Gabriel Project seeks bilingual volunteers

María Luisa Aliaga's office is stocked with diapers and other hallmarks of early motherhood, even mini snow boots trimmed with ribbon and fleece. But she is not a new mother. She is the diocesan coordinator for Gabriel Project, a nationwide ministry for expectant mothers in need of friendship, prenatal care and other support.

Every day, Aliaga assists new mothers by taking their phone calls, finding them rides to doctor appointments, praying for them and otherwise "filling in the gaps." She does this with the help of three other employees and a team of volunteers - the latter of which are in short supply. The main barriers to growing their volunteer team are language and location.

In the Arlington Diocese, the bulk of these mothers live in Manassas and Woodbridge. Many are newly arrived Latin American immigrants who speak little to no English. They may be so new that they do not know their neighbors, have not made any friends and have not chosen a parish, said Sarah LaPierre, the diocesan Gabriel Project director. But they see a sign for Gabriel Project and call the helpline.

Aliaga, a native Salvadorian, connects the Spanish-speaking mothers to various resources, but "there are so many that I can only spend a small time with each one."

Hence the need for bilingual English and Spanish "Angels," especially ones who can provide one-on-one support to mothers in Prince William County. An Angel's duties vary, depending on the mother's specific situation. The primary responsibility is to build trust - trust in the Angel and trust in God. Many Angels give rides to their assigned mothers, taking them to the doctor and interpreting during the visit. The Angel might also be available for phone conversations, coffee dates, English classes, prayer group, Bible study and other social and spiritual activities that connect the mother to her greater Catholic and secular community.

"Gabriel Angels give the gift of time, of listening, of being present," said LaPierre.

Aliaga added that while the formal commitment ends when the baby is born, many Angels become godmothers to the babies whose mothers they supported. Others stay involved in the mother's life as friends or religious role models.

The experience of volunteering is as much about giving as it is learning and growing.

"Angels tell me that they (learn) a lot of virtues from the moms," said Aliaga. "They learn patience, strength and trust in God because these moms do not give up. They look for help despite the language barrier, and they are so pleased with the volunteers. They are so grateful."

For those unable or unwilling to volunteer as an Angel at this time, volunteering as a medical interpreter or driver are also appreciated gifts of time.

In lieu of volunteering, LaPierre said "anyone can be a supporter of our ministry by offering prayers and donations of material items and monetary contributions."

Gabriel Project will offer its next volunteer training and orientation March 20 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville. The session will take place in English. Registration may be completed at arlingtondiocse.org/gpavolunteer.

"A Gabriel Project Angel volunteer not only represents our ministry and our diocese, but Christ and His church," said LaPierre.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015