Day Davis

Content Engagement Specialist

New parents usually rely on a steady stream of visitors after having a baby. Without that support and interaction during COVID, parents have struggled with feeling more isolated than usual.

After having another baby during the pandemic, Cara Chapman, Director of Music and Worship at Lakewood United Methodist Church, remembered how all-encompassing and isolating caring for a little one can be.

“I saw another new mom on Facebook ask around for a safe outdoor option for her toddler and baby, and so many other caregivers chimed in that they were looking as well. Most options are either indoors and/or cost money, and at the time, Delta was spiking so indoors definitely didn’t feel safe.” Cara said this is what gave her an idea to start an outdoor class designed to reach children, ages birth through PK4, and their caregivers.

Cara said they didn’t want to call it a Mommy and Me class because not all caregivers are moms. Since Lakewood UMC’s mission is “expanding the light of Christ,” they chose to name the class “This Little Light of Mine.” They’ve had moms, dads, aunts, grandmas, grandpas, and nannies bring little ones.

The purpose of the class is twofold: to provide a safe and fun environment for little ones who have not been able to be around people hardly at all in their lives due to COVID and also to create community between their caregivers who have been extra isolated during this time as well.

In addition to working with the Lakewood UMC children’s music groups, Cara also has a background in teaching preschool, so providing a free, outdoor music and movement class made sense. Since a lot of participants aren’t members at Lakewood UMC, Cara said she works in ways to advertise the different fun, upcoming events that the church has available.

“During the class, we sing, dance, play instruments, read books, etc. Through music and movement, the children are learning the basics like colors, numbers, position words, opposites, and they are also getting to practice their listening skills, taking turns, making friends, and being around new adults,” Cara said. “Many of these children haven’t had the socialization opportunities that they normally would have because of COVID. It’s been amazing to watch them come out of their shells as each week goes by. The friendships forming between the caregivers is equally exciting. There has been so much support and encouragement and many ideas and tips being shared.”

To help spread the word, they made a graphic and shared it on the Lakewood UMC Facebook page and their personal pages, as well as pushing it out in local mom groups and the Nextdoor app. They have also included small fliers that went home with children at Lakewood’s Mother’s Day Out. At the request of the participants, they recently started a Facebook group so that participants can more easily stay in touch and share resources throughout the week.

This Little Light of Mine started on September 15 with two moms and three children. In 7 weeks, it has grown to about 10-15 children and their caregivers every week. At the most, they have had 15 children and 16 adults.

Cara said she loves seeing the community that has formed from this class. “It’s been amazing to hear moms inviting others who may happen to be on the playground at that time to join us the next week. We are constantly having new families come from those conversations, alone.”

During the last two years, Lakewood UMC member, Michelle Bruzatori has struggled with the loss of her newborn son and the loss of community. “In a time when I needed human contact the most, we had to quarantine. My family has spent the majority of our time in isolation. This Little Light of Mine has provided my other two sons and me with a sense of normalcy and it has allowed us to finally reconnect with our church and find community. It has given us the opportunity for long desired socialization in a safe environment. This Lakewood United Methodist ministry is truly expanding the light.”

What was meant to be a 7-week class continues to grow. October 27 was supposed to be the final week, but the participants asked for it to keep going. It will continue for every Wednesday morning in November too. Cara said they plan to assess COVID numbers and decide as a group if they feel comfortable moving inside the church for December through February. As community influence grows, more people want to be involved, so they are considering a once a month Saturday morning class in the spring.

Courtney Swiderski said that she and her 2-year-old look forward to This Little Light of Mine every week. “It’s such a great opportunity for play-based learning and socialization for little ones! It’s also great for the caregivers. It provides a sense of community and camaraderie that is so important.”

This Little Light of Mine meets every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Lakewood POA Pavilion. lasting 20-30 minutes and always ends with singing “This Little Light of Mine.” After class, the children go to the playground and the caregivers are able to fellowship.