A place for help; After 20 years, Rachel’s Hope continues to support families in Mower County

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, September 26, 2018

If there’s a place where new families are in need of support, there’s help at Rachel’s Hope.

Rachel’s Hope (otherwise known as Southern Minnesota Women’s Center) has been based in Austin since 1998, and has been servicing new mothers and young families around the area.

The nonprofit organization offers free pregnancy tests and various levels of support from emotional to spiritual.

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“We’re helping families connect with the community,” said Linda LaVallie, executive director for Rachel’s Hope. “I think it’s important to have an organization like Rachel’s Hope to help young families in need of the support when going through a pregnancy. It also helps with early childhood. We provide the resources they need in partnership with other organizations in town.”

Since its start 20 years ago, Rachel’s Hope has helped “thousands of people,” according to LaVallie. What also changed over the years was the growing diversity of families from immigrant and refugee populations around the area. On average, Rachel’s Hope saw around 70 people per month in 2017, and now average about 80 people per month.

Rachel’s Hope volunteer Jille Peterson, right, sits with clients as they watch a video on pregnancy Tuesday.

“It’s been very balanced,” LaVallie explained. “We’ve got Spanish interpreters, Karen interpreters, and French interpreters. We’re trying to provide as much resources as possible so we can provide the same quality services as we can to many people. We’ve been able to add interpreters as our need increased, and the program has grown tremendously.”

Aside from having two full-time staff members, Rachel’s Hope is run by 20 volunteers who provide peer-to-peer support for those seeking someone to listen to them. Although the nonprofit commonly sees women who are entering motherhood or young couples coming in with children, men also stop by to receive some guidance or resources.

“We’re very blessed to have a large willing staff of volunteers,” LaVallie said. “Without them, none of this can be done. These are women who pour out their hearts for our clients.”

Other than pregnancy resources, Rachel’s Hope also operates the “Earn While You Learn” program, which allows individuals to participate in educational opportunities about pregnancy and early childhood. During this, participants earn points to exchange for baby essentials such as diapers, clothing, toiletries and more.

“Parents who participate in that program can come to use during their pregnancy or two years of their child’s life, then receive peer advising and a lot of education from our volunteers about labor and nutrition,” LaVallie said. “Appointments are once a month, and can earn points by participating in enrichment activities, attending church, school or doctor’s appointments, getting exercise and getting involved in the community.”

Rachel’s Hope will celebrating 20 years with its first-ever Walk for Life this coming Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. at East Side Lake.

A Walk For Life

This Saturday will be the first time that Rachel’s Hope hosts a “Walk For Life” event in Austin. The walk starts at 10 a.m. near East Side Lake, and participants are able to purchase a t-shirt onsite and can register at 9:30 a.m. if they haven’t done so already,

“We’d like to invite the entire community to join us and learn more about what we do,” LaVallie said. “We present information and we get a lot of supporting churches around the area. The walk itself is not competitive and is just a show of support.”

One of the things that LaVallie hoped to convey with Rachel’s Hope is to offer additional options for families around Mower County, as well as raising more awareness about the organization’s presence as a resource. For those looking to gain access to services, Rachel’s Hope is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome and services are completely free, such as providing peer-to-peer support from those experienced in raising children and newborns.

At Rachel’s Hope, parents to be can get the necessary supplies for raising a child.

“In our community, we do have a large population of low-income households that are definitely in need of extra help,” she said. “We can help, and there is a need for an organization to help people connect to the community who are new to Austin. We can help them find a church to attend or get connected to WIC or SEMCAC on things they need. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen to you and be there for you. A lot of people really need that in their lives.”

As Saturday draws closer, LaVallie expressed her desire to see Rachel’s Hope continue to grow and  help people in Mower County gain access to additional support.

“We would love to see this as a continuing hope to give back to the community by sharing what we do as well as celebrate with them,” she said. “As we continue to see increased growth, we hope there’s raised awareness of what we do to people who have never heard of us and reach out to people in need.”