WASHINGTON – In a small red wooden house across from a wooded area in northeast Washington neighborhood, virtually unnoticed by their neighbors, are people who save and transform lives.
There are no doctors. No nurses. No special emergency technicians. But, ask Rochele Norfleet what those people have meant to her.
“I was a teen mother a couple years ago and at first I didn’t have any place to go,” said the 21-year-old Capitol Heights mother of two. “I wasn’t in school or anything.”
That was before she came to the Healthy Babies Project, those people in that red house. And now?
“I actually graduated from college in May, and I now have my own place,” she said.
Healthy Babies has helped scores of Washington’s economically disadvantaged teen moms break the cycle of poverty, said Jasmin Brazier, one of the program’s staff members.
The program connects young mothers to education or employment opportunities while also providing them with practical lessons in birthing and child rearing, Brazier said.
“We look for moms who are ready to be independent and provide them with the skills they need to do so,” she said.
The program offers transitional housing that can hold up to six mothers and their children at a time. Homeless mothers can live in the Healthy Babies house, as long as they have a job or are in school. Additionally, they are required to save 40 percent of their earnings toward their own housing.
The home also serves as the meeting place for all the weekly group sessions.
The activities are designed to introduce parenting concepts to young mothers, many who are teen mothers who have never been introduced to these ideas before.
Teambuilding activities, like retreats and fun field trips, are utilized to build a sense of camaraderie between the moms and between the moms and the staff, Brazier said.
Brazier said the organization tries to imprint on the participants the extreme importance of the mother and the relationship she has with her child and to give them the skills they need for successful relationships with their children.
“Growing great kids is dependent on the parents,” Brazier said. “The emotional development of the child determines their learning capacity. Being nurtured by a mother leads to stability in preschool.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re homeless, broke, abused by the dad. It matters that you are your child’s number one fan.”
Healthy Babies, which works with the District’s public schools, in northeast Washington, but also has a strong presence in Ward 8 and southeast D.C. Fifty-nine of the programs 62 participants are from southeast Washington.
Nadhirah Harper is 16 years old and eight months pregnant. Harper said she has benefited from the program.
“Before I came to Healthy Babies, I had dropped out of school so they put me in a GED/trade school program,” she said. “It’s really helpful when you grow up in southeast and got all this attitude.
“It’s helpful to have something that sort of calms you down in order to raise a child and make up sure your child doesn’t grow up in that bad energy.”
Healthy Babies also recognizes the importance of the father’s development as well, Brazier said. Consequently, in another program fathers are also given employment and education opportunities, and counseling sessions on family life and substance abuse.
“A lot of them still want to be with the mom,” Brazier said. “They just don’t know how now that they have a child together. It helps them balance the struggles of being a dad and being with the mom.”
One of the biggest sponsors of the program is the Hoops for Youth Foundation, which recently donated $20,000.
“A few years ago we learned about Healthy Babies and had to make them one of our charitable partners,” said Bradley Knox, a Hoops for Youth Foundation board member. We fell in love with the organization. They put (the money) to use directly in the lives of the young families that they work with.”
For more information on the Healthy Babies Project, visit www.healthybabiesproject.org