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Amid Amarillo’s bustling daily routine, our local nurses, the backbone of our health care system, are committed to healing the community. They tirelessly provide medical care, emotional support and health education, touching countless lives and embodying the true essence of kindness and empathy. Their work is a labor of love and a constant flow of compassion and expertise that often goes unnoticed.

Meanwhile, young parents are facing the uncertainty of a child’s earliest years: Am I doing this right? Are they meeting the right milestones? Shouldn’t they be able to recognize shapes and colors by now? Experienced nurses and mentors can help answer those questions outside the traditional medical setting.

Two innovative new programs in Potter and Randall counties are helping first-time mothers and young parents navigate those doubts with expert support. Backed by state funds, these evidence-based home-visiting programs stand as beacons of hope for moms, parents and families navigating the early stages of their children’s development. The Nurse-Family Partnership and Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters support mothers, parents and families who want to promote their children’s early development. These programs provide expert guidance and support from pregnancy to preschool. 

Nurses for New Moms

The NFP program provides first-time mothers with a personal nurse to guide and support them from pregnancy until the child’s second birthday. Liz Favela, a former neonatal intensive care unit nurse, is the nurse supervisor for the NFP program. 

“It is free for women who are pregnant with their first baby,” she says. “When they enroll, they are connected and partnered with a registered nurse, who will provide support, advice and information to the mom for a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby and just to be the best mom they can be.” 

The nurses who provide home visits to new mothers have expertise in areas including maternal health, pediatric health, neonatal intensive care unit, labor and delivery, or community public health. During home visits, nurses teach first-time mothers about essential topics, including nutrition, health development, sleep techniques and breastfeeding.

“We are trying to look at the big picture,” Favela says. “We are not just nurses. We’re educators. We look for resources and set goals. Nurses wear a lot of hats to make the mom feel valued and more confident in their ability to be a mom.”

The program is voluntary; anyone in the mother’s support system can attend the home visiting sessions, including dads. “The majority of the time, it will be the father of the baby,” Favela says. “And we really want to get them involved as much as possible because, while our program is geared towards the moms, we look at the family unit as a whole.”

The NFP program can provide a free nurse to 150 families in Potter and Randall counties. Women less than 28 weeks pregnant and eligible for Medicaid or WIC can apply for the program.

Favela and the nurses ensure that every mother referred to the program receives a detailed explanation. A team of six nurses receives the referrals based on their availability and the referral’s needs. Sometimes, the outreach coordinator contacts the mother to provide an overview of the program, and a nurse follows up with more details.

“I always tell them, you know, you get a free nurse,” Favela says. “Not everyone can say that. Babies don’t come with a manual, so we’re there to provide that professional support. We’re not there to take the place of moms, their families or their doctors. We’re just there to give that additional support to them.”

Mentorship as Kids Mature

After completing the NFP program, moms who want to continue receiving support for their child’s development after age 2 are encouraged to join HIPPY, a home visiting program focused on early childhood education and development.

The HIPPY program provides families with a comprehensive curriculum over 30 weeks. Weekly sessions include at least five activities covering diverse subjects like language, math, science, motor skills and literacy. Participating families receive at least eight books specifically chosen to complement the curriculum activities. Each book lasts three to four weeks, ensuring the families have ample time to engage with the content and get the most out of the program. Families who register for the program can request books in either English or Spanish.

The free program requires a time commitment: The parent meets with a HIPPY mentor for at least 45 minutes weekly. During these meetings, parents review the curriculum and lessons and ask any questions to empower them to become their children’s first educators. This approach allows parents to actively engage in their children’s learning, which builds a strong foundation for their academic success.

The parents are then responsible for conducting the lesson for 15 to 20 minutes daily with their children. At the next home visiting session, they discuss the activity’s challenges and successes with their HIPPY mentor.

Veronica Elizalde coordinates HIPPY and helps parents prepare their children for success in preschool as they take an active role in their child’s education.

She says the curriculum is flexible enough to adapt to each child’s needs and abilities. For instance, if a child has mastered the basic shapes, the curriculum can be modified to teach more complex shapes. Additionally, children can learn to recognize letters and numbers, which are crucial for their cognitive development and academic success. The curriculum also helps a child develop writing skills, including writing their name—an essential milestone in their early childhood education.

In 2012, between jobs, Elizalde attended a community event after finding herself spending more time with her young daughter. She discovered HIPPY, which ultimately became a catalyst for her personal and professional growth.

“My other kids went to Head Start, and [my daughter] did not,” she says. “So, I decided ‘I’m going to try and see what I can teach her while she is at home with me.’”

Elizalde was encouraged by her daughter’s eagerness to learn. “She was so proud of the bond we had,” she says. “She would tell everybody I was her teacher.”

The mentor assigned to Elizalde through the HIPPY program offered significant support and consistently requested feedback on the activities. Elizalde established a structured routine for her daughter during the sessions and assisted her in concentrating.

Elizalde’s daughter, now 14, has a passion for science and math that blossomed after participation in HIPPY science experiments. To Elizalde, it shows the effectiveness of educational programs that encourage hands-on learning and spark curiosity in young minds. “Those were the two subjects that she was interested in the most and did very well,” she says.

To pay it forward, Elizalde became a HIPPY mentor in 2014.

“The model is that we try to recruit parents that have gone through the program to become home visitors, since they’ve already completed the program and know and understand the model,” she says. 

As parents complete their journey with the HIPPY program and transition into a new chapter in the school system, they forge a powerful connection with their children. They gain a deeper understanding of their child’s learning style and are empowered to become strong advocates for their child in the classroom. Parents can continue supporting their child’s growth and success by staying actively involved in their child’s education and communicating openly with their teachers.

The HIPPY program is available for parents with children ages 2 (before Sept. 1 of the current year) to 4, and it can serve 121 families in Potter and Randall counties.

Celebrations and Joy

At the end of each program, both NFP and HIPPY offer a graduation-like celebration for the moms, parents and families—an opportunity for the local community to invest further in these young learners. Both programs seek food donations, gifts for the mothers, and door prizes for family members who attend the event. They also need donations for special events like Christmas and Mother’s Day. Financial contributions to HIPPY help purchase books and supplies. HIPPY also needs proactive community members willing to advocate for the advisory board, dedicated volunteers who can assist with the HIPPY programming, and reliable locations that can consistently be utilized for meetings. 

Both NFP and HIPPY are programs funded by the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting grant and managed by the Coalition of Health Services. These programs aim to assist at-risk communities by promoting maternal, infant and early childhood health, safety, development and strong parent-child relationships. Together, they contribute to a comprehensive early childhood system that benefits these communities. 

Both Favela and Elizalde have witnessed the progress of both parents and children firsthand, from seeing young mothers graduate from college to parents expressing their joy and surprise at their ability to teach their children.  

“I usually just tell parents that we know that their goal is for their child to succeed and that we’re here to support them and get that goal accomplished,” Elizalde says. “And that they can do it.”

By acknowledging their goals and offering her own story as a source of inspiration, Elizalde instills confidence in parents that they, too, can achieve success for their children. She emphasizes that HIPPY is committed to partnering with parents to provide the tools and resources necessary for their child’s academic success, motivating them to work toward their shared goals.

“They have a goal for their children, no matter what parent, no matter if they’re busy or not busy, whatever background they have, they want their child to succeed,” she says. “And we’re here to partner with you to help with that.” 

Mothers in Potter and Randall counties interested in the Nurse-Family Partnership program or community members who want to donate or support the program can contact Liz Favela at 806-337-1700. Parents and families interested in the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program or community members who want to donate or support the program can contact Veronica Elizalde at 806-376-3520. 

Author

  • Nancy Garcia-Franken

    Nancy teaches journalism and media communication and advises the student newspaper at West Texas A&M University. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, chess, live music and playing golf.

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