Dome - A Running Start
A Running Start
Date: May 1, 2014
In her modest apartment, Raquel Arias works her stylus over a metal sheet she is embossing. She is developing her skills not only as an artist but as a single mom in a culture far removed from her native El Salvador, where she learned her craft. And were it not for a free program she entered at Howard County General Hospital, she says her life would likely have descended into extreme poverty and despair.
Five years ago, when Arias’ daughter was born at Howard County General Hospital, she met Kim DiMarco, manager of Healthy Families Howard County, a program that offers guidance and support to first-time parents. DiMarco showed her how to calm her new baby and handed her a brochure about free or low-cost support services and parenting classes. Back then, Arias suffered with depression, made worse by an abusive boyfriend.
When the abuse escalated, Arias contacted Healthy Families. “We referred Raquel to a safe house and led her to counseling and classes to improve her English,” says Judy Templeton, the program’s supervisor. Not only did Arias land a job at an upscale restaurant, but the restaurant’s owner also showcased her artwork, generating some sales.
Now in its 14th year, Healthy Families Howard County is based at the hospital’s Wellness Center. As part of the Healthy Families America initiative, the program is offered to any first-time parent—man or woman—regardless of income, after a screening and assessment. Part of its mission is to link families to community organizations, like the Howard County Health Department, nonprofits and crisis intervention groups. The program also offers home visitation to help first-time parents set and accomplish goals based on their family’s needs.
The staff includes four family support workers, one who is fluent in Spanish. Participants may enroll at any time during pregnancy until 90 days following the birth of a baby. Parents and children “graduate” from the program when the child turns four and has enrolled in Head Start or another school readiness program. Healthy Families offers an array of parenting classes and monthly events, like Shop ’Til You Drop, an evening of free shopping, with items donated from a local consignment shop. Though Arias and her daughter have graduated from Healthy Families, they keep in touch with staff and friends.
These days, Klarissa is thriving as a kindergartner at a local Howard County elementary school, and Arias is devoting more time to her art, which has been displayed in several shows in the area. “Staying in Healthy Families was one of the best decisions in my life,” she says. “I’ve made new friends I can count on and I had a family support worker who continues to support me.”
—Judy F. Minkove
For more details about Healthy Families, call 410-715-3716 or visit hcgh.org/healthyfamilies.
Workshops on enhancing:
• Parenting skills
• Infant and child development
• Health care
• Coping strategies
Healthy Families by the Numbers
Since the program debuted in 2001:
6,584 participants in the program
18,919 home visits by a Healthy Families staff member
7,420 meetings with labor and delivery inpatients by a Healthy Families staff member