Thirty years ago, three young Norwich alumnae established a nonprofit to help new mothers deal with postpartum depression. Their organization continues to help families and their newborns today
BY KYLE PIVETTI , Ph.D.
NORWICH RECORD | Winter 2021
New mothers too often face the realities of postpartum depression alone, where their struggles are kept in the house and out of public view. Thirty years ago, three Norwich grads did something to help.
In 1991, Terry Howe ’87, Maureen Larsen ’90, and Sara Conlon Nevin ’91 founded Good Beginnings of Central Vermont. The program paired trained volunteers with new mothers during weekly home visits designed to relieve isolation and reconnect new families with their communities. The trio drew on their training in child development, nursing, and psychology to add more services, including prenatal instruction, fatherhood initiatives, and direct financial sup¬port for impoverished families.
The NU alumnae knew that their work extended beyond the health of the mother. By making the first days of life more stable and secure, the volunteers of Good Beginning promoted a secure child—increasing the odds that as adults they would retain a more positive outlook, higher self-esteem, and develop a conscience. Today, Good Beginnings serves over 150 families a year.
Other Norwich women have also directly supported the nonprofit. The late Carol Todd, wife of President Emeritus Maj. Gen. W. Russell Todd ’50, helped establish the program’s nonprofit status. Jaime Schneider also offered assistance over many years, while NU Center for Civic Engagement director Nicole DiDomenico MPA’15 has directed volunteer student programs from Norwich.
Looking back, Conlon Nevin expresses admiration that what began as a simple concept—putting volunteers into the home with new mothers—made such a difference for those who couldn’t afford long hospital stays or hired help. “Our work was designed to reduce postpartum depression,” she says. “We just needed to show that someone cared about these mothers. Time and again, they would say they couldn’t believe that anyone would help them and not receive any money for it.”
Conlon Nevin recalls working with a single mother who had been at home already with a two-year-old, before suddenly caring for newborn twins. During the first visit, the mother couldn’t get out of bed, Nevin recalls. “We put two volunteers with her and doubled up on the number of visits each week for a long time, perhaps a year.”
“We laughed about that later,” Conlon Nevin says. “(The mother) caught on … raised those children herself, went on to college to become a social worker who would do home visits herself.”
Today, Conlon Nevin remains active with Good Beginnings as a board member. She remembers fondly her fellow co-founder Maureen Larsen, who passed away in 2017. “Her endearing personality and skills as a registered nurse from Norwich enabled her to forge lasting friendships with families and on many occasions led to successful advocacy on their behalf. She made an ongoing difference in central Vermont for the past 30 years.” Larsen and her husband were a beloved presence at annual fundraising events for many years until his passing in 2016.
Good Beginnings Executive Director Gretchen Elias reflects on the legacy of the Norwich alumnae. “They were truly ahead of their time. In the intervening years, the lasting benefit of home-visiting programs for parent, child, and community alike has been well-established by child development and early education research.”
Thirty years on, Good Beginnings continues the work and legacy of Conlon Nevin, Howe, and Larsen. Because of them, scores of new mothers each year find that postpartum depression doesn’t have to be endured alone.
Associate Professor of English Kyle Pivetti, Ph.D. teaches Renaissance literature at Norwich and serves on the board of Good Beginnings of Central Vermont. His most recent book is Shakespeare at Peace.