Every time Bonnie Wicklund holds her little boy, it reminds her of how precious each baby is. She wants the best for her child and can’t imagine not giving 100 percent of herself to ensure his well being. But Bonnie knows that all mothers aren’t as prepared as she was to have a child.
As a social worker at Walla Walla General Hospital’s (WWGH) Women’s Center, Bonnie deals with dozens of mothers who know little about the basics of parenting. Her main responsibility is to work with the hospital’s First Steps program, which provides services to low-income pregnant women.
“Parenting begins at conception,” said Bonnie. “The goal of the First Steps program is to help women achieve healthy pregnancies and give them skills that will enable them to take care their child once he or she enters the world.”
First Steps provides qualified women with numerous benefits, including transportation to and from medical appointments, free childcare while at these appointments, childbirth education and family planning services. High-risk mothers also receive ongoing support throughout their babies’ first year of life.
"A lot of my work is not necessarily rewarded up front, but the small amount of feedback I do get is very rewarding—to know that I've had a direct and positive impact in people's lives," Bonnie said.
In addition to First Steps, Bonnie also is in charge of Tot Spot, a unique education program designed to help individuals improve their parenting skills. The program—offered through Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) in partnership with WWGH—gives college credit to moms for attending the sessions.
"We try to make it more than just a lecture," said Bonnie, who is bilingual and teaches the class with her own baby in tow. "Sometimes it acts as a support group. The moms are so anxious to learn, but they've never had anybody to teach them."
Twice a week, parents and their children come to a local church for two hours of supervised playtime with an early childhood educator. Later, Bonnie and the mothers interactively discuss the latest in the full spectrum of child-related issues. Everything from brain development and nutrition to car seat safety and disciplinary methods is covered during the time the group spends together.
Some of the mothers in the Tot Spot program have been referred by state child-protective or foster-care officials because of documented abuse or neglect of their infants. Others, from more stable backgrounds, come to Tot Spot simply because they need a break.
“The class brings together parents from all walks of life—from housewives to teenage moms,” said Bonnie. “No matter how different their lives may be, they all are dealing with similar child-rearing issues.”
According to Bonnie, one of the beauties of the class is that many of the mothers find role models in the other parents that attend Tot Spot. In many instances, she sees marked improvement in some of her younger moms as a result of their interaction with others in the group.
To Bonnie, work is more than just a job—it’s a mission. Born in Brazil as the daughter of career missionaries, she knew all along she wanted to do something different. “I've been raised to believe that part of my earthly mission is to make life better for other people," she said. And for dozens of moms and their kids, Bonnie is doing just that.