Adventist Health Social Worker Offers Hope

Dealing with dozens of mothers who are often heartbreakingly under-aged and helplessly unprepared for the basics of motherhood would test most people’s faith.

For Bonnie Wicklund, however, such work is a daily reinforcement of her faith.

As a social worker at Walla Walla General Hospital (WWGH), Wicklund works with the hospital’s Tot Spot program, designed to help parents improve their parenting skills.

The unusual parent-education plan is offered through Walla Walla Community College, in partnership with WWGH. Parents enroll in Tot Spot through the College and earn college credit for attending the sessions.

Some mothers in the Tot Spot program have been referred by state child-protective or foster-care officials because of documented infant abuse or neglect. Others, from more stable backgrounds, come to Tot Spot simply because they need a break. At Tot Spot, they often wind up learning that they need to break free from erroneous concepts about baby-raising handed down through generations in their own families.

So, twice a week, parents and their children come to a local church for two hours of supervised playtime with early childhood educator Valerie Neuschwander. Later, Wicklund and many of the mothers interactively discuss the full spectrum of child-rearing skills.

Everything from brain development, to nutrition, to car seat safety, to disciplinary methods is covered during the group’s time together.

“We try to make it more than just a lecture,” says the bilingual Wicklund. “Sometimes it acts as a support group. They’re so anxious to learn, but they’ve never had anybody to teach them.”

Though not a parent herself, Wicklund’s passion for helping others comes naturally. Born in Brazil, the daughter of career missionaries, she knew all along she wanted to do something different.

“I’ve been raised to believe that part of my earthly mission is to make life better for other people,” she says.

Her efforts to do so have not gone unnoticed. “Bonnie embodies our mission,” says Stan Ledington, director of WWGH Community Health Education. “She is restoring peace, hope, and health for these moms, which is the Hospital’s mission to our community.”

The rewards of doing this work are immeasurable, she says—work that includes outreach programs for pregnant women, domestic violence case management, and counseling for drugs, alcohol, and depression.

“A lot of my work is not necessarily rewarded up front, but the small amount of feedback I do get is pretty rewarding—to know that I’ve had a direct and positive impact in people’s lives,” Wicklund says.

“A lot of the world has been opened up to me that I would never have seen otherwise,” she adds. “It makes me more aware of how fragile life is, how much we take for granted, and how blessed I feel that God has provided for me.”

Featured in: December 2002