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Parenting Support and Life Skills for Mothers at Every Age

Last May we had the privilege of working with Renee Williams to bring you the Member Spotlight series on Daybreak Parent Child Centre. We’re happy that this member-focused feature allows us to invite, get to know and introduce a Families Canada member each month to share their experiences, best practices, challenges and more in their work with families. We encourage our members to connect with each other and thrive together as we support and strengthen families across Canada.   

Our Member Spotlight for June 2024 is Susan Robins, Program Manager at Vita Centre in Mississauga, Ontario.  Thank you, Susan Robins, for sharing your organization with our members.

About Susan

Hi Susan! Please tell us about yourself, your role and what motivated you to join Vita Centre. 

Susan Robins, Program Manager
Vita Centre 

Hello, my name is Susan Robins. I am the Program Manager at Vita Centre. I have been with Vita Centre for 9 years. I was motivated to join Vita Centre by the mission to support young parents. My educational background in developmental psychology and my experience working with families really drew me to see the tremendous benefit this agency could have on young parents and their families. I wanted to be a part of that journey.

Images courtesy of Vita Centre

About Vita Centre

Please tell us about Vita Centre and the needs or challenges in the community that Vita Centre is responding to. 

Susan: Vita Centre is very much a grassroots organization. When it was founded by Knights of Columbus and Catholic Women’s league members in 1989 (incorporated in 1991), it was as Vita Manor and was a residence for pregnant unwed mothers and their babies. As the staff were supporting the resident momstobe and new moms, they developed counselling focused on emotional and 1:1 parenting support as well as a parenting and life skills group program called Growing as Parents. Responding to community needs, Vita Centre expanded to offer counselling and Growing as Parents to young moms in the community. In 2008, the Manor was sold. Vita continued to offer counselling and the Growing as Parents group program to young parents in the community. As time went on, the number of programs we offered grew. At the same time, we noticed a number of parents of new babies over the age of 30 presenting with similar challenges to the young parents we serve. In 2020, we officially expanded our mandate to serve vulnerable families with children aged 0 to 6 years, living in the Region of Peel.  

Programs Offered by Vita Centre 

One-on-One Counselling 

Growing as Parents – A group parenting program. 

Supper Connection – A group designed to increase food literacy skills and improve access to healthy eating and healthy foods. 

Nobody’s Perfect Parenting group – A Public Health Agency program developed in the 1980’s and designed to meet the needs of parents of children 0 to 5 years old who are young, single, socially or geographically isolated, or who have low income or limited formal education. 

Me, My Baby, Our Connection – A mash-up of 2 attachment-strengthening group programs: Me, My Baby, Our World designed by Rosalie Hall staff and and Make the Connection developed by Strong Minds, Strong Kids (formerly Psychology Foundation). 

Care Closet – A program that accepts donations of gently used baby clothes and items, as well as diapers, wipes, and formula. Client families have access to Care Closet to be able to receive some support in this area while they are focusing on goals in counseling or group programs.  

Partnership with Vitamin Angels – Offers free prenatal vitamins to any pregnant person in the community. 

Relationship with Families Canada

Can you tell us about your organization’s relationship with Families Canada? 

Susan: We met Families Canada through our connection with Nobody’s Perfect Parenting group as Families Canada is the official resource for the Nobody’s Perfect Parenting kits. As soon as we saw all the great work, the educational resources and projects, and the opportunities for collaboration with an organization whose mission so strongly aligns with Vita Centre’s mission, we registered as members of Families Canada.  

Besides access to the Nobody’s Perfect Parent kits and other resources available through their online store, I think the first project we were engaged with Families Canada for was the Financial Literacy for Women Living in Low Income project. More recently our staff was able to contribute to, and then shared and learned from, the Trauma and Violence Informed financial training.

When I learned that I was pregnant, I was anxious and constantly worried about getting things wrong. Then I learned that I was having not just one baby but two!! That was when I found Vita Centre and they were there to give me emotional support when I was overwhelmed. The information I learned from my Counsellor and the parenting programs was very valuable and helped ease some of my anxiety before and after the babies were born. – J.S.

Collaboration and Partnerships

How does your organization collaborate with other organizations or agencies to enhance your services and ability to support families? 

Susan: To enhance our services and to connect with agencies that provide services that are useful and relevant to the community we serve, Vita Centre is an active member of local networks such as the Peel Hunger Relief Network, the Peel Poverty Reduction Committee, and the PPRC implementation taskforce, Volunteer MBC, the Regional Diversity Roundtable and the Peel Family Support Network. We try to actively pursue and commit resources (primarily time and manpower) in partnerships. We are also agency members of our local food bank and an agency called MIAG Centre for Diverse Women and Children, and of Families Canada.

We are also members of Road to Zero Waste (RTZW). Their mission is to collect surplus food from food chains such as grocery stores, restaurants, events, caterers, etc. They redistribute it to our community fridges for members of the community. They help members in need and reduce waste at the same time. Vita Centre has a RTZW Community fridge, and we invite all our client families to come in each Friday to pick up groceries. We also make items we receive from Food Banks Mississauga available on these Fridays.

This is an example of a very successful partnership. It is successful first for our client families who are in ever-growing need of basic food items because of the current economic situation. Second, the partnership also helps RTZW to further the work of their mission.

Although practical supports such as food is not a primary service at Vita Centre, many of our client families are experiencing food insecurity. Thus, while parents are working with our counsellors or are part of our group programs, they are welcome to come and receive groceries through our partnership with RTZW and with Food Banks Mississauga on a weekly basis. They also have access to basic baby care items such as diapers and formula on a monthly basis. Feedback from our client families shows that 100 percent of the families who access RTZW and/or our Care Closet experience reduced stress due to this access.

Images courtesy of Vita Centre

Challenges and Solutions

Every organization faces challenges. Can you discuss some challenges your organization has encountered and the strategies implemented to overcome them? How has the organization adapted and evolved to meet the changing needs of the community? 

Susan: The biggest challenge our organization faces is funding – as is the challenge for many nonprofit organizations. We only have 7 staff members, so we don’t have anyone dedicated to fundraising. Our current strategy to overcome this challenge is to successfully apply for funding to hire and retain a fundraising and marketing consultant. We are currently working with one to create a fundraising and marketing plan that we can implement with our current staff and volunteers.

Until 2020, our mission was to serve young parents up to the age of 30. However, as early as 2015 we have had families in the community presenting with the same challenges and need for support and resources outside of this age limit. To be responsive to the changing demographics of our community, we unofficially removed this age limit for parents, and in 2020, we changed our mission to include serving all vulnerable families with children aged 0 to 6 years.

When I told my Counsellor at Vita Centre the doctor recommended I supplement with formula, she was there to support me. That feeling of failure, knowing that you cannot feed your babies and provide for them is the worst feeling in the world. So, when she told me that Vita Centre would be able to provide me with the formula that I needed, I was so relieved. – J.S.

Measuring Success

How does your organization measure its success and impact on families and the community? 

Susan: We use surveys designed to measure client outcomes for counselling and for our group programs. We ask all our counselling clients to complete the survey every 6 months and we ask our group program participants to complete surveys at the end of each program series.

Client feedback is specific to the outcomes we hope each client will experience for each of our group programs and for counselling.  For counselling we ask clients questions related to any impact on their emotional well-being as a result of being in counselling as well on their access to resources related to their counselling goals during that time period. These resources include those internal to Vita Centre (i.e. group programs, Care Closet, Road to Zero Waste groceries), and those external to Vita Centre such as access to income supports or childcare subsidies.  

Feeback for these 2 general outcome categories has consistently been high. Our goal is to achieve at least 80% satisfaction and year over year we have achieved this goal. However, during the pandemic emotional well-being was overall lower for those periods. For Nobody’s Perfect and Growing as Parents, the participant outcomes are parental capacity and confidence, as well as decreased feelings of isolation. Participant feedback is consistently high for every 10-week series, even during the pandemic. Parents were happy and relieved to connect with us and with other parents to discuss and share information and resources to help raise healthy, happy children.

Outcomes related to our Supper Connection program are specific to improved food literacy skills (particularly related to serving healthy food on a low income), and increased access to healthy food. Outcomes are high for both these general categories. Access to healthy food though is often reported as short term. We offer every participant a weekly Good Food box of produce that is delivered to their home by volunteers.

Images courtesy of Vita Centre

Success Stories

Are there any particular cases or situations that stand out to you as examples of the organization’s success? 

Susan:  Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to successfully help many families. One situation that stands out is our experience during the early days of the pandemic. Community organizations in Peel banded together to identify and help meet our community members’ needs.  Many of the families we serve identified that their primary need was basic supplies such as food and baby items including diapers, formula, and baby food. Our team brainstormed how we could best support our client families and we focused on providing them with baby essentials through monthly contact-free drop offs or pick-ups. We also helped them navigate to other resources for food and other essentials. As the pandemic closure lingered on, we continued with this focused support and successfully accessed funds to provide this service. We were even able to expand this service to support other families with babies.

The feedback that we receive from families, who share with us the positive impact our support has made for them, is heartwarming. It encourages us to continue to strive to find the resources and funding to continue to support vulnerable families in our community.

Vita Centre provided formula and even baby food when the boys were ready for it. My little boys are now 10 months old and are thriving. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to Vita Centre for being there for us when we needed them. To those who make it possible for Vita Centre to provide us with what, for me, were life-saving items, from the bottom of my heart, Thank you!” – J.S.

Future Goals

What are your organization’s future goals and how does your organization envision continuing to make a positive difference in the lives of families in the coming years?

Susan:  We plan to conduct a needs assessment of our current clients to see if there are any other services or programs that we could provide to better meet their needs or to fill any gaps the assessment might reveal.

We endeavor to remain aware of trends in the population we serve as well as overall trends in best practices for family support for families with preschool aged children. Our overall goal is to meet the needs of our community and remain integral to the services for families in Peel Region.

Images courtesy of Vita Centre

Connect with Vita Centre

Email: info@vitacentre.org
Website: Vita Centre
T: 905-502-7933
F: 905-502-7868
5659 McAdam Rd, Unit C2
Mississauga, ON L4Z 1N9

Connect with the Community

We at Families Canada enjoy and are inspired by the good work that our members do. We are grateful to Susan and other members who have accepted our invitation to help us launch this initiative and foster connection among members.

We would love to learn more about the work Families Canada members do with families across Canada. Our whole community benefits from our shared experiences. We invite you to share your story by getting in touch with our Membership Team at info@familiescanada.ca today.

Images courtesy of Vita Centre