Promise 1000 gives families the support they need
In the home of Stephanie—a wife, mother, student and self-proclaimed lover of learning—there is only a gentle purr from behind a closed door that breaks up the silence.
“The cats were our only children for almost 9 years,” Stephanie said. “Now they’re grumpy old men.”
Today is unusually quiet. That’s because there is no Cadence.
Stephanie’s daughter, Cadence Grace—usually referred to as Cady—is visiting her grandparents. “She’s the rhythm of our life,” Stephanie says with a proud smile. Whether she’ll give you a hurricane or sunshine depends on the day. “Believe me: threenager is a thing.”
Cady is 2 1/2 years old but functioning near a 4-year-old level. Her mother grins anytime she talks about her, even when discussing the difficult aspects of parenthood.
“She’s wonderful, but it’s rough sometimes,” Stephanie said.
Cady was born 9 weeks early and spent a few weeks in the NICU. Her eventful and traumatic arrival was an adjustment for the entire family, and the remnants remain today. Stephanie is energetic and enthusiastic, positive and focused on the future. And yet, she doesn’t flinch from the challenges she’s faced. As a full-time student working on a teaching degree and working with children full-time, she has plenty on her plate.
“In the last year, I’ve been working a lot on myself,” Stephanie says proudly. “Toni has really helped with that.”
About Promise 1000
The first 1000 days of a child’s life are critical. During those three years, connections are made and skills are developed that set the tone for every educational building block to come. Within the first five years, 90% of brain development has already occurred. Damage done or prevented at that stage has a major impact.
That’s the idea behind early education and infant support programs like United Way’s Promise 1000.
Promise 1000 connects families within the Kansas City region to specially trained agencies that provide in-home support. These services are for parents who are expecting or who have a young baby or child. Promise 1000 serves parents who may not already have the support they need in place.
And although Stephanie understands she’s fortunate to have family support—four sets of Cady’s grandparents and three sets of great grandparents on both sides live within a few miles—that doesn’t make parenting any less demanding.
To help her keep things moving for her family, Stephanie meets every two weeks—a home visitor from Promise 1000.
“I was pretty beat down when I starting meeting with Toni. She’s our person,” Stephanie said.
One of the important first steps Toni suggested to Stephanie was making time for herself. “I felt selfish taking 10 minutes for myself. That’s time I could be spending with my daughter.”
Toni and Stephanie have been meeting for a year and a half. Stephanie is excited for the upcoming graduation from the Promise 1000 program (“We’re going to graduate!” she announces), but also wishes the program could extend. That’s because Toni has become something like a member of the family.
“I feel like Toni and I have a friendship. If I saw her at the store, we would stop and talk and act like friends,” Stephanie said. “Some (home visiting) places aren’t like that. It’s really nice to have someone you can talk to.”
“They’re not here to judge you. They’re here to help.”
Stephanie still remembers the day she signed up for Promise 1000. She was battling post-partum depression and felt like her life was getting away from her. She knew she needed to do something for Cady, for her husband, John, and for herself.
“It was like, ‘What am I doing?” she said. “But I’m so happy I did it. I feel like I’m back to where I was before Cady was born.”
First, she had to get over the idea that she was asking for help or admitting she didn’t have what it takes to be a great mother and achieve the dreams she’s been working toward. She also had to move past assumptions she made about what it would mean to invite a home visitor into her house. That fear was short-lived.
“We hit it off from the start,” Stephanie said. “They’re not here to judge you. They’re here to help.”
The path before her seems open, but it doesn’t mean she’s clear of the difficult times. “We still have tough conversations, but the conversations are shorter now.”
Each time Toni and Stephanie meet, they go over assigned reading projects from a workbook that Toni calls her nurturing journal. Things like lessons about spoiling children (something Stephanie has learned can’t truly be done) and how to talk with Cady about her feelings. Stephanie says she enjoys learning and wants to instill that in her daughter.
Each lesson begins and ends with a series of questions: “How are you going to be helpful to yourself? What did you notice? What did you learn?” With each bi-weekly meeting, her confidence grows.
“They want to guide, help and teach you about developing your child,” Stephanie said. “It takes a village. It really does. And if you don’t have a village, Promise 1000 helps provide that.”
“Without Promise 1000, my life would have been chaos. Everything I had going on would have continued to snowball and I just don’t know where I would be,” Stephanie said. “I’m growing and developing so much.”
She said she tells everyone she meets (new mothers and otherwise) about Promise 1000. It means so much to her that she recently agreed to appear on a local TV news segment about the program, to share her story and invite other mothers to sign up.
Where she was, where she is
“When you’re a new or expectant parent, you’re in the moment,” said Amy Gorton, the program manager at Easterseals Midwest, a service network that offers many programs, including home visiting. “It can be a lot.”
Amy Gorton is the program manager at Easterseals Midwest, a service network that offers many programs including home visiting.
As she helps tell Stephanie’s story, Amy’s pride is obvious. She’s been working as a home visitor for 15 years with different organizations, following different models, but she says the current curriculum is her favorite.
“Now that we’ve got this program and we’ve got support from Promise 1000, we can do so much more,” Amy said.
As Stephanie spoke with the news reporter, Amy beamed from the kitchen doorway. “You can read the reports and that’s great, but to see her doing these things and talking this way—it’s amazing. To know where she was when Toni first enrolled her, and to see where she is now…it’s so meaningful.”
“We were just so happy.”
Stephanie and her husband have been together 15 years. A few years ago, they had a conversation and decided there were two things they wanted to do before bringing children into their world. First, they wanted to get mentally prepared. And second, they wanted to visit Scotland. “We did that second one by the skin of our teeth,” Stephanie said with a laugh.
In fact, she found out she was pregnant WHILE they were in Scotland, but worked hard to suppress the secret until they were stateside. “I told him the day before his birthday,” she said. “I gave him a little ‘Future Caddy’ bib because he loves golf, and we were just so happy.”
The joy turned to uncertainty as Stephanie went into labor on New Years Eve. She suffered from pre-eclampsia and her body couldn’t regulate. She was given so much medication that she had a seizure and ended up having an unplanned C-section. Although Cady responded well and was released from the NICU after a few weeks, the entire ordeal kicked off a new battle for Stephanie: self-doubt.
“You start wondering, ‘Is this my fault?’ I worried that I’d walked too much while I was pregnant. Or that I hadn’t walked enough. All these doubts come into your head, and you question everything,” she said.
Even with doctors assuring her Cady’s birth was a matter of science, it took Stephanie a long time to come to terms with the trauma of the birth. “I felt very guilty about everything.”
John struggled as well in the first months of Cady’s life. For a while, she says, they both must have appeared unhappy to everyone around them.
“We were just going through so much, and it must have seemed like we were both out of it,” Stephanie said. “We were just dealing with a lot.”
Sharing her journey
For Stephanie, her journey has been about building resiliency, confidence and support. From the beginning, Toni was telling her “This is normal. You’re fine.”
“I wish more people had more access to this and knew the program existed.” That’s part of her journey now, sharing her experience and spreading the word about a program that she says has changed her life. That’s why she decided to open up with the news station about Promise 1000.
“All I want is for everyone to know about this, and for moms and families to get the help that I got.”
Stephanie and John will graduate as a family from the Promise 1000 on January 11—the day Cady turns 3. She said it will be bittersweet.
Asked for a single piece of advice she would give to new and expectant mothers, her answer was quick and clear. “You need to do this program! I really, truly love it. It’s so worth it.”