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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

YourMomCares Helps Kids With New Skid Row Initiative

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Erin Ben-Moche
Erin is the Digital Content Manager at the Jewish Journal. She writes about Jewish art and culture.

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What do Jonah Hill, Beanie Feldstein and Adam Levine have in common? Aside from critical acclaim in the entertainment industry, they have moms who care. A lot. 

In 2014, longtime best friends and Los Angeles residents Sharon Feldstein (Hill and Feldstein’s mother) and Patsy Noah (Levine’s mother), were asked by the Barack Obama White House to take part in a Public Service Announcement for the Affordable Care Act urging young people to access health insurance. 

Noah and Feldstein were so inspired by the initiative that they took ownership of the brand with permission from the Obama administration and created YourMomCares (#YMC). 

“It’s turning into a very big deal,” Feldstein told the Journal. “Even more than we ever imagined it would be. I’m so overwhelmed by it. I’m kind of speechless. [The White House] told us to ‘do good things’ and we did. It’s been a little over a year now.” 

Their mission is to ensure that all children in the United States feel safe and healthy. YourMomCares works with carefully vetted organizations that provide mental wellness to children and young adults around the country. 

Among their partnerships with the Children’s Health Fund and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, #YMC has donated to the Trevor Project, Moms Demand Action, Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, Operation Gratitude and Flint Child Health and Development Fund, to name a few.

Noah said when she and Feldstein were figuring out which issues to focus on, it was their kids who told them that mental wellness was the key. 

“In my son’s case, he became a dad and it became evident to him that it would be the most important cause to him,” she said.  

After collaborating with different mobile health units from Children’s Health Fund, they realized they needed to focus their attention on children living on Skid Row in downtown LA. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and based on the 2018 Los Angeles Homeless Count, there are more than 300 young adults and children (ages 24 and younger) living on Skid Row.

The YMC funds go to the Children’s Health Fund-supported COACH (Community Outreach Assistance for Children’s Health) for Kids and Their Families program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. There, COACH for Kids Program Director Michele Rigsby Pauley, RN, MSN,CPNP oversees the team which offers mental, medical and dental health services to children ages 0 to 18. Of the patients they serve, 32 percent are homeless. 

Feldstein and Noah said money from the Children’s Health Fund is being used to establish a weekly children’s group therapy session at Union Rescue Mission (URM) on Skid Row. URM hosts around 200 homeless children and families nightly.

“If you don’t know where you are going to sleep at night or you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, there’s stress and anxiety involved in that and these are young  kids. It’s heartbreaking.” — Patsy Noah

Launched on Oct. 30 and called “Rising Stars,” Feldstein and Noah said this eight-week initiative is important because homeless children are significantly more likely than other groups to experience behavioral problems, depression and anxiety.

“Everything circles back to mental health,” Noah said. “If you don’t know where you are going to sleep at night or you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, there’s stress and anxiety involved in that and these are young kids. It’s heartbreaking.”

Rigsby Pauley told the Journal over the phone that mental health has become a growing issue among children and young adults especially for children and families who are homeless. 

“So many people need access to mental health services, but children especially these days, are significantly more likely to have behavioral issues, sleeping problems [and] eating problems, as a result of homelessness. I’m pleased that we are able to bring services directly to the children, they don’t have to go anywhere we are going to them.”

COACH for Kids clinical social worker Leslie Frank Cedeno has been leading the group sessions since the launch and told the Journal the session started out smaller than anticipated because parents and children were cautious to open up.

“We had to build up a lot of rapport with some of these kids. I think it’s going well. The kids are really opening up,” Cedeno said. “They have trust in us. They can tell us what they are experiencing and so the goal is the make sure that they have the coping skills for the problems they are facing.”

As the program heads into future sessions, Cedeno said, “the overall goal is to have these kids express themselves emotionally and to be able to open up. They have troubled backgrounds and so they don’t have that voice so what we do is come in and allow them to feel what they are feeling. Also giving them the tools that they need to cope.”

Feldstein, who has a background in costume design and marketing, said in order to continue raising funds for kids, she wanted to get creative and ensure that every fundraiser was an opportunity to spark conversation on mental health.

One of the ways they have done this is through bead bracelet parties. Feldstein said that the idea came during a Passover seder when a family friend came over to her house with #YMC bracelets. After unintentionally raising money during the seder by selling the bracelets, they decided to keep it going.  

“As a stylist, I thought, ‘These are super cool and [making them] is very mediating because it’s very relaxing, it’s like knitting.’ I starting making a zillion of them, I wear them all the time,” Feldstein said. “People started posting them on social media and I realized they started a conversation.”

She added that beading parties have become popular because they allow people of all ages to talk about problems they are facing while concentrating on an art project. The parties have become a safe space for parents, teachers and children to talk openly and realize that everyone shares these feelings.

Noah and Feldstein also were recently in New York for a collaboration with clothing designer Lingua Franca, which created a knitted sweater with the cursive words “it’s ok to feel blue,” sewn on it. A portion of the sale goes to #YMC.   

After writing an entry for British author Scarlett Curtis’ book “It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (and Other Lies),” Lingua Franca decided to riff off the title for the sweater.

Feldstein said she feels that when people see the phrase on the sweater, it will be another opportunity to talk about mental illness. “We want our kids to be happy,” she said. “My motto is ‘just show up.’ If you show up for your children, with that time you have to spare, I feel like [it] is a wonderful thing.”

She added devoting so much time to #YMC is a no-brainer because it has become a passion.

“You must give back; if you have a voice you can’t just do nothing,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. That’s a waste.”

Noah added at their core they are just moms who want to “give these kids a voice and start that conversation.”

For more information, visit YourMomCares.

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