SAN DIEGO — In early 2017, Myesha Perry was living at a domestic violence shelter with her then 2-year-old autistic son, and she was pregnant with triplets.
Her mother was deceased, her father was in a nursing home, and neither her father nor her siblings lived locally. Without any family to turn to for support, she reached out to Birthline of San Diego County.
For more than 40 years, Birthline has served pregnant women and families with children age 6 and younger, providing diapers, children’s clothing and other essential items free of charge, as well as making referrals for such diverse needs as prenatal care, housing, education, employment, addiction recovery, and domestic violence prevention.
Birthline has offices in both Clairemont and Chula Vista, although the latter has closed indefinitely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perry, now 38, didn’t get her hopes up about how helpful Birthline might be. When she visited its Clairemont office for the first time, she would have felt lucky to receive as many as 10 diapers and then be sent on her way.
Contrary to her modest expectations, however, she left with about three boxes of diapers, along with some children’s clothing. And, far from a one-time occurrence, this visit would be the beginning of a relationship with Birthline that would continue for years to come.
“They helped me with a lot more than what I expected, and then they didn’t just stop after my kids turned 1,” Perry said. “They helped me all the way up until they turned 6 and beyond.”
Very early on, Perry began to think of Birthline as her family. She described Jeanne Hansen, the director of Birthline’s Clairemont office who visited her at the domestic violence shelter as well as at the hospital, as “like my mom” and “like my kids’ grandmother.”
Birthline helped Perry to find a new place to live after the shelter. It even furnished that apartment as well as the one in which her family currently lives.
Perry said that, unlike other organizations where clients might be reduced to “a case number,” Birthline has continued to check in with her, making sure that she is doing well and that her needs are being met.
And the relationship goes both ways.
When something goes well in Perry’s life, she shares the good news with her Birthline family. Also, in gratitude for the help she has received, Perry pays it forward by packing up children’s clothing that she no longer needs and donating it to Birthline. She also recommends resources to the Birthline staff and refers other mothers to Birthline.
Johana Rubio, 32, is the office manager at Birthline’s Clairemont office.
“There’s nothing else like Birthline,” the proud employee said.
And she should know, because she has also been a Birthline client for the past three years.
Rubio first learned about Birthline in May 2017, on the day her El Centro home burned down in a fire that claimed many of her family’s possessions. In the wake of that tragedy, she had a telephone conversation with Hansen, then acting in her capacity as an American Red Cross volunteer, who told her about Birthline.
Rubio, a married mother of five children ranging in age from 13 to 1, has received diapers, clothing, food and other essentials from Birthline. Like Perry, she also had her new apartment furnished after she relocated from Imperial Valley to East County San Diego.
She said that being able to receive even seemingly minor items from Birthline for free instead of having to spend $10 to $20 to buy them at a store is a boon for someone like her who struggles to make ends meet.
Of her experience as a client, Rubio said she “always felt very safe” and recognized Birthline as “a place where I was going to get help.” The staffers, almost all of whom are volunteers, were kind and compassionate.
Out of a desire “to help other moms and other families that might be going through similar situations,” and believing that “the most valuable thing that we have” to give is our time, Rubio began volunteering with Birthline in April.
She is the second volunteer to enroll in Birthline’s Evolution Program, through which clients who have volunteered for three to six months can be considered for a paid position as a part-time employee. She has been a paid staff member since early October.
The Evolution Program officially began on March 1, prior to which Birthline had been a 100-percent volunteer-run organization. The San Diego Workforce Partnership and the City of San Diego have partnered with Birthline to partially fund the paychecks of Evolution Program participants.
“At Birthline, we try to be a nurturing, nonjudgmental place of hope and compassion for vulnerable families,” said Executive Director Samantha Flather, “and while we provide free supplies and case management, it is often kindness, an open heart and attentive listening that touches and empowers mothers in need the most.”
Flather said it is “obviously rewarding, heartwarming and spiritually fulfilling” to be a part of transforming women’s lives for the better and assisting them on the path to self-sufficiency. But she doesn’t take credit for clients’ success.
“The struggles clients like Myesha and Johana have overcome are a true testament to their own determination, strength and willingness to seek out and receive Birthline’s help,” she said.
Reflecting on how Perry has generously donated baby clothes to Birthline and how Rubio has given of her time as a volunteer, Flather said many clients have chosen to give back in some way. Others have shown their appreciation by writing positive reviews on social media or sending “thank you” cards or messages.
“It is always powerful when I get a message from a former client asking to donate their baby items to Birthline out of gratitude,” she said.
“Just recently, I had a Zoom meeting with a large nonprofit in San Diego,” Flather said. “Before the meeting started, one of the staff members shared that she was a former client of Birthline a few years ago and how Birthline helped bridge the gap during a very trying time for her.”
For more information about Birthline, visit www.birthlineof sandiego.org.