This week we bring you an interview with Elaine Noonan, national coordinator of Community Connect, a new initiative providing practical support to mothers and their babies.
Could you tell me a bit about Community Connect? How did you begin and what kind of things do you do?
Community Connect is the new national initiative to assist pregnant women and new mothers in a practical and tangible way. This initiative is supported by the Pro Life Campaign, arising out of a clear desire expressed by pro-life supporters to help women and babies in need. Many women experiencing unexpected pregnancies struggle with the nagging question: how will I provide for my baby? Community Connect exists to help answer this question with practical, material support, so that mums and parents feel more secure and supported in bringing their baby into the world. Community Connect has a very precise mission. It is not a counselling service, but operates as a practical support hub where parents in need can access necessities like nappies and wipes, as well as pre-loved items such as babygrows, outfits, blankets, buggies and other practical aids. We have volunteer-run locations operating across the country, where people can donate baby items and where parents in need can access them. Our hubs are located in Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Athlone and Cork and we aim to be able to reach women in need across the country.
Could you talk me through the support process? When someone contacts you seeking support, what can they expect to happen?
A woman can contact us for support via our website www.communityconnect.ie and clicking the ‘Access Support’ button, by phone on 085 875 8366 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The local coordinator closest to the mother’s area will then contact her to confirm some details and discuss what she is most in need of. We will always aim to provide a package of baby clothes for the mother, along with one larger item she may be in need of (such as a buggy or cot, subject to availability), as well as some other items such as nappies, wipes, baby blankets etc. Following that, and once we have organised the items for the mother, the local coordinator will arrange to meet her at a local location to provide her with what she has requested. We may also be able to assist her again if she is in need of further assistance as her baby gets older, on a case-by-case basis.
How can people volunteer with Community Connect? What kind of things can volunteers do?
We would love to have more volunteers sign up to help us with this work. Even a few hours per week could make a huge difference in the lives of a mother and her baby! Anyone who would like to help can sign up now at www.communityconnect.ie/volunteer and their local hub coordinator will be in touch. Volunteers can help at our hubs with tasks such as sorting and packing donations; preparing gift packs for mothers; collecting donations and delivering to our hubs; and assisting in spreading awareness about what we do, and some can be trained in order to be able to meet clients and assist them directly, in various areas around the country. We also have a fabulous team of knitters who are working tirelessly to make hats, bootees, cardigans and blankets that we will put into each new baby gift we give out. Anyone interested can sign up to knit one item or many, and we can provide patterns for those who are beginners. Sign up at www.communityconnect.ie/knit.
Do you take donations of items for mothers and babies? If so, are there any items you particularly need at the minute?
We always welcome donations of pre-loved (lightly used) baby clothes and equipment. We have a particular need for buggies in good condition, as these are often requested by mothers.
We can accept a wide variety of baby items, and more information is available at www.communityconnect.ie/donate. Anyone with items to donate can register their details at this link, and their nearest hub coordinator will be in touch to arrange the donation.
How has Covid-19 impacted on your work?
Covid-19 has certainly made our work more challenging, and for example we have been unable to collect some donations due to the travel restrictions. However, we are implementing current guidelines on social distancing, sanitisation, etc., and we are proud to say that through our network of volunteers, we have been able to reach every woman who has come to us for assistance.
The nature of your work means you are dealing with women in vulnerable situations. What is your safeguarding policy?
Only specific volunteers in Community Connect will meet with the women who come to us for assistance. We have a comprehensive set of policies and protocols, and the specific volunteers who meet clients are trained in these before they are allowed to attend client meetings. We also ensure that such volunteers sign a non-disclosure agreement, so that any client information given to us is kept confidential. In addition, we have a range of support services to which we can refer a woman who needs any additional support that we are not in a position to provide to her.