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Program to inform new parents is flourishing
In Jan. 24-30, 2008 issue
By Derek Aaron
Times Journal Reporter

Left to right, Braydon Lafavers, his mother Renae Robertson, HANDS team leader Brenda Dial, and Samantha and Patrick Conner who were expecting their first child.

JAMESTOWN - A program geared toward providing information and support to new and expecting parents in Russell County has flourished in just eight years of operation, according to Brenda Dial, the HANDS team leader at the Russell County Health Department.

HANDS, an acronym for Health Access Nurturing Development Services, is a free program offered by the department to first time parents who qualify, she said.

The program has approximately 50 families in the county currently enrolled. Two of those families, Renae Robertson and her son, 3-year-old Braydon Lafavers, and first-time parents-to-be Patrick and Samantha Conner are models of what the program is all about.

"They can join our program during the prenatal stage and can actually join up until the baby is 12 weeks of age," Dial said. "They can stay in until the child turns two and graduates."

If some children have delayed development, they are allowed to stay in the program until they are three years old, a scenario that has never happened in this county.

Few requirements exist to become enrolled in the free program, but one must be a first-time parent. "Income doesn't matter," Dial said.

She said the program is paid for through Medicaid or through the state's Tobacco Fund "Kids Now" Initiative.

Dial, the team leader for five years, works with three other ladies, family support workers Connie Mann, Beth Collins and a data entry specialist, Valerie Porter, through the program.

Mann and Collins will average three visits per day to families enrolled in the program.

"I have several families that have graduated and moved on and come back and re-enroll if they have another child and that father is a first-time parent," Dial said.

That is Robertson's case. She is 13 weeks pregnant with her second child, after going through the program during the birth of her son, Braydon, three years ago.

Robertson, who has been part of the program for more than two years already, said the program taught her things about prenatal care, feeding babies, signs and symptoms of a sick child and goals to make while expecting and after delivery.

She first heard of the program through some friends she has that had been a part of the program.

"I love the program," Robertson said. "The thing that sticks out most to me about the program is the goals it makes you set."

Dial said the program has the family to set goals for both themselves and "baby goals." An example of a "baby goal" would be painting the baby's room before they are born or childproofing your house before the new arrival.

These goals should be reached within six months, Dial said.

"It is a strength-based program," Dial said. "We don't go to family's homes and point out what they're doing wrong; we go to family's homes and point out what they're doing right."

The family support workers enter the homes of HANDS members once a week until the age of one. At that time, visits start to occur every other week.

The Conners, who have been enrolled in the program for about six months, are at the stage where a new baby boy could arrive any day, and by the time you read this already may be holding a son in their arms.
"Right now we're just going over what to expect when the baby does arrive," Samantha Conner said.

This week, her lesson will be on the labor process and all that entails, if she hasn't already experienced it firsthand.

"For someone who's never gone through this before, it is a big thing," her husband, Patrick, said. Dial said it was key to get fathers involved in the process early and to keep them involved in the pregnancy as much as possible. "Dads are extremely important."

Samantha said the program has helped her cope with each month of her pregnancy, and now as the actual birth nears, she explained she was eager to see what the rest of the program had in store for her, her husband and new baby.

"If it wasn't for the program and for (Samantha's) experiences with it, I'd be going into this blindly," Patrick said. "It helps prepare me for all the stuff I need to know."

Dial said some strength-based beliefs HANDS are all parents want to be good parents, individuals and families themselves know best what they want and need, individuals and families want to feel good and proud of themselves, everyone has the potential to learn and change and everyone is responsible for their actions and choices.

HANDS also uses a program called "Growing Great Kids" to introduce new ideas to babies and toddlers for learning.

The activities involve normal, everyday household items and are easy to make and makes learning a fun experience for a young child.

Dial said people would come to the health department office in Jamestown and specifically ask for a family support worker.

"We are actually full and can't add anyone else at the moment," she said.
This is a testament to the hard work and services provided by the program.

"Connie and Beth are even a little over their limit," she said. "They'll probably average more than three visits per day this month."
The program does not have a waiting list, Dial says, rather they, through a process called "intake close," contact families on a need-to-know basis when an opening becomes available.

"We have actually grown to the point of people knowing that Connie and Beth are the visitors and they literally ask if they can have the program where Beth or Connie comes to their home," Dial said. "It's like its not even HANDS anymore, more like Connie and Beth's program to them."
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