Cover Story

Parent practicum

"Parent practicum" Continued...

Issue: "Effective compassion," July 27, 2013

The requirements for joining SFI alone often deter people from joining, but Alhberg believes that’s important: “If they don’t pay, they don’t own it. … You have to want it enough. Some of them will show up with $5 a week to pay their way.” 

Guadalupe Flores, a graduate in the second class, was so intent on taking the course that even the birth of her fourth child didn’t make her miss class. She got larger through the first three-quarters of the course and had her baby over winter break. In January, she showed up for her fourth quarter with her newborn in her arms. The other mothers in the room helped her when the baby got fussy, and understood when she needed to breastfeed.

A facilitator leads the class for three hours a week, working through sections on personal development, disciplining children, managing money, and spiritual formation. The final project is a reflection paper on the course–a big step for many women illiterate even in Spanish.

The spiritual formation section covers the Bible, the church, and what it means to have a relationship with God, with the goal of pointing women to a church community where they can see healthy marriages modeled by Christians. AFCC’s Spanish-speaking pastor and his wife regularly dine with the women, and the pastor’s wife has started a Bible study with a dozen of the MSH women. Flores said she had never read the Bible before SFI, but now she reads it every day. She joined the Bible study and is so excited about what she’s learning that she reads ahead of her assignment. 

The SFI alumni association now has 22 members, with 10 more joining next month. Since January four SFI women, two children, and two boyfriends—one now a husband—have been baptized. Many of the graduated students continue to come to the center to teach classes and mentor other women: On May 1, women from the first and second SFI classes helped teach women how to make paper flowers in Mother’s Club.

An MSH volunteer demonstrated how to cut, fold, and twist the colorful tissue paper as more than 20 women, some rocking babies, sat at tables laughing and perfecting their creations. Sanchez, dressed in a blazer and pumps, spoke up, showing the women a better way to fold the petals delicately. The mother of three now teaches classes at the city’s Family Justice Center, helps out at My Safe Harbor, and maintains a good relationship with her children. Even her wardrobe has changed since attending SFI. She told Ahlberg that although she may not be professional, she can look professional—so she bought suits from a thrift shop.

Many of the other women in the room, including Flores, attribute their involvement in MSH to Sanchez. Cradling her now 5-month-old baby dressed in a polar bear onesie, Flores lists her graduation from SFI as one of her proudest moments. The soft-spoken mother of four said that through MSH she is able to trust people for the first time, making friends with the other women and opening up to them.

“I feel like this place is my anti-stress,” Flores said. “I come here to relax, to learn new things. This place makes me feel like family.”

My Safe Harbor's Harbor House in Anaheim, Calif.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
My Safe Harbor's Harbor House in Anaheim, Calif.
Guadalupe Flores and her son David.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Guadalupe Flores and her son David.
Virginia Lopez with a drawing she created to reflect her experience at My Safe Harbor.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Virginia Lopez with a drawing she created to reflect her experience at My Safe Harbor.
Virginia Lopez's drawing.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Virginia Lopez's drawing.
Another drawing by Virgina Lopez.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Another drawing by Virgina Lopez.
Leticia Sanchez (left) teaches Virginia Lopez how to operate a sewing machine.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Leticia Sanchez (left) teaches Virginia Lopez how to operate a sewing machine.
Virginia Lopez (left) operates a sewing machine as Leticia Sanchez looks on.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Virginia Lopez (left) operates a sewing machine as Leticia Sanchez looks on.
Guest teacher Mary Little leads a Strong Families Institute class.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Guest teacher Mary Little leads a Strong Families Institute class.
Remedios Hernandez (left) and Viviana Mondragon discuss notes during a Strong Families Institute class.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Remedios Hernandez (left) and Viviana Mondragon discuss notes during a Strong Families Institute class.
Viviana Mondragon takes notes during class.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Viviana Mondragon takes notes during class.
Free childcare makes attending classes possible and more attractive for mothers.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Free childcare makes attending classes possible and more attractive for mothers.
Two children pass the time playing a game while their mother attends class.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Two children pass the time playing a game while their mother attends class.
Children play behind My Safe Harbor as their mothers take classes inside.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Children play behind My Safe Harbor as their mothers take classes inside.
Angel Flores enjoys a game of catch outside.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Angel Flores enjoys a game of catch outside.

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Listen to a report on My Safe Harbor from The World and Everything in It:

Follow this year’s Hope Award for Effective Compassion competition and vote for the ministry you believe deserves the 2013 award .

Money Box

• 2012 contributions: $98,281

• 2012 expenses: $95,757

• Net assets at the end of 2012: $28,771

• Executive director Becky Ahlberg’s salary: $42,178

• Staff: Three part-time employees and 112 volunteers

• 2013 budget: $121,000

• Website: mysafeharbor.org

Angela Lu
Angela Lu

Angela is a reporter for WORLD News Group who lives and works in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, reading, and storytelling. Follow Angela on Twitter @angela818.

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