Wise Women

Grandmas2Go helps new parents and their babies thrive

grandma to go
Joy Marshall of Medford and Linda Otto of Jacksonville are the leaders of Grandmas2Go. Holding twins Ethan and Henry Koerella as infants. Photo provided by Grandmas2Go.

Being pregnant during a pandemic upends your birth plans. Stephanie Danyi of Ashland, expecting her first child, is having a home birth this month rather than the hospital setting planned. Fortunately, she has a supporter in Merry Vediner of Ashland, a volunteer grandma for Grandmas2Go, a Medford-based nonprofit committed to assisting families with new babies.

“Seeing as this is my first baby, Gr’ma Merry has helped relieve so many of my anxieties and has helped me normalize my experience,” Danyi says. “She has been a supportive, listening ear when I have been overwhelmed by big emotions and anxieties.  I honestly think she has made all the difference in the world!”

“We’re helping kids to thrive and helping parents to be the best parents they can be.” – Linda Otto, Grandmas2Go

Vediner is collecting donations for home birthing supplies and providing lots of encouragement, “so Stephanie can have the best circle of support ever.”

Danyi is grateful for the support of Vediner and Grandmas2Go, calling the program “a gift to the entire community.”

The mission of Grandmas2Go is to connect what the organization calls “trained and trusted women of wisdom and experience” with struggling and at-risk young families. The connection provides mentorship and nurturing support for parents during the critical early years of their child’s development – from pregnancy to preschool. When confronted with the harsh realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grandmas2Go’s founder and CEO Linda Otto took it all in stride.

“This is such a stressful time, it’s a lot like dealing with a natural disaster,” she says. “Even with everything happening, we can still provide necessary support for young families, to help prevent developmental problems and help kids feel secure.”

Getting Grandmas2Go going

Otto’s years of working as a court-appointed advocate for drug-affected children taught her the importance of supporting the families by enabling the parents to seek treatment for their drug addiction. She also thinks many families today are separated by distance or dysfunction, so young parents miss out on receiving meaningful parenting guidance and learning life experiences from within their own families. Otto determined providing extended support offered by surrogate grandmothers was a fitting solution. After researching the feasibility of the concept for four years, she founded Grandmas2Go in 2015.

“Under normal circumstances, most first-time parents can benefit from receiving extra help and positive reinforcement from outside supports,” says Otto. “And those needs are even greater when the parents and baby are impacted by drugs.”

During the first two years, Otto began developing Grandmas2Go’s Family Coaches program. Working solo, she obtained grants and donations to purchase texts, training materials, infant products and office supplies; created parenting skills classes; and undertook an initial marketing push. In 2017, Joy Marshall joined Otto as the nonprofit’s head of fundraising. Having worked previously for 19 years with the Children’s Miracle Network, “it was easy for me to grasp the opportunity presented by Grandmas2Go,” Marshall says.

Good for families, good for volunteers

Otto and Marshall initially trained 10 volunteers to establish a pilot program, matching those volunteers with a cohort of 25 Jackson County families. Some families connected to Grandmas2Go through local birth centers, while others came from social service agencies like the Family Nurturing Center in Medford.

Early on, Otto realized that Grandmas2Go could serve the needs of more than just its recipient families. Because many female Baby Boomers are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations, they need outlets for giving back to their communities, Otto says. She believes the connection enables these grandmas to find new meaning in their “encore years.”

The nonprofit’s family coaching work caught on quickly, and soon Grandmas2Go was named a top 5 finalist in a national competition for innovative new nonprofit programs. Currently, Grandmas2Go has 30 trained volunteer grandmas serving more than 100 families in Jackson and Josephine counties, and its plans call for expanding throughout western Oregon.

Keeping families and grandmas connected in today’s world

While the social distancing practices necessitated by the COVID-19 response have temporarily curtailed the in-home family coaching, Otto and Marshall are working hard to keep their volunteer grandmas and the families they serve connected. Many of the volunteer grandmas are learning how to have successful FaceTime calls and Zoom meetings, since the usual in-home visits are off-limits.

“We’re sending out lots of online information to stay in touch with our recipient families and our grandmas,” says Otto. “Stress is the hardest thing on parents, and it passes down to the kids. So, we’re sending them regular emails containing parenting guidance and insights on how to manage stress under very difficult circumstances.”

Joining forces with Family Nurturing Center

Earlier this year, Grandmas2Go announced plans to merge with the Family Nurturing Center, the Medford social service agency that helps struggling families with young children remain together rather than entering the foster care system. The two organizations’ missions and programs form a natural pairing.

“Our program fits nicely within the Family Nurturing Center’s existing programs and it’s going to help us grow by providing us access to larger staffing resources,” Otto says. “We’re helping kids to thrive and helping parents to be the best parents they can be.”

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More to Explore

Orchid Babies Bonding Program for high-needs infants

G2G logo purple 300

Grandmas2Go’s Orchid Babies Bonding program is an innovative model that supports parents of infants with almost any type of high need, like premature birth, drug addiction or other medical issues.

The Orchid Babies program seeks to remove the stigma associated with high-needs babies and to provide extra reinforcements for their parents.

Got grandma skills?

grandmas online

Grandmas2Go matches volunteer “grandmas” with young parents, many of whose babies have special needs. The volunteers provide in-home support and positive reinforcement to the families.

Volunteer grandmas require a background check and a minimum of 12 hours of training. For more information visit www.grandmas2go.org or call 541.770.3476.

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