, she said, is what mentorship is about to her. For Bakr, Mentoring Moms is about supporting those in need in her own community.
“The journey for me is a journey of fulfillment,” said Bakr, who lives in Englewood and retired from her job with the United Nations a few years ago. “It’s a journey of giving back. It’s a journey of having an impact on the community. When I look at myself, throughout my life, I feel I’ve been blessed. I feel I have made good strides. I’ve had challenges, too. There are people who have been them for me. I feel that I understand what it is to have someone to say, ‘Have a good day, I’m here for you.’ Or ‘Call me. Don’t hesitate. I am here for you.’
“I feel in doing this, it’s just my way of saying to someone else, ‘I’m here for you’ and not just living in a way that keeps me concentrating on what I get, get, get. I have gotten a lot, but I also want to see what I can give.”
For more information or to volunteer to be a mentor with Mentoring Moms, visit www.bergenvolunteers.org/mentoring-moms.htm