Providing hope to families across Kalamazoo

This coming weekend marks the Annual “Ultimate Family Reunion,” a family-friendly celebration of community. Organizers tell why they're celebrating.
“Unscripted, uncensored, and a very safe place.” That's how Stephanie Moore describes Mothers of Hope. Moore, probably best known for her past role as a commissioner for the City of Kalamazoo and currently as County Commissioner, is also the spokesperson for Mother's of Hope, an organization with a mission to empower mothers in an effort to better the Kalamazoo community.

Moore knows all too well the kinds of struggles that mothers -- particularly those with urban traumas -- can face. Her own mother, Gwen Lanier, founded Mothers of Hope in 1999 after a long battle with substance abuse. Today, Lanier lives 27 years in sobriety.

“We were all separated -- my sister and brother went one way, I went another way, and my mother went into a treatment facility,” Moore remembers. After her mother completed her treatment program, it was a long and painful road -- not only through recovery, but reconnecting with family and the myriad barriers she faced in rebuilding her family and her attempts to maintain stability.

When Moore's mother came out on the other side, she decided she wanted to give back to other women who were trying to remain clean and sober. What felt most important to her was to have an outpouring of love, and support, and networking. "A lot of people are isolated, they get disconnected from their families and struggle with trying to maintain sobriety,” Moore says. "That's where Mothers of Hope comes in as a sort of gathering place -- a village."

One connection point is The Sistah's Circle Roundtable. It meets weekly and is a place where women come to the table to talk about barriers, areas they need support, and also opportunities -- like where they can volunteer, what kinds of things are happening in the greater Kalamazoo community, and in their specific neighborhood. Upward of 20 people attend these meetings, every week.

Mothers of Hope doesn't just serve the needs of women and mothers, though. While they feel that women and mothers are a core strength in the community, they also believe strongly in working together. They identify as a family-focused organization. Through meetings that they call, “Real Life... Men's Talk,” they connect men, in much the same way that Sistah's Circle connects women. The men who gather have conversations about how to build a support system, about relationships that are healthy, that are not violent, and that strengthen the community. The men's group meets twice a week.

And then there are the bigger events. Things like, “Sistah's, Can we Talk?” which brings women together to discuss the largest barriers that exist for women in our community --  health, education, and employment. A similar large-scale event brings men together, which they call, “Man Cave.” The most recent of these gatherings took place in July. There is not yet another scheduled meeting on the calendar.

Tonight, (July 30) at 6 p.m. at the Douglas Community Association, Mothers of Hope, in partnership with the Michigan ACLU, is hosting a Race and Policing Forum. The meeting, which is free and open to the community, will explore citizen's rights, what's happening in regards to racial violence across the country, and Kalamazoo's role in making sure that we're protecting the families and children in our own communities, while building relationships with law enforcement.

And this coming weekend marks the Annual “Ultimate Family Reunion,” a family-friendly celebration of community. Saturday, August 1, at Spring Valley Park from noon until 6 p.m. Mothers of Hope will host a community event with the theme, “Our Family VOTES,” and will include nonpartisan opportunities to register to vote, re-register to vote if someone has moved, and learn about the process of voting. This event is free and open to the public.

Each year, approximately 5,000 people from across greater Kalamazoo attend the Ultimate Family Reunion, and up to 70 organizations provide information, resources and services to participants.

Mothers of Hope organizes the event each year to both provide education for the community and a family-reunion-like celebration. Free picnic food, games, live performances, a three-on-three basketball tournament, free health screenings and a wide variety of information, resources and services will be provided.

Using a unique "passport system," Mothers of Hope gives individuals an incentive to connect with resources and services provided by community-based organizations and public sector service providers of health care, education, and various social services. Completed passports are entered in a drawing for gift cards from various businesses.

Past participants have reported that the information and services they receive at the Ultimate Family Reunion are helpful to them in addressing their hopes and needs. This is especially true for the many low-income families who attend each year. For 2015, Mothers of Hope hopes to expand even further on last year’s record setting attendance.

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Mothers of Hope is offering free rides to the event from the following locations:

Boys & Girls Club (Lake Street)
11:15 am & 1:15 pm

Foxridge Apartments
11:40 am & 1:55 pm

Interfaith Homes Apartments
11:55 am & 1:55 pm

East Main Town Beverages store
(Phelps & E. Main)
12:10 pm & 2:10 pm

Please call Mothers of Hope office if you have a disability and need assistance. You can reach them at 269 343-6185 x218 or by email at MothersofHope1@gmail.com

More information about Mothers of Hope can be found on their website.

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Kathi Valeii is a writer, speaker, and activist living in Kalamazoo. She writes about gender-based oppression and full spectrum reproductive rights at her blog, birthanarchy.com

 
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