Families bond at Valdez pregnancy care center 

When Emily Johnson found out she was pregnant with her first child, she not only wanted to make sure she received quality prenatal care, but she was also looking for a community of new parents as well. She and her husband, Austin, had recently arrived in Valdez and were still getting to know the people and the area. With no family nearby, they felt an even stronger urge to create a community of their own.  

They found it in Little Sparrow Pregnancy Care Center. Little Sparrow is the only care center in Valdez for parents-to-be for childbirth classes, feeding and lactation classes, and online education programs that can help alleviate some of the unknowns for expectant mothers. Not only did it help the Johnsons prepare for the birth of their son, Auggie, but it also helped them get to know neighbors in their community whose children will be growing up together.  

“For me it was a total blessing,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have a community here, and being an older and first-time mom, I just didn’t know what the resources in town were. Little Sparrow made it super easy to learn what the resources are and to meet people, which was my big thing: I want to have a sense of community here.”  

Providence Alaska helps support Little Sparrow Pregnancy Care Center, which opened in September 2022 to its first batch of expectant parents. Five couples – the Johnsons among them – found common ground in their pending growing families. Here they were able to take parenting and childbirth classes, access lactation and nutrition consultations, and more.  

“It’s a community effort,” said Little Sparrow Executive Director Sheri Beck. “Churches, donors and volunteers have come together to make this happen for Valdez families.”  

Two of those volunteers are Melanee Tiura, DHA, FACHE, Providence Valdez Medical Center administrator, who volunteers to teach the lactation and nutrition classes, and Monique Clupper, RN, who has been working in the delivery-room setting for 30 years and teaches childbirth classes.   

“Monique and Melanee have helped us tremendously,” Beck said. “They saw a need they were qualified to help with, and after working hard at Providence all day, they started providing classes in the evening for our parents. It is a perfect fit, and we are so blessed that they have joined our team.”  

Tiura teaches a feeding choices class for parents that includes lactation education.  

“Although we are faith-based, and there is spiritual support offered, it is for all of the community, and we just really care and want all families to do well,” Tiura said. “We are always looking for ways to support families and young children.”   

Clupper said it has been fulfilling to help young parents connect and create community.  

“This is for women through pregnancy, during delivery and after parenting,” Clupper said. “In our childbirth classes, I’m passionate about making sure women and their partners know that this is not a mystery, that they have a say in their child’s birth. Nothing is right or wrong, nothing is good or bad. We help them understand the situation and what to consider as they prepare for birth.” 

Little Sparrow also offers online classes using a curriculum called BrightCourse. The wide variety of classes feature courses in everything from the first trimester of pregnancy and potty training your toddler to fatherhood lessons and infant loss healing.  

The Little Sparrow Baby Boutique also is proving popular.  

 “We offer a ‘Learn to Earn’ program at Little Sparrow,” Beck said. “Parents can take classes and earn points that can be used to shop for ‘free’ in our baby boutique. New skills and knowledge can be added to the parents’ toolbelt. Afterward, they can pick up necessary items such as breast pumps, diapers, clothing, etc., from our boutique.”  

Since little Auggie Johnson’s birth in February, Emily Johnson said she has already been back to Little Sparrow – and the baby boutique. Little Sparrow, she said, is where she has found her community.  

“I started with the childbirth class and then took the breastfeeding class with Melanee, and I’ve met with Melanee five or six times for breastfeeding support,” Johnson said. “I have gone back to Little Sparrow, five or six times, for the support and the boutique.  

“It’s called a pregnancy center, but to me it’s a lifeline.”