BATTLE GROUND — Tamicka Fellows has a reminder scrawled on the whiteboard in her office: “Be OK planting and watering, but not seeing the harvest.”
Fellows is program director and house director at Mom’s Place Maternity in Battle Ground, a nonprofit maternity home serving homeless women and their children. And she’s in it for the long haul.
Women agree to a set of house rules when they move in. But a few, says Fellows, don’t abide by them, and she has to ask them to leave. And that’s not always a smooth process.
“Sometimes I felt so beat up by the girls,” says Fellows. But mentor Rhoda Hilman, founder of Avonlea Acres, the predecessor of Mom’s Place, taught her to take the long view.
“She said, ‘You’ll see it later. They’ll come back,’” says Fellows. “And they do come back. And they say, ‘I learned so much (at Mom’s Place).’”
In fact, says Fellows, that’s why it’s called Mom’s Place.
“I wanted it to feel like mom’s house,” she says. “Even after you move out, you still go back. You still call her. My goal was that they would keep coming back, even if they had to leave for one reason or another. And I think I’ve achieved that goal.”
Mom’s Place Executive Director Jennifer Laudette agrees.
“I don’t know when (Fellows) sleeps,” she says. “She’s constantly in contact — with moms here, with moms who have gone. Even when she has to expedite a departure, she’s still trying to help her.”
Fellows, her husband, and their three children, 13, 10, and 8, live on-site, currently with three women and their six children, aged nine months to six years. And Mom’s Place has room for two more families.
“We are a program,” Fellows stresses, “not just a place to live. They work daily on their lives.”
Each woman meets weekly with a case manager, looking at her goals for the past week and setting goals for the new week.
Women stay anywhere from six months to two years. Most stay about a year, working on furthering their education or finding and settling into a job, moving out when they’re able to afford their own place.
Mom’s Place began in 2007 as Avonlea Acres. Fellows came on board as a volunteer in 2013, during her junior year at WSU Vancouver. She interned at the house her senior year. And, in 2015, Avonlea Acres became Mom’s Place, and Fellows became program director and resident house director.
The hardest part of her job, Fellows says, “is working with girls who really struggle with themselves. Who don’t think highly of themselves. Who let people abuse them. I can’t make them dig inside and fix their internal self. I see a lot of hurt. But the best part is loving them through it, letting them see that they do have meaning.”
And living on-site presents its own set of challenges.
“Most people, when they have a conflict with another person, they can leave it at work. But I live at work. It’s caused a lot of internal growth. How do I have an issue with someone and still sit across from her at dinner and love her? We’re a family. Sometimes I just want the night to be over. But we are a family. It’s made me into a better person.”
But dinner time is also her favorite time of day.
“I’m happiest when my whole family is here,” she says. “I mean the girls. In the evening. The little kids are home for the day, and everyone’s here. I love it when we have a full house.”
Fellows says one of her biggest challenges in living at the house is making sure her kids don’t feel left out.
“During the school year it’s a little easier,’’ she said. “I do office things and have meetings while they’re at school. But in the summer it’s harder. I have to force myself to keep boundaries.”
But Laudette says that having Fellows and her family on-site also allows residents to see positive interactions between parents and children and between a husband and wife.
“Some of the women here have never sat down for a meal before,” says Laudette. “Never sat down and had dinner at a table. (Living with the Fellows family) changes women’s perspectives on what a healthy relationship is.”
“They say, ‘I’m gonna wait for a guy like that,’’’ she said. “They come here with bruised faces. And they see there is a different possibility, a loving relationship possibility.”
For more information on Mom’s Place, or to donate or volunteer, go to momsplacematernity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.