Two Smart Start Rowan programs reach out to parents
?Clara Marts positively glows when she talks about the moms with whom she works. Clara is a parent outreach educator for Smart Start Rowan. She leads a support group for Latino moms as part of Circle of Parents, a brand-new program sponsored by the organization.
Clara spends about 12 hours a week working the community.
“I love it that way,” she says. “I am a people person.”
Clara is a bilingual staff member, and the goal of Circle of Parents support groups is to promote independence and advocacy among the groups she serves. For parents of children birth to age 5, this program is funded by Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, and implemented locally by Smart Start.
“We are constantly supported,” Clara says. “We get great, great support.”
Her group meets each Thursday morning at a Latino church, Esperana al Mundo, located on Airport Road. It’s a wonderful location, Clara explains, because many of the moms do not drive, and can walk or are transported by the church. The church also provides child care, also free of charge.
“It has grown exponentially,” Clara says of the support group. “We started with two moms, and we have almost 20 now. They love to come.”
Among them, the moms have about 15 children. During meetings, there’s a room for infants and a separate room for toddlers.
“It’s been a great partnership,” Clara says of the arrangement with the church. It’s been a blessing.”
Eventually, she explains, the group will become parent-led. “I am happy to say I am confident enough that this will happen.”
There are barriers for these women – not only language barriers, but also because many of the moms do not drive and are home much of the time.
Eventually, support groups are planned for teen parents, grandparents raising children, and a general parenting group.
Clara expects that a second group for Latino moms will also be formed, one that will meet in the evening.
“We’re about to max out,” she says. “I, for one, am excited. These ladies are so proactive about their child’s development. They want to be good wives, good moms, good daughters. This needs to be acknowledged.”
Clara, who was born in Puerto Rico, knows that she’s lucky to be a U.S. citizen, and that she has received an education.
“I see how fortunate I am,” she says. “These ladies want so much for their children.”
But Clara is also the mother of three children, one of whom has special needs. She wishes she would have had the intervention such programs provide.
A program that Smart Start now also administers is the Parents as Teachers program. This program also serves parents of children birth to age 5, but in the home, and with one-on-one contact by Krystal Schmidt, a parent educator for Smart Start.
Krystal visits about 25 families once or twice a month. Krystal works with children and families, sharing games and activities designed to increase a child’s developmental level and make sure they’re on track. Once Krystal shares this information with parents or caregivers, then they can take the lead in continuing the activities. She also performs basic developmental screenings.
Krystal also helps with any other issues a family is having, working through problem-solving and referrals to other agencies. Families may self-refer to Parents as Teachers, and Krystal receives referrals from Salisbury Pediatrics, the Department of Social Services and the health department.
Krystal works full-time, making visits and planning for them.
“We have families from all economic backgrounds with all kinds of needs,” she says. “We work throughout Rowan County.”
Krystal says she’s driven into beautiful subdivisions and down isolated dirt roads. “I love the flexibility of being able to do different activities, and using my creativity to tailor activities to the needs of each child.”
Between planning and taking extensive notes, Krystal typically visits two to three families a day.
“I don’t want to skimp on quality to get more numbers,” she says. That’s definitely not our goal.”
Krystal says she never knows what a child will say or how he or she will react to an activity. “It feels so good that they allow us to come into their homes.”
In doing activities with children, Krystal uses items that can be found around the house: paper and crayons make ABCs or memory games. She places magnetic letters on cookie sheets, and uses shaving cream to trace letters on the kitchen table.
“Children are always more excited about simple things,” Krystal notes. “Parents can then extend the activities on their own. It helps parents be creative, too. It’s so exciting and rewarding. Kids can go off on their own with an activity. It takes you by surprise.”