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Changing Lives One Visit at a Time
December 29, 2014
Changing Lives One Visit at a Time

JF&CS News Fall 2014

Audrey SchusterA Visiting Mom for almost ten years, Audrey Schuster describes her experience with the program as “amazing and powerful. Visiting Moms gives my life balance and I am grateful to be a part of it. I’m not sure who gets more - me, or the new mom.” Trained by JF&CS staff, Visiting Moms provide support during the challenging months after the birth of a child. Founded 25 years ago, the program has served nearly 2,800 culturally and economically diverse families in 66 communities.

Audrey came to JF&CS in 2004, when the eldest of her three children went off to college. A self-described “homemaker extraordinaire,” she realized that one-third of her professional life as a mom had downsized. She wanted to find the right opportunity to fill the void of her dwindling business as a mom. “I wanted to be a part of something, to be relevant, to be purposeful. I believe there is nothing more important or noble than the business of motherhood.” So Audrey contacted JF&CS after a friend had mentioned the Visiting Moms program to her and soon, she became a Visiting Mom.

“I have three rules that I try to live by when it comes to my family,” Audrey points out. “Show up, keep your heart and mind open, and listen with empathy and without judgment. I feel like I can make a difference just by showing up and being present, even if I don’t have all the answers. I can simply listen and offer a hug.” Audrey applies those three rules to her role as Visiting Mom, as well.

“New moms often feel that they are not doing enough or ‘right’ by their baby. Normal struggles can feel insurmountable to a new mom. The loneliness, isolation, constant doubt and questioning can take their toll. But I always see something beautiful and amazing. It might be as simple as commenting on how comfortable the mom is holding her baby, or how the baby responds to the mom’s voice. Sometimes I just listen,” Audrey explains. “We might be strangers, from different backgrounds, but when we are together in a room, it’s just two moms sharing a common bond. For that one hour, we are present and we are connected, which is no easy feat in today’s high-tech world.” Some new moms find that their own mothers or other family members can be extremely judgmental in their first few months as new moms. “Mothers can be harsh. Friends and family member can mean well, but their advice can come off as negative or overly critical. Visiting Moms offer no judgment and can step away from cultural norms. What might be ‘normal’ for another mom might not work for you. Just allowing a Visiting Mom in is a big step,” she adds.

“I tell moms that maybe they won’t get things done and it won’t be the end of the world. It won’t always be like this. I tell them not to compare themselves to other moms because every situation is unique. I tell them to allow the baby to be their Zen.”

Audrey’s passion for the Visiting Moms program recently reached a new plateau when she chaired the JF&CS Women’s Breakfast in June. “I wanted to honor the other Visiting Moms for their hard work and dedication. I also wanted to raise awareness of this outstanding program and get people in the community to share in supporting this amazing cause,” she acknowledges. Audrey set the tone by making a very generous leadership gift to the program in the hope that others would follow her example.

Her hard work certainly paid off: the 2014 Women’s Breakfast brought in double the amount ever raised at previous breakfasts as well as double the number of attendees. “We are grateful to Audrey for her outstanding leadership in chairing this event and surpassing all expectations. She has inspired both friends and strangers to give. She brought incredible passion, vigor, and élan to this project. Audrey takes my breath away,” emphasized Rimma Zelfand, CEO of JF&CS.

Raising money for Visiting Moms is just one prong; the other prong is to raise awareness in the community. “Once we do that, we can help even more people. All women can relate to this - younger ones wish they had this program when they were new moms, and older ones wish they had this for their daughters. Many of the new moms say that they are in awe of the Visiting Moms. We, in turn, are in awe of them,” Audrey affirms.

“To see all of these unpaid volunteers come together to help others is such a beautiful experience. The power of selflessness can be very strong. I get back as much as I give to this program and I’ve learned a lot about how to be with my own family,” Audrey concludes. “They say ‘a mother is born, but not always when her child is.’”

Sometimes all it takes is the sympathetic presence of a Visiting Mom. In Audrey’s case, the families she has helped, along with her own family, can consider themselves fortunate to have had such a remarkable presence in their lives.

In honor of our 150th anniversary, JF&CS published a special 150th anniversary newsletter. View a PDF of the entire newsletter online.

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