By Chelsea Catherine, Green Mountain United Way volunteer
Sheila McLean, United Way’s Volunteer of the Month, is a woman who radiates warmth and kindness. It’s clear from the moment I meet her, seated at a table in a restaurant in downtown Montpelier, that the welcoming presence she emits is part of what makes her an excellent volunteer. Sheila volunteers for Good Beginnings of Central VT, which provides free resources and support for expectant parents and families with new babies.
Since 2012, Sheila has volunteered with the program for two to three hours once a week, visiting the homes of new parents and assisting them with a variety of tasks. Most often, Sheila helps take care of the newborn while the new mom catches up on household tasks, takes a nap, or allows herself a brief break to relax. Sometimes she reads or plays with an older sibling, so the new mom can focus on her infant. Her volunteer work constantly changes to fit the needs of her clients. Her support even helped one new mom complete her school work at the local community college, enabling her to graduate! For some moms, the hours Sheila provides are the only respite they get throughout the week.
Working with infants comes naturally to Sheila. Originally from Ottawa, Canada, Sheila became an RN at a diploma school in Montreal, where she worked side by side with doctors and nurses every day. After moving to Vermont with her husband, she began a twenty-five-year stint on staff at the Women and Children’s Unit at CVMC. For the past five years, she’s worked per diem. This is when she began volunteering, spending time at the Benefit Shop in Barre, and with a knitting group at the hospital where she makes prayer shawls to help comfort terminal patients and their families.
Sheila loves the work she does with Good Beginnings, and it’s clear from the excitement in her voice that the work is deeply rewarding to her. She says the biggest thing she’s learned from volunteering there with Good Beginnings is how hard some new moms have to work to make ends meet. “It was a wake-up call,” she says. She realized how much she has to be thankful for, and how many people really struggle in Central Vermont.
Part of her longevity as a volunteer comes from the amazing support she gets from the staff at Good Beginnings. Along with praise and consistent encouragement from the program coordinator, Good Beginnings also holds monthly “purple coffee hours” where volunteers can sit down and talk about the challenges and successes they’ve faced, while seeking advice from each other and staff. Sheila also receives lots of reinforcement from the moms. “I know after two hours, I’ve made a real difference in that mom’s life.” Truly, having support from a trained professional after having a new baby can mean a world of difference.
Good Beginnings commits to helping families at many levels. With a mission to, “bring community to families and their babies,” the organization provides any families expecting an infant with much needed respite service. Their primary Postpartum Angel service matches families with community volunteers who provide respite, companionship, and community connections during the postpartum period. Other Good Beginnings services include free early parenting workshops, a parent drop-in space with peer support groups, reduced-price baby carriers, and baby wearing support for new parents, a financial assistance fund for families in crisis, and the In Loving Arms cuddling program for vulnerable newborns at the UVM Health Network-CVMC Campus.
The medical profession runs in Sheila’s family. One of her daughters is a nurse and the other is a physical therapist. She says her years working as a nurse have greatly informed her volunteer work. She was even introduced to the Good Beginnings program by the founder and President of the program while at the hospital!
With over twenty percent of children being born to single mothers, the work of Good Beginnings volunteers is crucial to providing mothers with the support they need through the first twelve weeks of their children’s lives. Green Mountain United Way is proud to support the work of Good Beginnings and is incredibly proud to name Sheila as their Volunteer of the Month this January.
For more information on the work of Good Beginnings of Central Vermont visit http://www.goodbeginningscentralvt.org/ and to find out more about the work Green Mountain Untied way supports in the community, visit http://www.gmunitedway.org/.