Inspiring hope and transforming lives—that is the mission of Northern Valley Catholic Social Service. We strive every day to help children and families reach their fullest potential. Today, we share with you Michelle’s story—a mom of three who has conquered so much in life. With the loving support she received from our Butte Baby Steps program, Michelle was honored as Healthy Families America’s Parent Graduate of the Year for 2019. Please take a few minutes to read Michelle’s story; may you also be inspired by the transformation that she has made over the last four and a half years.

Pregnant with her third child, Michelle made the move up to Butte County from Solano County. With her two older children removed from her custody and living with her stepsister, Michelle wanted her new baby to be born in Butte County. She admits she “was a mess,” but knew she needed to get clean for her son. She told Diana, our Program Manager for Butte Baby Steps, “I got clean without having to go to jail or anything like that. I had him six days later. They actually tested him at the hospital and he tested clean.”

Because of her history and concern that she may be a flight risk, Child Protective Services was called.  “I did a voluntary Child Protective Services case for my youngest, Zachariah, and that is what brought me to Butte Baby Steps. They didn’t make me do any of it – it was voluntary. I was trying to find out all of the services I could.”

Living at her mom’s house, with a young baby, and her [now] husband incarcerated in Solano County, she met her Butte Baby Steps Family Support Worker for the first time. “Stace came and she made me feel super comfortable. We hit it off. We became super close. She has helped me. I always had questions and would have to reach out to her as far as Zachariah was concerned. It was like I was a new mom, because I wasn’t able to be a good mom for my other two [boys] for very long before they were taken.” Stace and the Butte Baby Steps program were there for whatever Michelle and Zachariah needed – clothes, diapers, etc. There were hard times and when Michelle needed something, she knew that she was able to reach out or swing by the office.

Michelle made it her mission to be the best mom she could be for Zachariah. She attended parenting classes, continued to live a lifestyle free of drugs, and grew in her confidence as a mom, all while thinking of her boyfriend, Mark. In jail for a parole violation, Michelle knew that when Mark was released, he needed to move. If he stayed in Fairfield, the same cycle would continue as it had for the past 12 years. That’s where things got tricky. In order for Mark’s parole to transfer to Butte County, he had to live with an immediate family member or a spouse. Michelle laughed as she recounted a story of one of their regularly scheduled video visits, when she said to Mark, “Can you get down on one knee and ask me to marry you right now?” At this point, they had already been together for 10 or 11 years and had three kids together. So, when Mark got out of jail, Michelle contacted a chaplain and a small wedding ceremony was performed – just Michelle, Mark, the chaplain and a witness. Mark’s parole was transferred and within six months, he was off parole – after 12 years!

This mom has proved that she is resourceful. She found a way to get into the homeless program through unemployment services, which allowed them to stay in a hotel for a little while and eventually securing their very first apartment.  “We always lived in a garage”, so this was a huge accomplishment for Michelle.  Securing housing was one more step she needed to complete to prove to the court that she was fighting to get her services reinstated for her now five-year-old. “I ended up getting that re-instated and that is not common. I did that. It was a lot of work and I won. I just never looked back, that’s all.”

With a renewed sense of confidence and self-determination, Michelle went to meetings every day; she got a sponsor.  She knew she was fully capable of recovery.  “I chose to put my energy in a different direction and towards better things. I had the thought, ‘How am I ever going to get ahead in life’, and I made the decision to enroll myself in school.” Michelle has been enrolled in school since 2018 and maintains a 3.0 GPA. “I’m fully capable if I just apply myself. I always heard that for years.”

When asked how she felt when she found out that she was receiving national recognition as Parent Graduate of the Year for Healthy Families America, Michelle said, “That was crazy. I said, ‘Is this real?’ I was shocked. Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit. I was super excited. I feel happy that I’m able to share my story. If I help one person, then I think I’ve accomplished [something]. I feel blessed to be able to have this opportunity. I can’t even put it into words. It’s across the United States of America! If you would have asked me four and a half years ago where I thought I’d be, I’d probably say I would be in jail, honestly. I had to remove myself from that situation and surroundings. For me, that’s what worked. I was able to start new here.”

We asked Michelle what advice she would give to other parents – other parents who are either parenting for the first time or who may be struggling with recovery or are unsure about where they want to go in life. For Michelle, part of it came down to pride. “There is a whole bunch I would say, like don’t be afraid to reach out. There’s always going to be help there, but sometimes you might have to ask and put your pride aside. Don’t give up. Your kids are soaking up everything they’re watching you do, and they are going to become a miniature you. You are their world, just know that. You are their whole world.”

Today’s children are tomorrow’s future. We come alongside families and children as they navigate the struggles presented to them every day. The entire NVCSS family is incredibly proud of Michelle and the effort she has put into bettering her life, not just for her own well-being, but for her family. Michelle is a beautiful witness to the power of NVCSS’ mission of inspiring hope and transforming lives.

Here is a link to the video that Michelle received from the Healthy Families America team.

The NVCSS Butte Baby Steps program is a national program model designed to help expectant and new parents get their children off to a healthy start. The program serves Butte County families and is open to parents of all ages that are either expecting or have a child under the age of 3 months. Families participate voluntarily in the program and receive weekly home visiting and service referrals from trained staff. Butte Baby Steps is an affiliate of Healthy Families America®.

This program is funded by the voter-approved initiative, Proposition 10 (First 5), which applied a tax on tobacco products to fund improved outcomes for young children.