Behind the wheels
Stephanie Marine, Sue Dean, Cori Lamm, City of Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss, Kelly Sartain, Sarah Jones, Allison Thurn and Debbie Morgan don pink hard hats for the groundbreaking at its new Family Education Center.
The Buggy Bunch helps Indian River families cope with the daily labors of motherhood
BY CHRISTINA TASCON
Most of us may know one mother who seems to have it all together every morning. Her baby’s monogramed diaper bag sits waiting by the door as baby, dressed in coordinated Mini Rodini, smiles while mom spoons organic baby food into her precious child’s mouth before daycare.
The reality is Cheerios flung on the floor, a fidgeting baby and the dog licking milk off the high chair. And of course, no one is dressed in anything remotely coordinated because food always lands on the one outfit that matches.
These stressed-out moms have begun to look to The Buggy Bunch for salvation. This little “nonprofit that could” went from four moms in 2008 to serving 10,000 families in Indian River County. The Buggy Bunch found a huge hole of need and filled it to perfection.
HOW IT GOT STARTED
The Buggy Bunch was the brainchild of four commiserating moms, Kelly Sartain, Erin Refsland, Gabby Brink, and Ashley Baum, who turned to each other for playdates, pediatrician referrals and friendship. They were surprised to learn there was no place to help mothers cope with family life beyond prenatal and delivery care.
“We had zero desire to start a nonprofit, we just wanted to have a community of families, of moms where we could go and be honest about the struggles,” Executive Director Kelly Sartain said. “Very quickly we realized that there were others who desired the same thing. Within the first three months, through our little Facebook group, before we were an official nonprofit, we had over 500 families.” Sartain said.
GROWTH WAS INEVITABLE
With the increasing number of families who wished to take part in its programs, the 500-square-foot office on West 60 became too small to accommodate its growth. The former Lawing Building in historical Downtown Vero Beach had been vacant for a few years, and the two-story property seemed perfect for its Family Education Center.
Built in 1940, the building has always been a furniture store run by different owners, the last of which was the Lawing family, who owns Vero Furniture Mart just around the corner. Moms and dads once bought couches, dinettes and cribs at Tropical Furniture, Grant Furniture and the first Vero Furniture Mart to make their homes cozy. It seems they may have left behind good family vibes for The Buggy Bunch. Sartain gets a little dewy-eyed when she talks about being in the downtown area.
“It is a good place for families,” Sartain said. “I have a relationship with business owners in town; these people are friends. I love our community, love living here and serving people. We could not be in a better place smack dab in the middle of downtown.”
The organization will move into its newly renovated 10,000-square-foot digs in the fall of 2018, and the city couldn’t be more pleased with its new neighbor.
“We are very happy to see them here at our old location,” said Daniel Lawing, son of Max Lawing who bought the building from John J. Schumann Sr. in the 1970s.
It doesn’t hurt that they are a short walk from Pocahontas Park and a favorite place to go for coffee and breakfast — Beach Bum Bagel.
“They come in every time they have a meeting,” said owner George Williams. “The families they bring are the kinds of people we love to see downtown.”
A NONJUDGMENTAL SPACE
Sartain is a stay-at-home mom, but she worked in corporate America for 10 years and has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and professional counseling. She is very bright, super savvy about social media networking and most importantly, lives her life through a fellowship with God.
The Buggy Bunch’s mission is to assist families with their changing needs through the example of the teachings of Jesus Christ as Christians. That said, 78 percent of the mothers who participate in Buggy Bunch’s programs are non-Christian. Every person, without discrimination, is welcomed warmly even if they only want to participate in one program.
“There is something very unique and very special about having women come from all walks of life, having motherhood in common, dropping their junk at the door and just loving each other,” Sartain said earnestly.
WHY IT MAKES COUNTY A BETTER PLACE
Having an organization that helps mothers of all kinds to manage their family’s finances, lifestyle, healthfulness, and community connection is a benefit to any town. Buggy Bunch goes further by also putting its money to good use.
“They are a great addition to our community by investing in improvement opportunities at our city parks and playgrounds,” Vero Beach City Manager Jim O’Connor said.
What Buggy Bunch does:
• Donates 100,000 diapers not covered by WIC or SNAP to moms through its Diaper Closet.
• Offers classes in finance, parenting and cooking healthy meals on a budget.
• Teaches children through creative play.
• Funds shade tarps over playground areas in local parks.
• Offers Bible studies for moms.
• Accepts and loves teen mothers.
• Refers families to charitable partners.
• Connects couples on date nights and nurtures relationships.
What Buggy Bunch doesn’t do is duplicate services offered by other agencies.
“If someone else is doing it, we do not do it. That’s what is best for families and for donor funds. Why invest funds in programs that already exist?” Sartain explained.
Sartain summed up The Buggy Bunch philosophy this way, “There are real needs in our community, and families are hurting. Here they can find a place where they can rest; where they feel comfortable; where they know they are no different than the person they are sitting next to, and where it is OK to say, ‘I need help.’ Because all of us need some help.”