Walking around the Family Life Center at Shepherd’s Door – Portland Rescue Mission’s ministry for women and children – it’s impossible to not imagine yourself as a child again. The big, beautiful playground. Legos, dolls, colorful blocks and pretend-kitchens. There’s even a kid-sized basketball court.
Lisa and her two little boys call Shepherd’s Door home during Lisa’s year-long enrollment in our addiction recovery ministry — and they absolutely love it. They need it. It’s certainly a vast upgrade from the boys’ last living situation, an abusive foster care family. But it’s not just a kid’s paradise full of toys, games, and attention. It’s definitely that – but also so much more.
It’s a family.
“It’s been a Disneyland-like experience for them,” Lisa said. “They feel so safe here.”
The Family Life Ministry at Shepherd’s Door seeks to bring mothers and their children into a healthy, nurturing, self-sustaining relationship. It’s a place where women recovering from addictions not only learn how to get clean and stay clean, but they’re also taught how to be good, healthy moms. At the same time, the children learn foundational life skills – with their moms right alongside them.
“It’s an integrated program for moms to interact with their children in a loosely supervised setting to help them develop life skills,” said Christine Ourada, Director of Women’s and Children’s Ministries. “Cooking, Bible stories, singing songs, going on field trips, playing board games – it’s all mothers along with their children engaging in guided, healthy playing.”
The staff at Shepherd’s Door also places a heavy emphasis on good social behavior.
“We teach educational skills like letters and numbers – we want the kids to get used to being in a classroom setting. But we definitely don’t want to just function as a preschool,” one staff member said. “A lot of what we focus on is building healthy attachments with them, lovingly correcting behavior, giving them a lot of choices, and trying to model that structure for the moms. We’re really intentional with moms, gently coaching their parenting.”
The Family Life Ministry aims to function as a one-room schoolhouse where the younger children learn from the older ones in a loving, structured environment. In order for this system to work, it’s vital that staff and volunteers instill the necessary values in the older kids so they can be positive examples.
“Instilling those values is really hard to do if you’re chasing little ones around,” Christine said. “What we need are people to step in and keep those younger children active in the right way.”
In other words, we need loving, qualified volunteers — and quickly.
Volunteers have a significant amount of flexibility and variety when working with the children. “We need both women and men,” Christine said. “We need baby holders, we need people to teach letters and numbers, we need people to just play with the kids.”
When working with these children – all of whom come from broken and often-abusive upbringings, consistency is key. Abandonment and neglect are deep-seated emotions, and as we work to build a strong and trusting foundation in them, we need volunteers who are willing to commit to a regular schedule.
Jodi is one of our committed volunteers:
“It’s a total blessing to work with the little kids. I love seeing them every week when I’m here. They’re so wonderful. I help out with whatever activity they’re doing. Going outside. Doing art. Snack time. Playing games. It’s such a blessing to be in their lives. The best part is seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces – it’s so neat to see them having fun. There are some kids who got here around the time I started volunteering and they were quiet or standoffish and now they’re so happy and they’re playing and it’s wonderful. To anyone who may be interested: know that you’re making a huge difference in the kids’ lives and the women’s lives as well. Even if it’s just once a month, it makes a difference.”
Here are some volunteer guidelines to consider:
The need for volunteers is already great, and with the number of children expected to double within the next 3-4 months, we are going to need your help more than ever. Please prayerfully consider if you would be interested and available to invest your time in one of the most crucial stages of a young family’s life.
If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering in the Family Life Center at Shepherd’s Door, please visit our volunteer page at /get-involved/volunteer/apply/
As always, thank you for your prayers, gifts, and generous sacrifices. They truly make a big difference!