Maria Jose Alvarez was pregnant and scared. That’s when nurse Claudia Jaramillo came into her life as part of the Nurse-Family Partnership program.
Four years later, Maria’s daughter has “Aunt Claudia.” As Claudia helped guide Maria through her pregnancy and daughter Valentina’s early years, the two women forged a lasting friendship. Claudia taught Maria about nutrition during her pregnancy. Maria taught Claudia how to make empanadas.
“Claudia is part of our family,” Maria said. “She’s a tremendous help. She’s teaching me all the time.”
Claudia is one of 15 nurses with the Nurse-Family Partnership program in Palm Beach County, which is funded locally by Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County and run by the county’s health department.
The Nurse-Family Partnership model, used in 43 states, pairs a first-time, low-income mother-to-be with a nurse. The nurse visits the family’s home regularly until the child turns 2 years old, helping teach new parents how to raise a happy, healthy child while encouraging her to continue with her own goals in life.
Claudia has been with the program since it launched in Palm Beach County six years ago. She can have as many as 25 clients at a time.
“For some of these girls, we are probably the only consistent people in their lives,” Claudia said. “Some of these girls have such difficult lives. Some have no support whatsoever and their only support is us. We’re there no matter what.”
Maria was connected to the Nurse-Family Partnership program through Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, another CSC-funded program. Maria was 25 years old at the time and putting herself through cooking school while waitressing. She had very little family support with most of her relatives, including all of her female family members, in Ecuador.
Claudia and Maria instantly clicked.
“I remember I used to come in and sit down with her while she had laundry to do and was getting ready to run out the door again,” Claudia said. “We accommodate ourselves to (clients’) lives. That’s why we go anywhere they are…We can see them at their place of work. I’ve seen them at restaurants. I’ve even seen people in my car on the street because they are going through a situation and they don’t want you to go to their homes.”
Claudia walked Maria, like all her clients, through the program’s curriculum for pregnancy, infancy and raising toddlers. The nurse’s visits are weekly or bi-weekly at different stages until the baby is 21 months old.
Maria said that whenever she needed help during her pregnancy, she called Claudia.
“Maria was very determined to be a good mom,” Claudia said. “She’s an excellent mother.”
Even after Valentina turned 2 years old and Maria was no longer part of the program, the two women continued their relationship.
“We still talk a lot,” Claudia said. “A lot of my clients who have graduated, they still call me and let me know how they are doing and invite me to birthday parties and events…We become part of their families. We get to know them, their homes and their families. I get very attached to my clients.”
Their bond was highlighted in February 2013 when Maria and Claudia traveled to Washington D.C. for a Nurse-Family Partnership reception on Capitol Hill. They were one of three pairs of clients-nurses selected from around the country to attend and talk about the importance of the program. Valentina came along too, stealing the show when she joined her mother at the podium to speak.
Maria has since given birth to her second child, Juliana, and lives with her boyfriend. She graduated from cooking school by taking weekend classes. She has plans to go back to work.
“I was 100 percent ready to have a second child,” Maria said.
Claudia said it’s not just about teaching young mothers how to be good parents, but helping them establish and reach their personal goals.
“It’s very rewarding when they call you to tell you that they graduated and they are in college now,” Claudia said. “Sometimes they surprise themselves with what they can do.”