MOUNT MORRIS — Yoga instructor Ruth Ann Polito recently asked a small group of women to take a comfortable matted seat on the floor in a room at St. Patrick’s Parish Center. She then led the women through a variety of meditative instructions, breathing exercises and physical movements.
“Our theme for today is nourishment,” said Polito, an instructor with the Valley School of Dance and Shakti Yoga Center in Geneseo.
Polito invited the women to think about how they nourish their children and how they are, in turn, nourished by being mothers.
Once a month, Polito teaches a free yoga class on behalf of Catholic Charities of Livingston County‘s Nurturing Parenting Support Group, which meets at the parish center. The group’s single mothers are clients of programs operated by Catholic Charities, according to Michelle Dourie, program manager for one such program, Community of Caring, which provides case management and counseling for single mothers and pregnant women. The program also offers mental-health counseling, transportation and parenting information, as well as assistance navigating the legal and social-service systems, she said.
The Catholic Charities agency also operates the Transitioning Off Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (Welfare) Program — TOT — which offers case management, career counseling, referrals and job-readiness skills training to mothers seeking to become self-sufficient.
CCLC also offers Jemison Place, a supported-living apartment for single mothers. Clients receive individual counseling and case-management services while living there.
Sheri Kreher, who coordinates Jemison Place, said all three programs are designed to help the women achieve self-sufficiency, and all three programs serve similar clientele: impoverished women and single mothers with little support — including those who lack supportive family members; those with no access to child care or transportation; and those who have experienced abuse both as children and as adults. Kreher said the yoga classes are a boon to the mothers.
“I think, first of all, that the women we work with rarely have the opportunity to nurture themselves,” Kreher said, noting many single mothers lack connections to other mothers and the wider community. “I think if women can have even 45 minutes of being safe and integrated, of having a safe place to be integrated, that it can be sort of a window into mental health.”
After yoga class, one mother noted that she’s spent years taking care of others, and the yoga class allows her to take care of herself for a few moments.
“As mothers … we nourish and protect,” Polito added. “But we can turn that around and nourish ourselves. What we learn to do as mothers is bring out the best in our children, and we turn that around and do it for ourselves.”
While mothers learn to breathe and stretch in one room, they’re learning to quilt in another, according to Mary Ann Thompson, who coordinates TOT. Every Friday, clients are invited to bring a lunch to the “Quilting Connections” and make use of almost a dozen donated sewing machines, she said.
“The goal is to get these women out,” Thompson said. “They’re often very isolated.”
She added that quilting teaches both practical and social skills, and can serve as a step to employment.
Alice Andrews, 27, is a participant in the Nurturing Parent Support Group.
“It’s like a family here,” she said. “It helps knowing you always have friends to talk with.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn about donating to, or volunteering for, programs offered by Catholic Charities of Livingston County, call 585/658-4466. In particular, people are needed who can provide transportation and child care for clients.