Villa Rosa has been caring for young and vulnerable mothers in Manitoba since the 1890’s, and while many things have changed over the years, nothing prepared the staff or the mothers themselves for the changes brought about the pandemic.
“We’re dealing with women who come to us during a very vulnerable time,” explains the Executive Director of Villa Rosa, Kathy Strachan. “They are often coming from abusive backgrounds, the foster care system, and are battling addictions with little to no support system. We’re here to support them as they prepare for their baby’s arrival. That looks like something different for every mother: parenting classes, getting a high school diploma, support staying sober, and of course, a community that accepts them and encourages them.”
Villa Rosa has space for 25 mothers in their main building and another 8 in a separate building which houses an independent living program that hosts mother and baby for up to a year as they continue to learn the skills they need to create a healthy life for their new family. Those two buildings came in handy when Covid-19 hit.
“The secondary building became, in a sense, our quarantine space,” continues Strachan. “We’ve had five cases of Covid-19 in the past year, all of them from new arrivals to our space. At the first sign of any symptoms, we’d get them set up and comfortable in a space of their own and get them tested. We are proud to say we had no spread within the program, either to other mothers or our staff. But the costs started to add up quickly.”
Normally, as a residential program that provides food and snacks for its participants, Villa Rosa buys all of their food in bulk. “All of a sudden, something like milk became a huge obstacle,” explains Strachan. “We need individual servings for those in quarantine, we needed individual services for those in the main space to decrease contact areas…all of our systems were upended, as was our budget.”
Strachan approached several organizations in a bid to find a way to cover the rising costs of caring for moms and their babies. Réseau Compassion Network, which normally provides a donation of $2,000 a year, was able to provide a one-time grant of $20,000 to help cushion the financial blow this year. “This contribution really means the world to us,” she says. “I tried a lot of places and everyone seemed to be as overwhelmed as we were. We’re so thankful to have this request come through.”
As for the staff, mothers and babies who are still coping with the effects of Covid-19 at Villa Rosa, they’re adapting and getting by. “In a strange way, it was a real bonding moment for a lot of us,” Strachan admits. “We kept some women longer than we normally would and had stopped intakes at the beginning of the pandemic while we made a game plan. The end result was a close-knit group of women who will be there to support each other long after they leave us.”