One on One with…Cyndi Broyer
By Wayne E. Rivet
FRYEBURG — Cyndi Broyer says she has been richly blessed in life with a loving and supportive husband and family, along with a rewarding career.
“I have been taught to use these gifts, my time, my talents and my treasure, in the service of others,” she said. “One way I do this is by volunteering at Mother Seton House.”
Mother Seton House is a loving a home — a safe haven for women as they prepare to give birth and nurture their newborns, a place of comfort and learning and growing.
“We serve many women in need in the community, and in a special way, we serve our guests at the house. And the moms and babies at the house, they fill our hearts with joy,” Cyndi said. “I thank each of the women who has come through our doors. It is a privilege to walk with the brave and determined mothers of Mother Seton House as they work to improve their lives and the lives of their babies. They have taught me so much about courage and perseverance in the face of formidable challenges.”
The more than 1000 volunteers and donors, who support Mother Seton House, are making a difference, providing hope and security to pregnant women in need, and providing their children with the good start they deserve.
Leading the charge is Cyndi Broyer, who is director of Mother Seton House. She was recently honored for her efforts by receiving the Mary Rines Thompson Award — a volunteer award given by the United Way of Greater Portland as part of the annual News Center’s 6 Who Cares Award.
The 16th Annual Who Cares Award gala ceremony took place on Monday, Oct. 17 at the Portland Museum of Art. Hosted by News Center’s Cindy Williams and Pat Callaghan, 6 Who Care highlights the exceptional people of Maine, men and women who make a difference in the lives of others. Each winner selects a nonprofit organization to which TD Bank and Dead River Company make a grant on their behalf. Cyndi elected to split the award between Dinner Bell North and Mother Seton House.
“I especially thank my friends, the members of the working Board of Mother Seton House, for all they have done to make this dream come true,” Cyndi said at the ceremony. “Marion Edelman Wright said, ‘If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time.’ That’s what the volunteers and supporters of Mother Seton House have done, and continue to do, each and every day.”
The News reached out this week to Cyndi for her reaction to receiving the award, as well as some thoughts about the growth and development of the Mother Seton House Project:
BN. How did you feel about receiving the Mary Rines Thompson Award?
Cyndi: I was humbled and a bit embarrassed. The work accomplished at Mother Seton House has always been a group effort. I prefer to volunteer under the radar.
BN. How were you nominated for this honor?
Cyndi: My dear friends, the Board of Directors, nominated me. If you have ever read our newsletter, then you know they are great writers. I’m not surprised they were able to convince the panel.
BN. When did you get involved with the Mother Seton House project, and what lured you to it?
Cyndi: We began the work in 2007. I had thought for a long time about women who were in difficult circumstances and pregnant, but chose to give birth anyway. I wanted to provide them with the support they needed once they made that decision.
BN. As director, what is your specific role and how long have you been the director?
Cyndi: The role involves coordinating the activities at the house, interviewing potential guests, training and coordinating volunteers, fundraising and building friendships and support with community members and organizations.
BN. How did the Mother Seton House start?
Cyndi: It started with a vision, out of the windows at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic church in Fryeburg, of a home for women in need. I belonged to a group called Social Justice and Peace. The members said they would like to help with the project, and we held a meeting inviting members from the parish, including parishioners at St. Joseph Church in Bridgton. We kept having to bring in more chairs, because 40 people came to our original meeting! At the advice of our priest at the time, Father Joseph Daniels, we formed a nonprofit 501(c)3, separate from the church, and expanded to include group members from throughout the communities in western Maine and Mt. Washington Valley.
BN. What were the early challenges MSH faced?
Cyndi: Well, we were just an idea, and we had to ask for donations from friends and family. I am still in awe of the faith folks had in our vision to give us their money.
BN. How has it grown over the past few years and how many young women has MSH helped?
Cyndi: It has grown to include a house, which we own debt-free, with a mailing list of supporters of over 750 people. We are supported by groups as far away at Ossipee, N.H., and Biddeford, Maine. We have had guests live with us from as far away as Westbrook, Biddeford and Patten, Maine. Eleven women have lived with us since the house opened two years ago. We also serve women who call asking for help with material needs, such as diapers and clothes. We hold distributions of free diapers, clothes, baby equipment, books, toys and food a few times a year, reaching over 100 women.
BN. What services does MSH provide?
Cyndi: The most important thing we provide is a loving a home — a safe haven for women as they prepare to give birth and nurture their newborns, a place of comfort and learning and growing. Up to four women can live as guests at the house, under the guidance of a team of volunteer resident managers, whose mission is to promote healthy communal living in a supportive, loving atmosphere.
This safe, secure environment provides women with a chance to build confidence and acquire the skills needed to break the cycle of poverty.
Each guest is given a mentor who helps her set goals, and helps her work toward achieving them. We help moms learn about cooking, nutrition, baby care, child development, budgeting, housekeeping, anything moms tell us they want to learn.
BN. Did the general public understand this need existed, and what has been the public’s response?
Cyndi: I think people were surprised to learn that there were pregnant women who were living in substandard housing, overcrowded trailers, couch surfing or homeless in our towns. The response has been overwhelming. Every day, my car has donations in it, every week the Mother Seton House post office box has donations.
BN. For you, what have been the biggest personal rewards being involved in this effort?
Cyndi: For me, it is the growth of the moms — their increased confidence, their growing belief in themselves as people who matter, who count. So many young women grow up hearing they will never amount to anything, that they aren’t valued. Moms who live as guests with us always remark that they have never felt so loved and supported as they have living at Mother Seton House. The house managers, who provide 24-hour volunteer coverage at the house, work hard to build supportive relationships with the moms. One mom recently wrote saying, “(The house managers) were so loving, helpful, compassionate, kind and openhearted.” I am so proud that we are able to provide a safe and loving home where babies can get the good start they deserve.
BN. Why has MSH been so successful?
Cyndi: We have kept our mission simple, and moved forward in faith. God is most certainly in this work.
BN. Years ago, women giving birth outside of marriage carried a societal stigma. Does it still exist, or are there more serious issues young moms are facing?
Cyndi: We really avoid the term “unwed mother.” Many professional women and women in stable healthy relationships give birth outside of marriage. It has become an accepted norm in most families.
The most serious issue moms face is housing. Second to that is poverty, with lack supportive network coming in third. The State of Maine has many excellent supports in place to help moms through the initial tough period, and to support them in education and career growth so that they can support themselves.
Finding childcare for infants in our small community is a huge challenge.
Some guests have struggles with learning disabilities, mental health issues and/or addiction to drugs or alcohol.
BN. Since October is also domestic violence awareness month, have there been young mothers MSH has helped who were facing safety issues? And if so, how does MSH go about addressing these situations?
Cyndi: We have not worked with moms in active, unsafe domestic abuse situation. We have had guests come to us referred from domestic abuse shelters.
BN. Any particular “feel good” story you can share about MSH?
Cyndi: I have hundreds. Let’s celebrate one of the first moms we worked with, before we had a house, a mom who needed only a small amount of encouragement, who has earned her associate’s degree, an award for her work in an after-school program, who is two classes away form her bachelor’s degree, with her eyes on a master’s degree. She also purchased her own home! She says we were part of her success. I say it has been an honor and a pleasure to walk with her and watch her grow.