Transforming the Lives of First-Time Moms

By, Allie Semperger
Published April 2014: Michigan Nightlight

Vulnerable first-time mothers are raising healthy kids with the help of visiting nurses in Detroit.

Picking the perfect color for the baby’s nursery and registering at Babies “R” Us are unthinkable luxuries for some soon-to-be parents. In fact, many pregnant, first-time mothers in Detroit have much more urgent concerns: lack of money, an unstable family life, feelings of isolation, no car, and little education, just to name a few.

Nurse-Family Partnership reaches out to vulnerable first-time mothers and empowers them to succeed through a distinctive, evidence-based program that sustains the health and well-being of parents and children for years to come.

Nurse Family Partnership

Nurse Lisa Whitener with Brittney Harvey (Doug Coombe)

While many nursing outreach programs are driven by information or curriculum, Nurse-Family Partnership is unique because it focuses primarily on forming trusting, therapeutic relationships between registered nurse home visitors and first-time mothers. “It’s an empowerment-based model rather than enabling model,” NFP Nurse Supervisor Angie Chiodo says. The program aims to help mothers learn to help themselves and access the information and resources that they need.

NFP clients are paired with a specific nurse in order to develop a close and consistent relationship. Nurses can have up to 25 families in their caseload and see about three clients per day. The nurses visit their patients every week or every other week for the first two years of the children’s lives. According to Chiodo, NFP extensively prepares patients for this graduation and even continues contact as needed with their nurses, to connect the patients with any necessary support.

Each home visit involves careful preparation, planning customized to the client, and charting by the NFP nurses. In forming relationships with their clients, the nurses provide the mothers with important information and resources about health-related behaviors, child development, and economic self-sufficiency (including continuing education and finding employment).

The visits have an intentional structure, but can be as flexible as needed to address the major concerns in the client’s life. “Nurses have the freedom to scratch anything they’re supposed to do and just listen,” Chiodo says.

The flexibility, as well as the consistency and frequency of the visits, contribute to the success of the program. NFP recognizes that the mother is an expert on her own life; nurses use techniques such as motivational interviewing to show, not tell, the mothers that they already know the correct answers to caring for themselves and their children.

Nurse Family Partnership

Nurse-Family Partnership (Doug Coombe)

Father involvement varies, case by case; some fathers may be involved but are not necessarily in relationships with the mothers. Also, while some clients have very caring families (“Grandmas are big cheerleaders of our program,” Chiodo says), others face unstable home environments and inconsistent support.

Isolation is common in the community, and NFP nurse visitors are sometimes the only consistent supportive presence in the mother’s life. Although professional boundaries are maintained, the nurses become integrated in the lives of the families.

To further help combat the pervasive isolation, NFP holds events periodically, including community baby showers and a riverfront walking group. Although most mothers are eager to participate in events, many are unable to attend due to lack of transportation.

NFP nurses love their clients, and the feeling is mutual. During feedback visits, clients fill out forms about their experiences. Chiodo says that the reports from the families are positive.

Chiodo has a background in public health and also works as a certified nurse-midwife, the equivalent of a Nurse Practitioner, which adheres to the philosophy that childbirth is an inherently normal – not bad or pathological – process. She was working at a hospital as a nurse-midwife when her supervisor approached her about helping to start the program, which officially began in August of 2012 and is run out of the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority. The first graduation event of NFP clients will take place in December of 2014.

The program is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the state of Michigan with significant support from healthcare providers that recognize the importance of the evidence-based program. Nurse-Family Partnership has two main referral partners: Wayne State University Physician Group Nurse-Midwives and Henry Ford New Center One.

Nurse Family Partnership

Angie Chiodo (Doug Coombe)

The program has been a team effort that includes the funders, the nurses, and many community partners, such as the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association and the Focus: HOPE HealthConnect One program.

Nurse-Family Partnership is more necessary than ever for the well-being of the Detroit community. A recent The Detroit News investigation found that the infant mortality rate in Detroit is the worst among big U.S. cities and worse than some Third-World countries.

“The biggest issue is Detroit has a lot more poverty and chronic stress, institutional racism, [and] all the social determinants of health care are impacting infant mortality,” Chiodo says. She acknowledges that other U.S. cities suffer from these circumstances as well, but the struggle in Detroit is especially challenging.


Hip-Hop: Unifying Detroit Youth

By, Allie Semperger
Published February 2014: Michigan Nightlight

Hip-hop gets a bad reputation, but a look outside the mainstream, at a small but powerful program for Detroit youth, provides a whole different view.

Commercialized rap songs that glorify money and violence have no place at the 5 E Gallery, a nonprofit visual art and hip-hop culture gallery in Detroit that inspires a return to the roots of hip-hop as a peaceful, creative, and unifying culture.

The gallery’s name is a tribute to the five main elements of hip-hop culture: emceeing (rapping), DJ’ing, writing (aerosol art), dancing (including breaking, up-rocking, popping, and locking), and the connecting element of knowledge.

In addition to supporting local artists and featuring their work, 5 E Gallery offers a diverse array of artistic programs that helps youth in the Detroit community develop important creative and technical skills.

Piper Carter, director of public relations at 5 E Gallery, is an acclaimed fashion photographer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, French Vogue (Vogue Paris), British ELLE (ELLE UK), and Essence, just to name a few. She grew up between Detroit and New York, working in NYC until she moved back to Detroit in 2008 to take care of her mother who was suffering from poor health and needed 24-hour care. “Coming back was a blessing in disguise because we had a chance to connect,” Carter says, acknowledging that the distance impacted the time they spent together. “We ended up being good for each other – she helped me learn how to be a grown woman.”

Piper Carter

Piper Carter (Doug Coombe)

5 E was founded in 2007 by renowned Detroit hip-hop artist and turntablist DJ Sicari. In 2008, Carter met Sicari and began attending 5 E programs and collaborating with him. “I thought [the gallery] was a genius idea and I’m such a hip-hop enthusiast,” she says. “To find a person and a place that loves and celebrates the real culture of hip-hop as much as I did, in Detroit – it’s wonderful.”

Carter’s passion and participation at the gallery continued to grow. In May of 2009, 5 E Gallery launched The Foundation, based on Carter’s idea for a weekly night dedicated specifically to celebrating and supporting the voices of women in hip-hop. The program currently runs on Tuesday nights and participants have included female artists like singer Jade Lathan, who recently appeared on American Idol.

5 E Gallery fosters a creative environment that also functions as a safe space which provides young people with the skills and confidence to become artists that truly live hip-hop culture. The gallery is open after school through the evening for young people to practice their creativity.

5 E also holds a regular youth program on Saturdays where young people get hands-on experiences in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math) work. This weekly program is based on 5 E’s big annual community event, Dilla Youth Day, celebrating the legendary Detroit music producer J Dilla and showcasing youth performances in the arts.

On Dilla Day and on Saturdays throughout the year, kids learn about music production, media literacy, art, and cutting-edge technology that empowers them to bring their creative visions to life in new and unique ways. “No matter where you go, hip-hop in its creation and inception is made for young people – to communicate with one another, express ideas, and relate what their culture is,” Carter says. She also cites the origins of hip-hop as created out of necessity by youth in the depressed Bronx in the 1970s. According to Carter, hip-hop was the path for young people of diverse cultures (Caribbean, African, Puerto Rican, and more) to “create a new reality for themselves.”

5 E Gallery works to support young artists through artist development and mentorship. Artist development includes classes, programs, opportunities to perform, and constructive critiques. Youth are also taught about the business aspects of their mediums and how to improve their skills. In addition, 5 E connects the kids with role models like music producers and community leaders.

5 E Gallery

5 E Gallery (Doug Coombe)

“For us, I think it’s important to acknowledge that in impoverished communities of color there’s really no modeling – it’s important for young people to see what’s practiced, to see people who are successful,” Carter says. “A lot of us didn’t have models for anything we wanted to do – we realized that we really have to show young people what to do [and] give them guidance and instruction.” By interacting with successful people in their aspired fields, youth gain well-rounded worldviews with a balance of school learning and professional experience.

With a focus on ideals like truth, equality, unity, and peace, 5 E Gallery works to educate the public that hip-hop isn’t just the commercialized rap that is popularly confused for hip-hop today. Rather, hip-hop is believed to be the culmination of all cultures: a movement and a lifestyle. “We’re doing sonic justice,” Carter says. “It’s all about music that uplifts and music that heals and providing a safe space for people – youth, women, people of color – to come and learn from one another.”

Carter is a self-described positive and hopeful person, who believes that life is a journey and not a destination. She acknowledges that violence can take many forms – guns, self-hatred, gossip, bullying, etc. – and that it stems mainly from insecurity and a perceived “lack.” Hip-hop, with its focus on cultural literacy, has the power to overcome this harmful mindset.

“My hope for the children of Detroit is that they always realize and recognize their own value, that they see themselves as an important part of this world with fresh ideas and that their ideas are valuable and valued,” Carter says. “We’re in these times where we hear about abysmal circumstances, but it’s still a beautiful world and it’s important that we uplift our youth and community.”