Volume 20, Number 48 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 24 - 30, 2010
Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds
Marleny Vargas (right) and her two-and-a-half year old son, Leandro, graduated from the N.F.P. program last week.
L.E.S. single moms honored by health services program
BY Aline Reynolds
Thirty-three-year-old Annette Cruz has been hospitalized for asthma eight times since 2008. She got it from inhaling the fumes as she transported firefighters from Ground Zero to safety on 9/11. Her three-year-old son, Ericsson, also has trouble breathing and other medical problems.
Having a female nurse by her side made her job as a single, low-income mother a little easier. “She was like a sunlight coming in through the door, every time she walked in,” Cruz said. Her nurse, Johanna Goepel, taught her how to be patient when Ericsson acts up. For that and many other accomplishments, Cruz and others like her were honored last Wednesday evening at the Visiting Nurse Service Headquarters Auditorium on the Upper East Side.
Cruz gets the care for free thanks to the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, a health services provider that offers low-income parents around the city homecare nurse visits a few times per month during and after pregnancy. Low-income, first-time mothers and fathers around the city are eligible for the service. It’s part of a larger national program, the Nurse-Family Partnership, that began in the 1970s in upstate New York.
Lisa Landau, director of the Nurse-Family Partnership program at the N.Y.C. Health Department, said toddlers are often neglected in such childhood development programs. “I think there’s been a focus on universal [kindergarten] and universal pre-k… we keep going down [in age], but not [from birth to three-years), when there’s a huge amount of brain development,” explained Landau.
The department does outreach to hospitals, schools and homeless services around the city to attract client. It was introduced to New York City in 2003, serving more than 100 families on the Lower East Side since its inception there in 2007.
“All N.F.P. clients graduate from the program when their child turns two,” said Cheryl Baez, community relations coordinator at the Department of Health. The youngsters and their families received silver lockets, a rose and a copy of the Dr. Seuss book, “Oh… The Places You Will Go.”
Twenty-one-year-old Marleny Vargas, the event’s keynote speaker, spoke to the need for more nurse services Downtown. “I come from a neighborhood where a lot of moms don’t know how to be moms,” she said.
Vargas juggles two jobs and schoolwork, crediting her nurse for getting her through the first few months of motherhood.
“Johanna helped me to plan how to manage having a baby and still continue college,” said Vargas.
Goepel also gave her client practical advice –to train her son, Leandro, to eat regular food without choking, for example, and to read aloud to him. “She was somebody more than a nurse, she was like my friend – somebody I needed,” Vargas said.
The nurses also help the parents achieve personal aspirations. “Part of the program is to help our clients think of what they want to do long-term, and break down steps in order to make that goal,” said Visiting Nurse Service of New York nurse Rebekah Bennett.
She helped 20-year-old Celene Rodriguez acquire a teaching job at University Settlement, sitting beside her while she followed up on her application. She hopes to send her two-year-old, Christopher, Jr. there starting next year.
Bennett also taught Rodriguez and the child’s father, Christopher Sanchez, everything from breastfeeding to baby proofing their apartment.
She and the other nurses feel grateful to share the first few years of the child’s life with their parents. “What a gift it is that all of these women let a complete stranger into their lives,” she said. “We become a part of their whole experience of being a mom for the first time.”
The program is still struggling to get the word out: only about 15 percent of eligible L.E.S. family candidates now receive the service. And though it has broadened its clientele by tenfold citywide since 2006, only 8.5 percent of all eligible low-income families around the city get the domestic care. “It’s a relatively new program, and it just needs to be rolled out,” said Jacob Victory, vice president of the V.N.S.N.Y.
State Senator Daniel Squadron secured $7 million for the program since 2008, 80 percent of which is allocated to N.Y.C. services. “I need you to go out and spread the word,” he told the Lower East Side parents at the graduation event last Wednesday evening.
The N.F.P. program will also receive part of the $1.5 billion earmarked for grants to home visitation services around the country. “We’re aiming to garner as many of those funds as we can get,” said Landau.