“To create independence, not codependence – as we’re trying to do at Hannah House – coaching is a tool that helps young mothers self-evaluate, with someone to hold them accountable,” says Cheryl Plett, executive director of Hannah House Maternity Home, a Christian non-profit in Niagara Falls, Ont., that provides transitional supportive housing for expectant and new mothers under 22.
Each woman who comes to Hannah House is paired with a one-on-one client support worker, who connects with her daily during her stay and supports her for at least six months after she moves out.
“We were bumbling along, using aspects of coaching models we found on the internet, but we didn’t have a formal process in place,” says Plett. That was until last September, when Hannah House’s frontline team received coaching training through L2L, the leadership development ministry of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
“What surprised me most is how different coaching is from mentoring,” says Plett: mentors pour into people; coaches pull good things out of them.
“The women were relying on us to come up with solutions,” says Plett. But through coaching – which asks questions instead of giving answers, “they are suddenly aware that they’re responsible to change their life. It’s a very fun process to be part of.”
“We still advocate for them and problem solve with them, but we do our best to help them come up with their own solutions, so they’re empowered,” says Plett.
In addition to monthly formal coaching sessions and weekly follow-up, informal coaching happens at the house on a daily basis. While they cook or do laundry together, support workers ask expectant moms questions designed to build self-awareness. And behind the scenes, staff are praying.
L2L’s model – while it offers the same Christian lens as other coaching classes Plett has taken – is better suited than others for coaching people who don’t identify as Christians, like 95 percent of Hannah House’s clientele.
The staff regularly ask, “How does God fit into your goals?” Often the answer is “That’s not where I’m at.” But sometimes, when a crisis comes, young women seek out staff to say, “Can you pray for me?”
Some young women turn to Jesus. One wrote, “I met with my life coach to talk about parenting, emotional wellbeing and all that goes into raising a child and living independently. I was stubborn at times. [My coach] allowed me to express what I was feeling and thinking about God during this whole process. God has definitely used this time at Hannah House to prepare me for the future. I’m so thankful.”
After Hannah House, this young mother graduated with honours and a degree in social work and joined the staff of another crisis pregnancy centre in Ontario.
“A fundamental piece of Christian coaching is that we work together with the Holy Spirit,” says Plett. When a young woman receives the Holy Spirit, “we see rapid changes. They realize they’re not alone or dependent on their own understanding.”
“We can’t control whether they will or won’t give their life to the Lord,” says Plett, “but the Holy Spirit is working through the love they receive daily.”
Plett calls L2L’s coaching model “freeing.” It takes the pressure off the staff to bring about change, and it help young mothers discover, “By taking baby steps, I can change course of my life.”
It’s discipleship by another name – one that resonates with the young women Hannah House serves.