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Stacy Shown, a professional home visitor for Union County Healthy Families, reads a children’s book with Jordynn Hamilton of Cove. Shown regularly assists Jordynn and her mother, Alyssa Hamilton, who is a first-time parent. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Union County Healthy Families’ program for first-time parents has new administrative structure
The name and organizational structure of a program serving first-time parents long known as Union County Healthy Start is evolving, but its mission and services are the same.
That’s the message of Sue Arnoldus, the director of Union County Healthy Families, which was once named Union County Healthy Start.
“There are lots of agency changes but no changes in program services,” Arnoldus said.
Legislation pushed through by Gov. John Kitzhaber calling for the reorganization of early childhood programs in Oregon is the reason for the shake-up, one which will not impact the work Union County Healthy Families does to help first-time parents.
“The services currently in place will continue to be provided as usual,” Arnoldus said.
This is welcome news for Alyssa Hamilton of Cove. Hamilton, a teen mom, has received extensive help from Union County Healthy Families. Hamilton, 18, credits Healthy Families with providing her with crucial guidance and support since she gave birth to her daughter, 19-month-old Jordynn.
“It is really scary (to be a first-time mom). Nobody knows what to expect. It is so nice to have someone to help,” Hamilton said.
The teen mom meets regularly with Stacy Shown, a professional home visitor for Union County Healthy Families. Shown sets goals for Hamilton, teaches her games and activities, which the young mother can use to help her daughter’s development, assists her in connecting with social resources and monitors Jordynn’s development.
Shown is getting Jordynn interested in reading, bringing a new book for Hamilton’s daughter each time she visits.
The book is drawn from a bag Shown brings.
“She (Jordynn) gets excited when she sees her bag. She wants to know what is in it,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton graduated from Cove High School in May. She credits Healthy Families with playing a big role in helping her get through high school while overcoming the challenge of being a teen mom.
“It provided me with the support I needed to get on track and stay in school. It kept me motivated,” said Hamilton, who will soon begin taking classes at Eastern Oregon University.
Shown tries to be an inspiring sounding board for Hamilton and other first-time mothers.
“When a mom feels there is someone she can talk to, who sees strengths which are already inside, she can be inspired to achieve more than she thought she could,” Shown said.
The Union County Healthy Families program which helps Hamilton recently merged with Umatilla Morrow Head Start, which is a nonprofit with multiple entities under its umbrella.
Union County Healthy Families received its new name following the merger last month and is now a branch of Umatilla Morrow Head Start.
The merger will help Union County Healthy Families by providing its staff more opportunities to attend professional development programs, Shown said. The programs will include classes and seminars on early childhood development and education.
Union County Healthy Families was previously administered by the Union County Commission on Children and Families. It, like all commissions on children and families in each Oregon county, went out of existence July 1 because of legislation passed in 2012 changing how state youth programs are administered.
The commission on children and families structure is being replaced by a state Early Learning Council. The council will oversee a series of Early Learning Hubs which will essentially play the role of commissions on children and families only with a greater emphasis on early childhood development and education.
The changes Kitzhaber is making to place a greater emphasis on early childhood development and education are being made possible by additional federal funding for programs supporting this. Arnoldus said this funding reflects an increased emphasis President Barack Obama is placing on early childhood education.