Family Visitor Program celebrates 20 years
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – It was 1983 when Family Visitor Program caregivers first began going into local homes to visit newborns and their families.Now, 20 years later, some of those newborn babies from the early ’80s are parents themselves.”We have a few,” said FVP executive director Sandy Swanson with a smile, of the generations who have seen both sides of the Family Visitor Program, as babies and, today, as parents.Providing such needed community service for so many years is cause to celebrate. That’s why Family Visitor is planning an open house from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, at FVP’s main office, at 401 23rd St., Suite 204, in Glenwood Springs.”Since we’re a visitor program, a lot of people don’t have a chance to come up and see our offices,” said Swanson, of the organization’s headquarters in the Valley Professional Building on 23rd Street in Glenwood Springs. Family Visitor is also hosting a birthday party for children featuring Winnie the Pooh from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Oct. 2, at the Glenwood Springs Community Center. “Because we’re holding the party during school hours, it’s geared for preschool-aged kids and younger,” said Cristina Gair, FVP assistant director. “It’s free and open to the public and we hope to see many parents and children there.”
In Colorado, the concept of paraprofessionals visiting expectant moms and new families became popular in the early 1980s, following a study conducted by the Henry C. Kemp Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect at the University of Colorado. Swanson said the study found that because of increasing family mobility, mothers and fathers of newborns often found themselves living far away from relatives and other support systems. Without those connections, family members often felt isolated, especially when planning for a baby. So the Colorado Department of Health and the federal government helped start 15 visitor programs around the state to bring trained people into private homes to give support, guidance and information. Today in Colorado, only the Glenwood Springs-based FVP remains, thanks to savvy management and a community that understands the value of keeping young families healthy and happy. “All of the 15 original programs died except for us,” said Swanson, who is also a registered nurse. “We’re the oldest new-parent home visitation program in the state of Colorado, and the only regional provider of home-based support, advocacy and educational services to expectant mothers and families of babies from birth to 2 years old.”
The FVP started small, seeing only 70 families a year. Now, visitors see more than 500 families annually from Aspen to Parachute. The organization has also expanded its services over the years, which are available to all families in the greater Glenwood Springs area at no charge. Parents can choose the level of service they wish, from Warm Welcome, a simple one-time visit to two-year family programs. Even the Warm Welcome is packed with goodies. Visitors bring families a bag stuffed with games to play with babies and toddlers, a new book, a new toy, addresses for parenting Web sites, brochures on brain development and general health, a local community information booklet, and even a CD called “The Mozart Effect,” which features the positive effect classical music has on newborns. There are more involved programs, too. Ages & Stages gives parents information about children’s mental and physical development. There’s also Read To Me pre-literacy education, where home visitors provide a brand new book a month and encourage parents to read to their babies. Partnerships have formed along the way as well. Since 1990, the FVP has worked with the Teen Parent Program at Yampah Mountain High School, which allows high school students to complete their education while caring for their children at an in-school nursery. In the last year, FVP served 23 teen parent families with 193 hours of home visits. And, just this year, FVP received a Nurse Family Partnership grant, which matches low-income, first-time mothers with a specially trained registered nurse. The nurses work with parents, helping them to care for their children and become self-sufficient. “We’ve got a successful track record,” said Swanson of FVP’s 20 years. “I suppose our next goal would be to set up an endowment so that we always know that we have the money available when we need it.” Family Visitor Program is at 401 23rd St., Suite 204, Glenwood Springs, 945-1234. Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Imagine Glenwood and The City of Glenwood Springs is slated to host a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.