Depending on who you may ask, The O’Connor House gets referred to as many different things: a women’s shelter, a homeless shelter, a maternity home, a group home, and everything in between. While our ministry does serve women in these different capacities, we consider ourselves a loving home that is also a structured program above all else. Part of that structure includes every Tuesday’s Community Night, an opportunity for our residents to come together, share a meal, and learn new life skills.
1) Community Night is about more than just learning a life skill
Community Night takes place every Tuesday evening at the home, beginning at 6pm. Part one of the evening kicks off with a shared meal at the dinner table. Residents take turns each week planning a meal and cooking for the other women in the home.
“So many of the women did not have the privilege of having a meal together as a family growing up,” said Susan Barett, House Director. “It gives them a chance to grow together, share their hopes and dreams, and support one another on their journey at The O’Connor House. Just like in our own homes, it is important to sit down as a family and share a meal together. It is during this time the women begin to feel a sense of family and are able to grow into the amazing women God has made them to be.”
2. Staff helps with the menu
By cooking a large meal each week, the women are not only learning how to meal-plan ahead of time, but also how to cook a well-balanced meal for a family. The O’Connor House also has House Managers on staff who have backgrounds in nutrition. They enjoy sharing their expertise and encouraging the women to try incorporating new and healthy foods into the meals.
“I love to share easy ways to make meals healthier, while incorporating the use of all the food groups, along with encouraging them to open their palates and try new foods,” said Susan Huesing, House Manager and registered dietitian.
“I also like to share my cook-ahead and freeze ideas, which they find quite helpful, especially after returning to work when their maternity leave is over. Nutrition is so important and some of our residents have not felt as comfortable in the kitchen. I like to encourage them to not be afraid of cooking and to show them just how easy it can be to put together a healthy meal.”
3) Topics are fun and educational
Following the meal, part two of the evening begins with a life skills workshop or class. This typically includes a volunteer coming in to share their gifts and talents in areas ranging from parenting, budgeting and finances, career planning, and even cake decorating! These classes are intended to be fun and educational, all in preparation to equip the women with as much knowledge as we can before they transition from the home.
4) Community Night is for the moms only!
Community Night is a child-free zone, but that doesn’t mean our little ones don’t have fun too! Every week volunteers sign up to help babysit during Tuesday evenings. This allows our residents to have quality time with each other and to be engaged during the life skills workshop without distractions. Our volunteers keep the little ones entertained in our finished basement’s playroom or our large backyard.
Community Night Spotlight: Cindy Love
Cindy Love is a beloved volunteer at The O’Connor House and has been teaching Community Night classes for 5 years. As an IU Health pediatric nurse practitioner, Cindy brings a wealth of knowledge to the young moms. Her work includes supporting new mothers through Toddler Time and Mother Connection small groups. These groups offer a safe place for new mothers to express their feelings and discuss common questions and issues they have. Through Community Night, she is able to offer a similar safe place to discuss these topics.
“I love talking with the moms about growth and development, sleep issues, vaccines, discipline, common illnesses, and any worry they may have with regards to their infant or toddler!” said Cindy.“ I think [small] groups allow moms to see that everyone has many of the same questions and worries! No one should feel alone when raising children.”
Cindy also reflects on one her favorite memories of helping a resident, “I always love talking about a question or issue and then following up in a couple months to see if a mom has resolved it. I can remember a mom who had a toddler and a newborn and both little ones were not sleeping. The toddler never had slept through the night. We worked on a sleep plan for the toddler and when I came back that little guy was sleeping 11 hours straight at night! She also was starting to work on sleep routines for her baby so she could develop some good sleep habits. I loved seeing this mom feel successful in handling this parenting challenge and look more rested and happy! I am simply helping new moms believe that they can parent well…giving them tools and letting them be successful and in the end they enjoy parenting more and their child feels more loved and secure.”Spread the love