One of 20 recipients of an F5 2021 Tech for Good Grant, Thriving Families is using these funds to help new mothers obtain the mental health support and community connections and resources they need during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to rethink the way they work. And one organization that had to quickly shift gears is Thriving Families, a nonprofit that offers support to new mothers and pregnant women and teens.
Every year, Thriving Families helps 400 to 500 clients in the Denver, Colo. area adjust to motherhood, assisting them with everything from honing their conflict management skills to applying for community resources to learning how to connect more closely with their newborn.
To encourage participants to connect with each other, Thriving Families held its workshops in person. But then COVID hit. “It was midday on Friday, March 13 when I decided to close our offices, and I was in tears,” says Dr. Galena Rhoades, executive director of Thriving Families.“I didn’t know how we were going to continue to provide services without the ability to meet in person.”
Rhoades and her 15-member staff quickly assembled for an 8:30 a.m. Zoom meeting the following Monday, and soon afterward, workshop leaders started meeting with participants via audio or video. Since then, the nonprofit has completely shifted its classes online, helping women and teens to obtain the mental health support and community resources they need even as the COVID crisis worsened.
Yet while Thriving Families has continued its programs with minimal interruption, staff members have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to replicate the in-person experience and the connection it offers.
“Not being able to meet in person has created a lot of gaps—whether it’s missing out on changing diapers together or having lunch with everyone and their children in the same room,” says Rhoades. “That sense of community doesn't happen naturally when you're not meeting in person.”
As Thriving Families transitioned its services online, most participants had access to Internet service and were able to join by cell phone, at least some of the time. Yet many didn’t have reliable devices and weren’t able to see each other or communicate via chat and the other features that videoconferencing offers.
“Connection and support are critical during the postpartum period, a time that is often exhausting and when women are at risk for developing postpartum depression,” Rhoades says. “Pregnancy and postpartum can be such an isolating time for women, and then you layer on the pandemic, which is even more isolating.”
To increase the connection mothers feel during online meetings, Thriving Families obtained a $10,000 USD F5 Tech for Good Grant, which it is using to purchase tablets for 130 participants who weren’t able to attend workshops and classes via Zoom.
As staff members train clients to use these devices, they’re witnessing firsthand how it’s helped to foster greater connection. “I recently sat in on a virtual workshop, and the connection among moms who were on video using tablets was striking compared to those with poor phone video quality or who just called in,” Rhoades says.
For example, one activity involved drawing a picture of what healthy relationships look like. Participants attending via Zoom were eager to share their drawings, which led to a lively discussion. In another case, a woman shared feelings of grief over her significant other’s death, and participants were able to convey support using kind facial expressions and nodding.
“The tablet helped me to connect to the program for my classes, and I got support while there from the other mothers,” says one new mother. “If I did not have the tablet, I would not have been able to attend because my phone is so awful.”
Not only have the tablets reduced the barriers to participation, but they’ve also helped mothers and teens in other parts of their lives—whether it’s applying for government assistance, obtaining online schooling for their kids, or learning the technology skills they need for specific jobs. “There are just so many more resources available online, and when you’re familiar with technology, it opens doors,” says Rhoades.
Thriving Families has begun expanding its services into rural communities beyond the Denver area, and after COVID ends, the nonprofit plans to offer a hybrid model that combines in-person and virtual programs. With the ability to join virtual classes using tablets, new mothers will be able to take advantage of workshops even when there aren’t enough participants in their area. “A neat silver lining from our use of technology during the pandemic is that we’ll be able to reach a much wider audience, such as rural communities that wouldn't otherwise have access to these kinds of services,” Rhoades says.
Over time, Thriving Families plans to disseminate its model to other parts of the U.S. and the world. Already, one organization in Oklahoma City is planning to offer similar services and another in Nicaragua has begun offering the nonprofit’s flagship MotherWise program.
As Thriving Families continues to expand, so, too, will the nonprofit’s need for technology. “Grants like this are incredibly important,” says Rhoades. “There’s such a big gap in technology funding for nonprofits. And as we’ve learned during the pandemic, technology isn’t just needed to improve our operational infrastructure, but also to give more women and teens access to programs that improve their and their children’s lives.”
At F5, we are committed to extending our purpose, reach, and connections beyond the walls of our own company by using our expertise to support nonprofit organizations with their digital transformation efforts. Our Tech for Good Grants help nonprofits update their technological resources, making it possible for them to streamline administrative efforts, improve data security, and—most importantly—expedite their missions so they can do even more to help those they serve.
Want to be notified when applications open for F5’s 2022 Tech for Good Grants? Sign up here to be added to the email list.
To learn more, see our previous blog post, “Using Tech for Social Good.”