On a Wednesday morning at My Safe Harbor in Anaheim, there is a sign outside of the conference room that reads: Club de Mamas.
Inside there’s lively chatter, women drinking coffee, having breakfast, and catching up on what they did over the weekend.
But when the meeting begins, the room grows quiet. It’s time for class.
“Que puedes hacer?” asks Life Coach Kika Cortez.
“What can you do?
“You can do anything, but if you don’t believe in yourself? How can you?” Cortez says to the group of women. “If you keep postponing things, giving yourself excuses, or telling yourself you’re too busy, then how can you accomplish goals for yourself?”
Her words are meant to evoke inspiration in the group of mostly Latina moms, all of them students and moms, who have signed up for the Strong Families Institute created by the nonprofit organization My Safe Harbor.
The 30-week program brings together moms seeking ways to improve their own lives in order to improve the lives of their children. Many of these moms are the heads of households, struggling with finances, gang problems, domestic violence, and other traumatic experiences, all while keeping their children safe.
Joining the Strong Families Institute isn’t easy for many of these moms. The curriculum is challenging, and attending is a massive commitment. Moms must volunteer their time, attend weekly classes that are about 3 ½ hours, and invest $100 from their own pocket to participate.
Not everyone makes it, but for those who do – it’s a life changing experience.
“Prepare yourself. Be ready to change your circle of friends, because you aren’t going to fit into your old life anymore. You are educating yourself, changing your lives. You aren’t going to be the same person,” explains Life Coach Mari Albor.
Many of the coaches are women who have completed the program. Their experiences help inspire the new moms who struggle to exist outside of their comfort level.
Jessika Ahlberg, LCSW, Program Director for My Safe Harbor, has witnessed the transformative experience of the Strong Families Institute since created in 2011. The nonprofit opened its doors along Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim in 2008 with the goal to become a safe space for moms struggling to keep their families afloat.
My Safe Harbor started with a Mom’s Club, and in 2011 launched the first Strong Families Institute which was held once a year until 2015.
In 2017, they received funding from the North Orange County Public Safety Collaborative, which gave My Safe Harbor the ability to expand the Strong Families Institute to 5 cohorts a year.
“We work on developing the mom as an individual,” Ahlberg said. “What they are learning is great for everyday use. It’s doable, it’s actionable, and it’s good for every mom.”
The successful program is among those supported by the Collaborative, funded for four years in 2017 for $20 million through a grant secured by State Sen. Josh Newman for youth violence prevention and intervention, reentry services, and homeless outreach.
An additional $7.8 million included in California’s Budget Act of 2021 will sustain the Collaborative for another year and enable it to expand. Federal officials have taken note of the Collaborative’s innovative approach to solving challenging social issues and are seeking an additional $5 million.
In 2022, the Collaborative approved $45,000 in grant money for My Safe Harbor to continue their program in Anaheim, this includes launching a program for fathers. The Placentia-based nonprofit Solidarity was awarded $40,000 from the Collaborative to bring My Safe Harbor’s Strong Families Institute to Fullerton.
“We had three women from Solidarity come over and participate in the 30-week program and we did this to test the waters. We needed to see if the partnership would work for them because it’s not for everyone. It’s a unique program that requires time commitment, following the curriculum, and support from the surrounding community,” Ahlberg said. “It takes a really special partner, and Solidarity has taken the time to really understand the program.”
With the new funding received by the Collaborative, Solidarity and My Safe Harbor will begin their pilot program this spring.
“This is the dream for us,” she said. “The vision is to see this unique program all over. It can be taught, and it can be shared. It’s not just a class these moms take. It’s a commitment, but it’s also a big relief for many who are dealing with the stress of being a mom.”
Luli Flores, a mom of 15-year-old twins, is enrolled in the Strong Families Institute for a second time because she wasn’t able to complete the program the first time, she attempted it.
Her life looks so different compared to before she walked through the doors of My Safe Harbor.
“I’ve learned a lot of skills I didn’t have before,” she said. “I have had to learn how to respect that we are a family. I come here; I talk to others. If I have a problem there’s usually someone here who has been through it, and they can help me. And you don’t feel so bad, because you can feel like a bad mom all the time. And this pushes me instead to focus and to be inspired.”
For more information, visit www.mysafeharbor.org