Project Mission and History
For a decade, the Mothers’ Living Stories Project (MLS) brought compassion, support in parenting, and dignity to mothers living with cancer by helping them record life stories and personal legacies for their children and loved ones. Initially focused on the San Francisco Bay Area, Project methods were intended for widespread replication to serve the many families in which either parent faces a life-threatening or chronic illness.
During its first five years (1995-2000) MLS developed, tested, and evaluated innovative methods and materials with a diverse group of mothers who were parenting children 18 and under. The primary method involved mothers’ stories, audiorecorded on an individual basis with the guidance of a trained Volunteer Listener or written in a facilitated MLS Writing Circle. Project participants were interviewed in depth about their experience of mothering through cancer and Volunteer Listeners were interviewed as part of the evaluation of our Listener training program.
Additionally MLS successfully piloted and spun off Mothering Through Cancer Support Groups at the Institute for Health and Healing, California Pacific Medical Center, and at Marin General Hospital. The Project published the first Parenting Through Cancer Resource Guide, which has been continuously available nationally through our web site (www.motherslivingstories.com). For parents and caregivers living at a distance, MLS offered telephone and e-mail consultation on recording living stories.
In November 2000 MLS initiated Phase Four: Consolidation and Planning for Expanded Access and began reviewing all that had been learned from the narratives, focus groups, writing circles, support groups, and Volunteer Listener training program with the intent of bringing those learnings to a larger community.
During this period the Project updated and revised its Volunteer Listener Training Program intended for health and human services agencies, professional and lay caregivers, and future community volunteers. While continuing to record living stories in four Bay Area counties, our dedicated group of trained Volunteer Listeners, in their eighth year of service, took part in a Listener Leadership Development Program to be prepared for potential mentoring and leadership roles.
As part of the Training Program and with the intention of offering inspiration and tools to future trainees, MLS prepared a Volunteer Listener Training Manual and a 50-minute educational video featuring the Volunteer Listeners. The video, created under the able leadership of Peabody-award winning producer, Paul Kaufman, has been used extensively for educational presentations about healing through listening and legacy. Additionally, Project founder and director, Linda Blachman,completed a book intended to bring the mothers’ insights, wisdom, and teaching stories to other families living with a parent’s illness, to caregivers, and to the general public. With the publication of Another Morning: Voices of Truth and Hope for Mothers with Cancer (Seal Press/The Avalon Group, 2006), we planted the seeds for the replication of our model and the development of similar services in other communities here and abroad.
Throughout the years, MLS was enthusiastically received by mothers, their families, health care providers, clinicians, clergy, and oral historians throughout the Bay Area and across the country. The Project was served by over 170 volunteers and pro bono professionals and consultants and received in-kind assistance from scores of committed friends and small businesses.
In 2005, MLS ended its pilot project phase under the pro bono nonprofit fiscal agency of Mount Zion Health Fund. The San Francisco Institute on Aging became our nonprofit fiscal agent for special projects. The Project was poised to grow to the next level and was considering becoming a national training institute. We were already piloting fathers’ stories. Unfortunately, our need to significantly expand our budget coincided with severely shrinking economic resources and we were forced to close our doors. The work of MLS continues through dissemination of Another Morning, through mentoring and consultation offered on a for-fee basis (www.lindablachman.com), and through this web site.
A mother with cancer who had participated in the Project and also served as an advisor from the beginning summed up the MLS legacy: “If these ten years were the lifetime of the Project, then that was its lifetime. It was a good life.”