When two-year-old Jordan Belliveau was killed by his mother in 2018, Chantala Davis saw an all-too-common situation come to a tragic ending.
A young mother - overwhelmed with stress, entangled in the child welfare system and in a troubled relationship with her son’s father - hit her child in anger and frustration. In the tragic case of Jordan, the blow was strong enough to strike his head against the wall. The toddler went into seizures and died from a fractured skull and other injuries. His mother, Charisse Stinson, 20 at the time, took Jordan’s body to woods near a Largo recreation complex and left him there. She then tried to cover up what happened by telling police a man had offered her a car ride, knocked her unconscious and abducted her child.
Davis was devastated by the heartbreaking way a young child’s life was cut short. She researched filicide rates and found statistics cited by the National Institutes of Health showing approximately 500 arrests annually for parents killing their children.
She felt called to work for change.
“I said, ‘I need to help mothers and save the children,’” Davis recalls. “Then I said, ‘How in the world am I going to do that?’”
The answer to that question was A Mother’s Arms, the nonprofit organization Davis established to provide weekly parenting and life skills classes to parents and offer respite child care to those parents on the days of their classes. Davis, who grew up in the North Greenwood area of Clearwater and lives in Dunedin, came up with the idea after speaking with young parents in the community. She had previously worked in after-school programs and many of the children she cared for then were now young adults with small children of their own. She reached out to them to talk about the circumstances they faced as young parents.
“I came up with the idea of being a support system for the parents,” Davis says. “A lot of them kept saying the same thing, ‘If I could just get a break sometimes.’ Sometimes you need a break to just collect your thoughts and have some time to yourself. I can give them that break but afterward, they have to go back to the situation that they are dealing with. So I had to make this a give-take kind of thing and help them to grow and develop a better mindset. I’m giving them what they want, with the respite care but I need to be able to give them what they need to navigate their life.”
She wrote a curriculum for A Mother’s Arms in 2018 and 2019. When she was readying to launch the program in 2020, COVID-19 hit. Davis shifted gears, offering the program via Zoom and delaying the start of in-person classes and respite child care. Under the online model, 25 women graduated from the eight-week class.
Chantala Davis, founder and president of A Mother's Arms.
“I have had some who told me they wanted to better themselves but they didn’t know how to do it or where to start and my program got them into a position of being able to better themselves and empower themselves,” Davis says. “One thing I have found wrong with some of the programs out there is they are telling parents what’s wrong with them and what they need to do. Here, they’re coming and learning about themselves and they figure out what to do. I’m not telling them what to do. They figure it out on their own. I focus on empowering them to do it.”
This June, A Mother’s Arms launched in-person classes and child care at Hope Grove in Dunedin on Wednesday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The organization is also launching in-person classes on Mondays at the Homeless Empowerment Center on Betty Lane in Clearwater. Topics covered in the eight-week program include self-learning, mindful thinking, emotional resilience, parenting styles, communication, budgeting and self-worth. The classes occupy one hour of the three-hour session. Parents are able to spend the rest of the evening talking with one another and taking some time for themselves while volunteers care for their children.
Guidance growing a nonprofit
Davis says Clearwater Business SPARK has been a valuable resource as she builds up A Mother’s Arms. Currently run by the area’s chamber of commerce organization AMPLIFY Clearwater, SPARK is a partnership of public and private groups that help guide businesses and nonprofits with accessing grants and financing, developing a business plan, marketing, training, networking, educational opportunities and other key areas. Davis says she attends SPARK’s monthly networking and programming events to “soak up information like a sponge” on topics like establishing an internet and social media presence and paperwork and documentation requirements.
“I’m just a mom and a grandmom who has a vision of helping others,” she says. “I don’t know everything about the nonprofit world. This is something I’m just venturing into.”
Looking ahead, Davis says she wants A Mother’s Arms to one day establish a home of its own in an actual house.
“I don’t want the institutional look,” she says. “I want it to be a home away from home.”
More immediately, the nonprofit is seeking volunteers to serve as committee board members and help provide respite child care. The child care volunteers will have to pass a level two background screening.
From noon to 3 p.m. on July 30th at Eli’s BBQ in Dunedin, A Mother’s Arms will hold its third annual Community Birthday Bash in memory of Jordan Belliveau and a back-to-school supply giveaway.
“We celebrate him because our organization is dedicated to baby Jordan,” Davis says.
For more information, go to A Mother’s Arms and Clearwater Business SPARK.
This story is part of an underwriting agreement between AMPLIFY Clearwater and 83 Degrees Media to profile businesses and nonprofits that have benefitted from the guidance and assistance of the Clearwater Business SPARK network.
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