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This article was published 15/2/2019 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two-year-old Xavier has dark eyes, light curls and a sweet demeanor. He quietly entertains himself while his mom, Juanita Traverse, tends to his very new brother, Jordan.
Xavier was the reason Traverse found herself meeting with an intake worker at Villa Rosa in 2016. She was 22 at the time and had just discovered she was pregnant.
"I was really scared to be a mom. I wasn’t that young but I grew up in a very toxic home so nobody really taught me how to be a mom — I had no good role models," Traverse said. "I wanted to be the best mom I could be if I decided to keep my son."
Villa Rosa, located in an unassuming Wolseley bungalow, is a residence for women in need of a safe and healthy place to spend their pregnancy. Traverse learned about the program while staying at a sober living facility at the North End Women’s Centre.
She spent almost two years at Villa Rosa during her pregnancy and after Xavier was born. During that time, she said her perspective on motherhood changed.
"It was exactly what I needed," Traverse said. "Villa Rosa helps bring the confidence up — that’s what they did with me, they helped me feel confident in being a mother.
"I recommend it to all my friends who become pregnant."
The centre has 25 beds for expectant mothers and eight post-natal suites where new mothers can practise the skills needed to live on their own.
Living in a shared space means residents are expected to help out with household duties. Traverse said that while co-habitating with other people has its challenges, the women at Villa Rosa stepped up to support one another.
"There’s girls that get into stuff because we’re all pregnant and hormonal… but we all still became really close and I’m still, to this day, close friends with them," she said.
During their stay, residents also have access to individual counselling and take part in educational classes throughout the week.
Traverse completed Grade 12 while at Villa Rosa and says she benefited the most from the parenting programs — which cover everything from birth to breastfeeding to caring for a newborn — and the financial literacy courses.
"I was able to get myself a credit card because I was able to save money and build up my credit," she said.
Villa Rosa executive director Kathy Strachan says teaching practical life skills is an important mandate at the centre.
"We really try to offer a holistic program where if you are old enough to be moving out on your own after you leave here, we really want them to be… prepared to be an independent person," she said.
Strachan has gotten to know Traverse well over the two years she spent in residence.
"That’s when somebody can get the most out of the program really, when they’re here for almost their whole pregnancy," she said. "When she left she just had a really good perspective of how she’d grown and changed while she was here."
Traverse gave birth to Jordan six weeks ago and says she felt much more comfortable the second time around.
"I remembered everything from when my first was born, so I was able to parent him with ease," she said. "I wasn’t scared to have another baby."
Throughout the month of February, Villa Rosa is sharing stories of mothers, volunteers and staff members who have been part of the centre since its founding in 1898. Visit villarosa.mb.ca to learn more.
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.