Attendees at a 2023 PEPS benefit event. Photo credit, J Mark Photography
A vital tool for new parents is the opportunity to connect with other families. Having a baby is strangely isolating, and loneliness often hits just when parents feel as if they’ve lost all their social skills.
For 40 years, PEPS has been bringing parents together in small community-based groups, facilitated by volunteer Group Leaders who create a safe space for discussion. These facilitators are an essential element of the PEPS experience.
Group Leader Kiran Chitluri was inspired to volunteer after his own PEPS experience. He and his wife joined a group 10 years ago when their first child was born. That same group still gets together today. When his youngest kid underwent out-of-state surgery, his PEPS Group put together a backpack for the older sibling. “That kind of support means a lot,” Chitluri said. “It’s a special thing. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to give back.” As a Leader, he enjoys meeting new parents and watching babies grow, but is especially proud when groups live on without him. Helping other families create support systems is gratifying work.
Miriam Korngold also cited the sense of community as a benefit of leading PEPS Groups. “Seeing the connections made and how close they’d come was really beautiful,” she said. “Parenting is such a hard time … and they can learn from each other. If parents can be supported in that stage of life, it can pay dividends down the road.” Miriam came to PEPS through a partnership with Antioch University, where she’s working on her degree as a therapist. PEPS allows her to work on skills she’ll need in her future career, like creating a safe space for all voices.
Korngold has a toddler at home, but not all Group Leaders are parents. “The role of a PEPS Leader is to be a facilitator and help participants make connections,” explained Elizabeth Dawson, the PEPS Leader Recruitment and Support Specialist. “Leaders are not expected to be parenting experts.” PEPS Group Leader training includes providing a structure for the meetings to create an inclusive environment, as well as more than 40 discussion topics. According to Jennie Capron, the Leader Support and Curriculum Manager, the curriculum is continually evolving, whether it’s reviewed through an anti-bias lens, checking for racial bias or gendered language, or to add new topics. PEPS staff work closely with consultants and experts to gather information and resources to create new topics and discussion prompts.
In addition to curriculum, PEPS offers a range of support for Group Leaders through weekly check-ins. Optional coffee chats, social media groups, and advanced facilitation training are also available. When topics like postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) or stories of trauma come up, Leaders can turn to PEPS for knowledge and assistance on resources and support to share.
PEPS helps volunteers connect back to the workplace. “PEPS is an opportunity to add skills to a resume,” said Capron. “For people thinking about switching careers or working in a nonprofit, this can be an opportunity. I’ll often be a reference and write a letter of recommendation.”
Jennifer Lawson appreciates that volunteering strengthened skills she needed in her new career as a Health Coach. “Four years ago, I went through a divorce and became a single parent,” Lawson said. “PEPS was starting to offer affinity groups, including a Single Parent Group, and I was looking for ways to marry my interest in parenting and group facilitation.” Lawson also takes inspiration from the groups she leads. “I am always encouraged to watch these women build community right from the get-go,” she said. “These are people who are successful in their own careers and lives, but recognize that parenting is a new venture, and they are intentional about surrounding themselves with people who can help.” Like many Group Leaders, Lawson often learns along with her group. “One of the topics was planning for emergencies and wills. I brought in an estate attorney to talk to the group, and I realized that I was behind. I got my ducks in a row because of that.”
Whether volunteering because of past PEPS experiences, a desire to learn, or wanting to sharpen skills, Leaders report the highlight is witnessing a group come together to support each other. Anna Van Pelt, who has been volunteering with PEPS for a decade, spoke of the importance that PEPS has in our community:
“There are so few places in society that people can fully be themselves and share hard truths, and PEPS provides that. It’s an honor to be in that space and be a witness to that moment. Often, I’ll come home from leading a group and still be in awe of what was said or shared. It’ll take me some time to come down from that experience.”
Anyone interested in giving back to the community, watching new friendships blossom, or having the opportunity to hold babbling babies, can consider signing up to volunteer with PEPS. Sessions typically run once a week for twelve weeks; some shorter sessions are available. Volunteers can choose to lead in-person or online groups, and often, companies such as Microsoft and Boeing donate or pay an hourly rate for volunteer time.