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Better Prepared Patients
First-time moms and dads get a boost at HCGH’s Healthy Families program

As far as Martin Miller Jr. and his father are concerned, football season is year-round.

Back in 2001, Martin Miller heard about a new parenting program at Howard County General Hospital offering free guidance for first-time parents. So when his girlfriend became pregnant, he decided to sign up. Little did Miller know then that the program would become a lifeline.

One day, Miller came home from work and found his son in the crib—abandoned by his mother. Eventually, Miller, a data entry specialist, was awarded full custody of his son. “I realized I had to raise him alone,” Miller, says. “I felt overwhelmed. Everything was on me.”

Miller, who lives with his son in Ellicott City, took advantage of the Healthy Families Howard County parenting classes and support groups. He felt awkward about being the only man there, but he persevered. “I learned lots of helpful hints about nutrition and what to expect at different stages of development,” he says.

Now in its fifth year, Healthy Families Howard County—part of the federally funded Healthy Families America initiative—is based at HCGH’s Wellness Center. Working in conjunction with Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland, the program has consistently won grant awards. Part of its mission is to link families to community organizations, like the Howard County Health Department, faith communities and crisis intervention groups. The program also offers a home visit to help assess needs. “It’s like a clearinghouse for first-time parents,” says Cindi Miller, HCGH’s director of community wellness.

Currently, about 100 first-time parents are enrolled. Two Spanish-speaking support workers are on hand to serve the growing Hispanic population. The staff, which includes a program supervisor and four “family support” workers, strongly encourages first-time parents to start the program prenatally, as Miller did, though enrollment may begin up to 90 days after the birth of a baby. Participation ends when the child is in preschool.

Early on, Miller befriended program supervisor Judy Templeton. She handed him a list of day care centers and resources for financial assistance. “There were times I didn’t have food on the table,” he says. “Miss Judy couldn’t give me money, but she led me to programs that could.”

Martin Jr. attended a day care center on Templeton’s list, minutes away from Miller’s office. And over the years, father and son attended Healthy Families’ monthly events, including a musical games night and holiday parties. “Martin Jr. loved having other kids to interact with. It’s tough being an only child,” Miller says.

At 5, Martin Jr. is a happy, energetic kid, by his father’s account. One of Healthy Families’ first “graduates,” he now attends a Head Start preschool program in Columbia. Templeton recalls that Martin struggled at first. “With time, we saw a shift,” she observes, crediting Miller, “a wonderful, patient, from-the-heart dad.”

Though the stress of single parenting hasn’t abated for Miller, he’s enjoyed watching his son morph into a young man and “knowing I had something to do with it.” But Miller’s quick to acknowledge Healthy Families. “They not only helped me in physical ways; they showed me how to make better decisions about issues affecting my son.”

—Judy Minkove

For more information about Healthy Families Howard County, call 410-715-3716.


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