When Tree of Hope first began seven years ago in response to a loved one taking her life and her baby's, it started one support group in St. Clair Shores to help mothers and families affected by postpartum depression.
Since then five support groups have been created, "But we've just been hanging by a thread," says Pamela Moffitt. Her sister-in-law, Mary Ellen Moffitt, was a St. Clair Shores schoolteacher whose postpartum depression left her feeling the only way out was to leave this world and take her five-week-old daughter with her. In the aftermath, her family and friends from St. Clair Shores, the Grosse Pointes and other parts of metro Detroit jumped in, vowing to help women struggling with PPD.
Starting more support groups, which are run by licensed and specially trained therapists, is always the goal, Pamela Moffitt said. Having the money to do that is often another story. In addition to its established support groups, Tree of Hope also provides educational outreach to new moms, doctors, nurses and hospitals.
So for the little organization making a profound difference, receiving its largest donation to date was a great relief. The nearly $15,000 check presentation took place at St.Joan of Arc Church in St. Clair Shores. The church is also the site of the first support group and one of five now in operation in Sterling Heights, West Bloomfield, Commerce Township and Troy.
"We get requests every single week from people saying we'd like to start a support group here or there," Moffitt on Nov. 30, the day that she received the check from the Motown Chapter of 100-Plus Women Who Care, another small organization trying to make a big difference.
"This donation will make it possible for us to entertain these requests," Moffitt said.
The novel approach to fundraising for such donations has 100-Plus By Women bringing together small, local charities with each member chipping in $100 each quarter to be members. At each quarterly meeting, members can put their name in a hat to give a five-minute presentation about their organization. A vote is taken to see who wins the pool of $100 contributions from all members.
The most recent vote went to Tree of Hope after Moffitt gave her heartfelt spiel on Nov. 8.
"You give your best five-minute elevator speech about what your charity does," Moffitt said.
Tree of Hope's support groups are led by licensed and specially trained therapists, and thousands of women and families have received help.
In 2011 alone, there were about 1,200 visits to support groups, with some being repeat visitors, some new, some staying for three or four weeks and some coming for meetings for six months or more.
"When Mary Ellen ended her life the nearest support group was in Ann Arbor," Moffitt said. "For the woman who can barely get herself out of bed, much less a shower, are you really going to drive to Ann Arbor?"
"What we've tried to do is offer support groups so that no one has to drive too far or wait to talk to someone for more than days," she said.
Often, with an illness like PPD, there may not be days. Therapists at the support groups, which receive mothers through medical or family referrals or women realizing they need help themselves, can and have referred women who are dangerously close to choosing a wrong way out. The feelings of depression can be treated and will change with the right course of action.
"When we started there had been groups in the metro Detroit area, but they tended to meet once a month," she said.
Moffitt can't stress enough how crucial the donation and the Motown Chapter of 100-Plus Women Who Care is to a group like Tree of Hope.
"This donation is just such a blessing," Moffitt said. "The whole idea behind it is if you give an organization $100, they'll be delighted you've given them money. But to pool all these $100 donations together, it can make a significant difference. And you know whatever is donated is being spent locally--will help people right here in metro Detroit."
Moffitt and Tree of Hope only decided to join 100-Plus Women in February.
"I just can't believe how blessed to be only three meetings in and to have won this," she said. "We are so grateful, and we hope everyone knows this will directly help women and families."
The donation comes as Tree of Hope organizers wonder how long they can keep it going.
"The hard part is the economy has been so oppressively bad especially for small organizations," Moffitt said.
The economy - and job losses - also showed Tree of Hope that its services were all the more necessary.
"A few years back when the auto industry crumbled, we had a huge influx," she said. "You get pregnant. Everything is going fine.. and then the bottom drops out…Even if you weren't going to struggle….you might struggle now and even if you were going to have a mild case, this might exacerbate it.
"It's why we work tirelessly to provide this for free," Moffitt said. "We don't want anyone to feel like they have to jump through a hoop. We don't want another mother like Mary Ellen to feel there's nowhere to go."
To reach Tree of Hope, call 877-467-3311 or 877-HOPE-311 or learn more at www.treeofhopefoundation.org.