Helping Mamas provides essential baby items and period products to women and children in need throughout the state of Georgia and in Knoxville, TN. The nonprofit was started in 2014 by Jamie Lackey, a social worker who saw moms use plastic grocery store bags as diapers and knew something needed to be done.
Helping Mamas has experienced exponential growth over the past eight years, particularly during the pandemic. The organization now serves nearly 60,000 children a year and distributes 2 million essential items through 150 partnerships with social services agencies.
Last year, Pegi Amend, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) retiree, joined Helping Mamas as an Encore Fellow, a seasoned professional who takes on a significant, paid assignment at a nonprofit for 6-12 months. When her fellowship ended, Amend accepted a full-time position as Helping Mamas’s director of finance and operations.
Learn why, in the words of Jamie Lackey and Pegi Amend, below.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, we saw a 400 percent increase in need and that hasn’t slowed down one bit. I needed someone to help with finance and operations, because we basically blew up overnight.
We posted a job listing and I believe Pegi saw it and reached out to someone from Encore.org who contacted me, to see if I’d be interested in bringing her on as an Encore Fellow. She’d taken an early retirement from HPE and they were offering to cover the stipend. That struck me as a pretty incredible opportunity – to get access to someone with so much experience for six months before investing in a salaried position.
And it turned out being such an easy and natural fit. Within a week I was like, “Will you stay forever?”
I couldn’t even wrap my brain around the processes we needed, and she immediately knew how to organize everything. She had a lot of experience working with smaller companies that had been acquired, so all of that change management work allowed her to clearly see best practices and processes for our organization. That’s really what we were lacking – we had policies, but not practices and procedures. I had no idea how efficient we could be until she came along.
I was willing to do whatever needed to happen to get her to stay. In September, I started planning the budget for her position. I asked for her recommendations on the job description. And when her fellowship ended, we rolled her into a full-time position.
She’s helping us get a blueprint in place because we’re looking to expand into other locations. We’ve also been experimenting with a mobile program, where we have a van that we take out to communities, and people are able to drive through and get the items they need —like what food banks have been doing, but with baby supplies and period products.
The pandemic opened us up to partnering with a lot of schools and campuses, in addition to continuing to work with domestic violence shelters, kids and families in foster care, refugee resettlement organizations and hospitals — to name a few.
We certainly get a lot of thank yous and grateful comments from people who can put the money they would have spent on diapers toward rent and utilities. That feels good, to know we’re making a difference. This whole thing started out as a passion project and it’s turned into something much bigger.
Director of Finance and Operations
At HPE I had a number of roles. I eventually moved into operations, but the whole time I was there I was very focused on helping the community and I ran HPE’s employee volunteer program for 15-20 years.
If life had been different, I would have been a social worker. But my mom encouraged me in another direction, so I went into engineering. I knew at some point, though, after the kids finished school and the house was paid off, I’d retire and be able to spend more time working in the nonprofit space.
About five years ago, I started eyeing what would be next and, I think through Google searches, I learned about the Encore Fellowship program. When I retired in 2020, I knew HPE sponsored a certain number of people in Encore Fellowships each year. But I was still exploring nonprofit opportunities and having a field day volunteering — at The Red Cross, a couple of food pantries, Covid-19 vaccination sites — trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
When I saw the job at Helping Mamas I was really interested — their work seemed like such an essential piece of the poverty puzzle — but I worried that if I just sent my resume over they’d say no, seeing me as overqualified. So I reached out to someone at Encore.org to have them approach Helping Mamas, and see if they’d be interested in having HPE sponsor me as an Encore Fellow in the role. And, luckily, I was able to get one of the two sponsorship opportunities HPE offered in 2021.
At the beginning, a lot of my work was just straightening out the financials, reviewing their systems and helping to organize and document their processes. I had just done that at HPE so it was something I could easily pass along. I also had a lot of experience with software and hardware and knowing which programs could help. It was exciting to realize what a big impact I could have through making little changes here and there – things that come second nature to me, but that you don’t often have time to think about at a small organization.
At HPE, I was working with mostly older people.. My experience at Helping Mamas is much more age diverse. Every year, we have eight AmeriCorps VISTA members serving one-year terms and they skew pretty young. They’re energetic and willing to take on anything, and I feel like they’ve helped me understand my kids better. It’s been fun.
I get to do a lot of different things here, and the organization is at a really pivotal point in their growth. My work here isn’t done. I want to make sure Helping Mamas has enough structure to handle what’s ahead. I think it all goes back to wanting to be a social worker when I was younger and wanting to help people directly. I figure, if I can help this organization, the eventual impact of my work will be really meaningful.
Learn more about the Encore Fellowship program here.