AT A GLANCE
• WHAT: Hearts and Hands Bingo Night and raffle. Prizes include money, a trip, movie tickets, dinners, veterinary services and facials.
• WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 11. Doors open at 5 p.m. Bingo begins at 6:30.
• WHERE: Manteca Senior Center
• TICKETS: $15, in advance or at the door
• CONTACT: For more information or to purchase ticket, contact Elaine Williams at (209) 599-3120 or Dee Gotelli at (209) 484-5356.
• VISIT: Hearts and Hands Pregnancy and Family Resource Center is temporarily located at 183 West North Street Suite 1 in Manteca. Contact: (209) 823-3109.
Dee Gotelli and Elaine Williams have been hard at work tying up the loose ends for Saturday’s Hearts and Hands Bingo Night at the Manteca Senior Center.
From wrapping raffle prizes to selling tickets, the volunteers have helped bring the nonprofit organization’s fund-raiser to life.
Their support has been tremendous.
“Instrumental,” surmised Laureen Tomlinson, program director at Hearts and Hands Pregnancy and Family Resource Center, temporarily located on West North Street. “Both have been instrumental with the fund-raising, and you should see Dee wrap these raffle prizes.
“If you like that,” Tomlinson said, gesturing toward a raffle prize Gotelli and Williams were recently photographed with, “then you should see the others.”
The Bingo Night is slated for Saturday. Tickets are $15 whether purchased in advance or at the door. Those in attendance can play for a wealth of prizes, ranging from money, trips and dinner to facials and veterinary services.
Funding a pilot program
However, those behind the scenes, like Tomlinson and her volunteers, know the greatest gift will come well after the Bingo balls and playing cards have been put away.
The money raised on Saturday night will help fund a pilot program aimed at a reversing troubling trend: the teen-aged and absentee father.
To date, the fatherhood program has helped train one teen father on the stresses and responsibilities of raising a child. That father has agreed to be a part of the program moving forward, giving those in need someone to relate with.
Tomlinson said this is the only program of its kind in the City of Manteca. For a similar class, an interested father would have to travel to Stockton.
“The teen father is young and usually he’s dropped out of school,” Tomlinson added. “He doesn’t have the ability to find employment, so he’s floundering with no action plan for his life or the life of the child.
“I don’t think a lot of our teen dads and young dads realize the impact they have on the young children.”
Tomlinson said the children of teen or absentee fathers are at a greater risk for childhood obesity, alcoholism, child abuse, poverty, a criminal lifestyle and becoming teen-aged parents themselves.
“They repeat the cycle,” she said.
Portions of Saturday’s Bingo Night have also been ear-marked for existing programs for teen and young mothers in the areas of child abuse prevention, stress management and developing resources.
Though birth rates have dropped significantly statewide in the last decade or so, teen pregnancy continues to be an alarming issue close to home.
According to a study conducted by the California Department of Public Health from 2009-2011, San Joaquin County (38.2) was one of 20 with a three-year average higher than the state average of 31.6 births per every 1,000.
“There is a tremendous problem and we can see that,” said Tomlinson, who noted the rate is even higher among the Hispanic demographic.
‘Ones that make the difference’
Volunteers are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations like Hearts and Hands.
That is why Tomlinson places those like Gotelli and Williams on the very highest pedestal possible, using the superlative “instrumental” time and again.
Not only have they helped organize and execute the organization’s fund-raiser, but they have become integral cogs in the day-to-day operation.
Williams serves as an office assistant, helping with the clerical work: answering phones, filing paperwork, etc.
Gotelli is a Lay counselor who mentors and advises the young mothers. Gotelli has been trained on the community’s resources available to young parents, as well as ways to manage stress and anger in the home.
She will work with young mothers until their child has reached the age of 5.
“If it’s a teen, it can often times be that they’re pregnant and they feel like they have nowhere to turn. They’re confused and need a little help outside the home,” Tomlinson said. “We stay with them.”
Hearts and Hands’ staff is comprised solely of volunteers – 11 in all, including Tomlinson and Executive Director Cynthia Juarez.
Gotelli says she volunteers about eight hours a week.
“The reward is much greater,” she added. “I never truly understood what true volunteer work was all about until I started this. It’s been a real eye-opener; the ol’ walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes.
“For many of these young women and men, they need someone to listen to them. That’s a majority of what I do.”
Tomlinson understands the power small gestures have in delicate situations like these. Listening often fosters trust; trust helps build confidence; and confidence illuminates the dark.
“They’re critical. They’re the person that is totally non-judgmental who is doing this not because they’re looking for a reward,” Tomlinson said. “They all have such a heart for what these women and men are going through. They’re the listener. They’re the safe person that these people can go to. … They’re the ones that make the difference.”