Vita Centre volunteers collect diapers and other supplies for young mothers. Volunteers are the backbone of the agency. Photo courtesy of Vita Centre

Vita Centre grows with its clients

By 
  • March 13, 2016

As Vita Centre celebrates its 25 years of service in Peel Region, its staff and volunteers can look back and see how they have grown along with their clients.

Today, Vita Centre — one of the ShareLife family of service agencies — serves 400 pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 30, and their families. Fund development manager Tara Monks-Canfield said it is important that the centre has expanded the age range it serves in order to ensure clients have a continuity of services.

“Just because you were 24, now you’re 25, doesn’t mean that you suddenly know what to do,” said Monks-Canfield. “We’ve noticed with our clients that some of the issues that the young parents are facing are the same regardless of whether they are 15, 16, 25 or 30.”

It all began in 1991 when the centre was known as Vita Manor, a residence and parenting education centre for young pregnant women in crisis. 

As the number of clients began to grow, it became the Vita Centre in 2010 and transitioned its focus from housing services to support programs for young mothers. The centre hired professional child and youth counsellors which allowed it to provide one-to-one counselling for its clients and provide more wide-reaching youth support programming. 

Vita Centre began to collaborate with community partnerships to create programs like Growing As Parents (G.A.P.), a 12-week life skills and parenting program for young parents, and Parenting and Catholic Education (P.A.C.E.), which allows young mothers to continue their secondary school education while receiving parenting support.

Last fall, Vita Centre added two new programs to help new mothers navigate through the challenges of new parenthood. Nobody’s Perfect focuses on empowering young mothers through their strengths and talents in order to build their confidence in parenting. And Me, My Baby, Our World was created to give their young mothers the opportunity to connect and play with their children through exercises and therapeutic arts and crafts projects.

As the centre grows with its clients, Monks-Canfield said so will the programs it provides. She said the centre owes a lot of its growth to the support of the community. Without the support of organizations like ShareLife and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto, many of it services would not be possible. 

“I think it’s important that people know that we do not charge any money for any programs or services that we offer and we hope to continue to do that for the next 25 years,” she said. “We’re very small staffed servicing a lot of people and we need to do what we can to have people look in our direction... to keep our services free.”

Vita Centre is a small office of 12 staff, but the backbone of the centre is its volunteers. Volunteers run its Care Closet program which provides a stock of baby food and care essentials for mothers and families in need. They organize a Supper Connection program where young parents can come together around a nutritious meal and connect with peers as a trained facilitator teaches them new parenting skills and strategies.

Volunteers are instrumental in running many outreach and fundraising events throughout the year.

Tanya Pereira, volunteer engagement manager, currently manages a team of 170 active volunteers mostly made up of high school and post-secondary students.

“They are initially coming in to meet their community service hours,” said Pereira. “Once they start volunteering, they learn a little bit more about what Vita is doing and how important they are to Vita’s mission. Even once they graduate from high school, they stay.”

Pereira said the greatest asset of the volunteer team is the ability to provide a peer-to-peer support system. Many of the volunteers are also past clients who are now extending the same help they received and passing it on to new clients. 

These connections between the volunteers and the clients has given clients an important sense of family and belonging.

“It’s not just the moms or the parents coming in to the programs to learn from us, the counsellors or the program facilitators,” said Pereira. 

“It’s about learning from each other and that’s one important thread that flows through all our programs.”

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