Jerry and I are once again “snowbirds ” in Jensen Beach, Florida. We arrived several days ago to the same condo building as last year, but thankfully not the same unit. This one has updated and simple decor that will be quite comfortable for the next almost three months. The picture above is from our balcony. I love the beauty and the peace and the consistency that the ocean generates. It is the perfect setting to reflect on the past and to plan for the future.
In the immediate past was our trip to Florida on the auto train. Jerry and I have used the auto train for several years now and we have gotten very comfortable with the routine for checking in and for boarding the train. The station was very crowded and as we waited for the boarding announcement, I looked around at our fellow passengers and was struck by the realization that in no other setting would we be surrounded by so many contemporaries in various stages of health and mobility. If there were 700 people waiting for the boarding call, I would estimate that at least 500 of them were not independently mobile. It was for me a jarring realization.
We had brought along plenty to read and I had my lap top computer. In the busy days leading up to our departure I had not been able to stay abreast of e-mails. Now there was plenty of time to catch up. An e-mail, in particular, I was looking for related to the Naomi Project – an all volunteer mentoring program for high risk pregnant and newly parenting women in the Northern Virginia area that I founded in 1995 and stepped down from in 2014.
With my background in public health nursing and hospital chaplaincy and because I served on the state and local infant mortality councils, it was challenging but not very difficult for me to get the Naomi Project off the ground. From its origins the Naomi Project was under the sponsorship of the Virginia Council of Churches. When I approached VCC about taking on the Naomi Project they immediately saw the need for such a program but made it clear that they were not in a position to provide financial support but would provide insurance for all involved. Since the program was all volunteer there were no salaries. VCC providing insurance was a big help. They also provided a General Minister whose caring and knowledgable support was vital to the success of the Naomi Project.
Our mission was to serve needy pregnant and newly parenting women in the Northern Virginia area. One trained volunteer was matched with one client for a period of up to three years. With the passage of time referrals came from Fairfax Hospital, from public schools, Healthy Families and from individual medical personnel.
A local church offered a place to hold volunteer trainings and provided us with the address to use for the program. Planning meetings were held in the homes of various staff members. The program needed about $5000 a year to stay afloat and that was easily provided by grants we received from various foundations and from private donors who, when they learned of our mission, wanted to provide their support. Amazing women came forward and volunteered in the program and shared in the leadership of the program. And some men connected to our women volunteers offered their special skills when needed. Jerry set us up with a much needed website. I am grateful for the lifelong friends I made through this program. I was continually awed by the clients who trusted us and welcomed us into their homes. And since it is always nice to have your work acknowledged, I was appreciative of the various awards we received.
By late 2013 with the urging of the VCC General Minister, I started to think seriously of stepping down from the position of Co- Director of the Naomi Project. I was now 76 years old. Some pretty awesome women had joined me in leadership roles and they said they would stay on to run the program. An aspect of my stepping down was the need to find another organization who would become the sponsoring organization. The Virginia Council of Churches was located in Richmond and they were undergoing a reorganization of their own. Several of us examined our local options and finally were referred to a very successful non profit, which was serving different needs of some of the same population as the Naomi Project. This organization had been thinking of branching out into a mentoring program for pregnant and newly parenting women. It seemed like a perfect match and in late Fall 2014 I had my last days as a Naomi Project Co -Director.
It was hard for me to step down from this program I loved. But I recognized that it was the right thing to do – if I wanted the Naomi Project to continue I had to let others completely take over the leadership! I had to accept the fact that Jerry and I were getting older. Through the newsletter of the new organization, and e-mails and text messages and occasional meetings for coffee, I kept abreast of Naomi Project doings and felt very proud of their work.
In late 2018 I was informed that the need for a volunteer program like the Naomi Project was decreasing as various public programs with state and local funding and paid professional staff were expanding their services to the population served by the Naomi Project. The e-mail I read while on the auto train was officially informing me that the end of 2019 also was the official ending of the Naomi Project.
It is very hard for me to accept the passing of the Naomi Project. It helps for me to remember the more than 300 volunteers who came through the program when I was active and on the more than 500 pregnant and newly parenting women who allowed us into their lives. The sound of the waves is very soothing and very consistent and very peaceful. It reminds me that there are some things over which we have no control, the best we can do is to just move on..
Tonight Jerry and I will go to dinner and dancing with a couple we have met through Florida bridge. It is so easy to just stick with the friends you know, but then we would have missed out on a new friendship that has provided so much pleasure. As we head into 2020 I pray that we are open to all the possibilities of this new year.