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Help for Mothers in Kentucky

Help for Mothers in Kentucky post

▲ Photo courtesy of Henderson Settlement



Motherhood is an enduring challenge that can leave expectant experienced moms as dumbfounded, worried and awe-struck as new mothers-in-waiting. The Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker (MIHOW) program at Mission Giving-supported Henderson Settlement is there to help women in southeastern Kentucky.

MIHOW serves low-income mothers in 17 sites across four states: West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Trained home visitors offer pregnant women and mothers of very young children education about positive parenting, and health and child development with the goal of nurturing a healthy and safe home environment. The program works to empower individuals and communities.

“Empowered” would precisely describe two mothers assisted by the MIHOW program at Henderson Settlement in the community of Frakes, Ky. Missy Hurst, 31, and Hope Powers, 29, find themselves at Henderson Settlement a couple times a week because the MIHOW program there is as beneficial for the two mothers as it is for their children.

“It helped me a lot,” Ms. Hurst said of the program. “I could ask questions. They gave me a lot of information that I didn’t have.”

She uses the information well. Jayla, her 3-year-old, is an energetic, loving toddler who’s excelling in activities designed for children her age and on track to “graduate” from MIHOW, much like her older sister Madison. Now 8, Madison started preschool knowing all of her colors, and able to read and write her name, count to 25 and color “inside the lines.” Ms. Hurst attributes Madison’s success in school to her enrollment in MIHOW.

“Jayla can count when she wants to and color when she wants to, but she’s a little hard headed,” Ms. Hurst joked about the toddler. MIHOW parenting lessons help Ms. Hurst to help her young daughter to focus as they read together, play games and work puzzles at the community center.

“When you first have them, you’re scared, but you learn,” Ms. Hurst said. MIHOW helps in that learning process, she said. Hope Powers is a young mother beyond her years in experience. She’s mother to Autumn, 1, and also to a 12- year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. “She’s my third, but there are still things, even with her, that are new to me,” Ms. Powers said of motherhood and little Autumn.

She spoke emotionally about the reassurance the MIHOW program provides.

“If you need something, as a mother, and you can’t get it, it can be a stress,” Ms. Powers said, explaining that, in a pinch, MIHOW comes through with clothes, diapers, wipes, anything that’s needed. “Through this program, I know that if there’s something we need, I can definitely get it.”

But what’s benefited her children most is MIHOW’s socialization feature, Ms. Powers said. “This gives them others to play with. It’s helped tremendously,” she said. “This is how my kids learned to communicate. The kids just love it.”

Vanderbilt University Center for Health Services is a founding partner of the MIHOW program, which it intended to be a “powerful yet practical mission — to stimulate the birth and growth of low-cost, parent-to-parent interventions that improve health and child development for low-income families.”

Implementing that vision are leaders like Judy Hurst, the Henderson Settlement MIHOW manager, who truly understands the concept of parent-to-parent interventions. Her role is to be as involved as a mother needs her to be initially then transfer the reins into the hands of the mother. She works to instill confidence in the mothers, pointing out their talents and complimenting them on things well done.

Equally important, she eliminates the stigma sometimes associated with social programs in this Appalachian region.

“I was raised dirt poor, so I always put myself in their shoes,” Ms. Hurst said. “I would want to be treated with dignity and respect, so that’s what they get.”

Ms. Hurst treats each of the 20 families fully enrolled in the program with the same measure of dignity and respect — exactly what program developers at Vanderbilt University intended. MIHOW program managers in the communities “lead by example, listen to parents’ concerns, educate them about nutrition, health and children’s development, model positive parenting practices and provide links to medical and social services. Because these workers come from the same background as the families they serve, they are role models throughout the community for families held back by poverty, low self-esteem and isolation,” states the program prospectus.

MIHOW’s goals are being achieved on a daily basis. Its success can likely be attributed to the women, the mothers, like Judy Hurst.

“I’m a mom. First and foremost, I’m a mom,” Ms. Hurst said. “Any mom that comes in here, we talk. We talk about miscarriage. We talk about loss, about child abuse. I can relate. I know how they feel. When the mom opens up and can relate to you, then you can work with her. You can help her.”

*Brandy Murray Calvert is the managing editor of the Middlesboro Daily News in Middlesboro, Kentucky.