The Friends Blog
April 11 marks the beginning of Black Maternal Health Week, a week of awareness and activism started by Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) five years ago and formalized by the White House on April 13, 2021. This year’s theme commissioned by BMMA, Building for Liberation: Centering Black Mamas, Black Families and Black Systems of Care, “reflects the critical need for learning about Black Feminist and womanist approaches in strengthening wellness structures within our communities, across the Diaspora, as a revolutionary act in the pursuit of liberation and in the global fight to END maternal mortality.” At Friends of NYC-NFP, expecting and new Black mothers make up more than a third of our clients. It is crucial to discuss the disparities in access to quality healthcare Black women face daily and to highlight solutions combatting these racial practices.
Not a luxury, but part of history
Ariana applied to Friends Heart’s Desire Scholarship in 2022, to pursue training as a Doula and less than two weeks ago received her certification. After giving birth to her son she developed a passion for helping people birth safely and comfortably. With an award from Friends, she is now a Doula Trainee with Mama Glow meaning she has completed all necessary classes and training pertaining to the stages of pregnancy, labor and birth, the post-partum period and high risk births. According to Ariana, “Friends has played such an integral part in me obtaining my Doula trainee certificate by awarding me my tuition for Mama Glow training. Without that support, I wouldn’t be a doula trainee today. It was more than a scholarship, I was able to put my energy into my studies and family without having the stress of financing my training.” In her essay Ariana wrote, “During my pregnancy, I knew of 3 black women who died during labor at hospitals-one in a hospital in Brooklyn. Maybe if they had someone advocating for them besides their partner, they would have still lived. I want to be that person. Homebirths, midwives, and doulas are not a luxury; they are our history! I want to carry the baton and positively impact a mother’s birthing experience thus positively impacting future generations. How you birth affects your life and how you show up in the world.”
Framing the Disparity
In 2018, the New York Times Magazine published an article analyzing data from the CDC and the government, stating “Black infants in America are more than twice as likely to die as white infants, […] a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850.”This crisis extends beyond infants, including high Black maternal mortality rates due in large part to dismissal of both symptoms and pain in Black mothers by medical professionals. Data from the CDC reveals nationally Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women. According to the NYCDOHMH, this statistic doubles when considering only women in New York City.
A 2020 NYCDOHMH report stated, “In 2017, there were 117,013 live births and 58 pregnancy-associated deaths in New York City” wherein 40% of those deaths were attributed to black mothers. Furthermore, Black women were 2.4 times more likely to experience severe maternal morbidity events, such as complications and health issues due to pregnancy or childbirth, than their white counterparts.
What more can we do?
At Friends of NYC-NFP, our goal is to ease financial burdens and encourage personal growth for the mothers in our Friends community. In addition to supporting clients in pursuing careers in the maternal health field, we fund emergency medical needs not covered by insurance to protect the health of mothers during pregnancy. For example, we have funded clients to acquire the necessary test strips for gestational diabetes that are costly and not covered by insurance. Furthermore, we cover Uber rides or transportation for clients who have hypertension or other health issues and may need to see their health professional more frequently than they can afford. And, Friends aids in the continued education of NFP nurses so they can be up to date on best practices for assisting and protecting expecting women and new mothers.
Ariana described her nurse as “a motivational force during my journey of motherhood with educating me, supporting me at all stages of my journey and being an extended hand caring for my son.” It’s connections like these that help reduce risks and ensure the health and safety of black mothers and babies. Inspired by her journey, Ariana now seeks to “get involved in community organizations like Nurse Family Partnership and Caribbean Women’s Health Association that have positively impacted my life during my pregnancy and early stages of postpartum. Through them, I took childbirth classes, joined breast-feeding support groups, and had access to a plethora of resources like doulas. Eventually, I would like to develop a support space for my clients’ needs. Having people you can support or can support you is also very special during pregnancy and postpartum.”
How can expecting women and new mothers be their own advocate?
A comprehensive four-part plan co-authored by Erica Chidi and Erica P. Cahill, M.D calls out the need for understanding the historical implications of racism in healthcare, the conditions Black women, and particularly Black expecting women, are at a higher risk for, such as hypertension (pre-eclampsia) and cardiovascular disease, and how to confront racism in the pregnancy process to ensure the healthiest possible outcome for mom and child. It also outlines action items for OBGYNs, nurses, and other medical professionals to do their part to protect mom and child. The steps are as follows: acknowledge race and racism in the room, create a care plan anticipating that racism may impact pregnancy, identify how racism may impact labor, and identify how racism may impact postpartum. At Friends, staff member Alex Albert, led a LEAP event for our community of mothers on “How to Be Your Own Health Advocate” entailing the components to a good or bad first doctor appointment, what it means to be your own health advocate, how to prepare for a health appointment, what questions to ask, and steps to follow after an appointment, including follow-up, calling for back-up, and seeking a second opinion if necessary.
A 2017 systematic review analyzed 26 studies of at least 15,000 women in 17 countries to determine the importance of continuous support for mothers throughout childbirth. Researchers found fewer Cesarean-sections, shorter labor times, and increased spontaneous vaginal births, among women who received continuous doula support throughout their pregnancy. But what would be considered “continuous support”? Researchers define continuous support as “a person who is present solely to provide support, is not a member of the woman’s own network, is experienced in providing labor support, and has at least a modest amount of training such as a doula”. NFP nurses provide valuable guidance to clients on red flags early in the pregnancy to watch closely and seek medical attention for if necessary. Their expertise and continued support to expecting women is fundamental in ensuring positive health outcomes for mom and baby.
When asked what role doulas played in reducing disparity, Ariana said, “I believe doulas are key in reducing the disparities women of color endure because doulas advocate against a system that is designed to work against us. Doulas provide resources and information; educate clients on options and risks; assist with pain management and much more. As doulas, we create a safe space for our client to birth comfortably and confidently. Statistics show that having a doula reduces the risk of C-sections, increases positive birthing experiences, and reduces the use of pain medication just to name a few.”
Exacerbated by COVID
The story of Sha-Asia Washington’s death is a tragic yet all too common example of how racial disparities in maternal healthcare have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Washington went to Woodhull Medical Center in Bed-Stuy to undergo a routine stress test on July 2, 2020. What happened next was unexpected and heartbreaking. After noting an abnormally high blood pressure reading and a late due date, doctors induced labor and pressured Washington to accept an epidural. She went into cardiac arrest during the induced pregnancy and though her baby, Khloe survived, Washington’s heart stopped. Washington’s death was heartbreaking.
Telehealth and new barriers to parenthood during the pandemic are not amenable to safe pregnancy practices. It is far more challenging for expecting women to make the necessary routine appointments to monitor their overall health and the health of the pregnancy. Furthermore, the most obvious risk created by the pandemic is the implications of pregnant women contracting COVID-19, including a much greater likelihood of requiring ventilation and intensive care. Many doulas have anecdotally discussed the challenges presented by the COVID-19 era hospital restrictions to the atmosphere of the delivery room. In most cases, doulas could not be present to support mothers through the labor and in some cases, partners were not allowed to be in the delivery room either. Without the assurance and support of a doula and family, Black women are faced with further challenges advocating for their health during labor and immediately after childbirth.
We asked Ariana about her hope for her community and the importance of Black Maternal Health Week. She said, “My hope for my community is to save lives and families, lessen the negative birthing experiences, and to have women feel supported throughout pregnancy, birth, and early postpartum. I hope to do this through education and being an extension of their support group. We need Black Maternal Health Week to bring awareness to what is happening to our sisters and families. As a mom, it hurts me to my core that there are mothers who are not able to see their children grow up and there are incomplete families due to very preventable issues that lead to their mothers’ deaths. This could be any one of us or our loved ones. Some people coin doulas as a luxury, but in reality it is our history and we can serve to combat the black maternal mortality issue we are currently facing. Black Maternal Health Week also sheds light on new or existing solutions that healthcare professionals can be part of.”
For truly successful health outcomes, providers play a fundamental role in respecting the agency of Black expecting women and mothers, recognizing bias, and proactively addressing concerns about stress, hypertension, or other conditions before they have irreversible effects. An integral step in this direction is to prioritize the health of mother and baby throughout all stages of pregnancy by creating a supportive community consisting of a doula, a nurse, family, or a community advocate. Friends understands it is crucial to highlight racial disparities in healthcare access, to advocate for Black women and new mothers, to assist in the continued education of our clients and support of NFP nurses, and to provide financial relief where possible. We are honored to support women like Ariana to ensure more healthy outcomes for moms and babies.
As for why she pursued a career in Black maternal health and this new certification, Ariana expressed “My goal is to empower mothers in making the best decision for their families. Through education and resources, I want my clients to feel confident in the decisions they make as opposed to feeling forced or rushed. Birth and Motherhood is such an AMAZING yet transformative space where a mother is extremely vulnerable, so I want to make sure every mom has autonomy over her body and the well-being of her family.” At Friends, we ultimately do not want new mothers to just survive but to thrive.
By Colleen Marcoux
by Chelsea Chateauvert
Friends of the New York City Nurse-Family Partnership (Friends) has been operating for a little over five years and one of the main tenets of our work is removing the financial barriers that first-time, low-income moms in the NFP program face. Because of the generosity of our donors, we can channel funds to help them go back to school, address financial stress and break the cycle of poverty. . Heart’s Desire Awardees are vetted and recommended by their nurse and, through that connection, are given an opportunity to apply for funding from Friends. This method of giving money to mothers may seem out of the ordinary or risky but it is a method of support that in recent years has been gaining a lot of traction in big cities.
Recently, the New York Times published two articles highlighting this exact practice. One article stated, “A study that provided poor mothers with cash stipends for the first year of their children’s lives appears to have changed the babies’ brain activity in ways associated with stronger cognitive development,” and this is exactly what we do (DeParle). We provide mothers with funding through the first two years of their babies life. The article goes on to state, “evidence that a single year of subsidies could alter something as profound as brain functioning highlights the role that money may play in child development.” Friends firmly believes the toxic stress from poverty impedes a child’s ability to thrive. Our work is aimed towards a final goal of lifting mothers out of poverty and in turn, their babies. The mothers in our program are given funding with the freedom to decide where and how they will use it. We believe in our mothers and that they are the only ones who can make those decisions for their babies. Many studies show that poverty can hold children back in the earliest stages of life. By helping moms to climb out of poverty, we’re helping their babies get a better start in life.
The Bridge Project is a similar organization providing funds to low-income families. It is a $16Million effort funded by venture capitalists to measure the effect of regular, unconditional stipends on low-income families. Their studies eventually hope to show how continued unconditional income to a mom and family will help to change the course of a baby’s life when born into poverty. Our work is similar, however, our partnership with NFP and a 40-year proven program really enables us to help moms not only provide a healthy start for their families but envision a stronger future. The moms in our program have proven their commitment to bettering themselves and their babies through education and entrepreneurship and our work gives them the confidence to believe in themselves. 99% of the moms in our programs successfully achieve their goals when given funds from our Heart’s Desire Program. So though we may fall in the category of guaranteed-income* as described in the New York Times article, How $1,000 a Month in Guaranteed Income Is Helping N.Y.C. Mothers by Andy Newman, our mothers are given the added benefit of guidance and other program support catered towards first-time moms.
Mothers are the backbone of our society. They raise our children and run the homes, they work in important jobs (and many times more than one) on top of their role as mom and they do it all with grace. The pandemic has laid bare the limited support available for moms along with the lack of childcare options and mental health care. Moms are doing it all and our supporters are the village it takes to make it possible. We are honored to be able to provide a little support for the ones that need it most and thank you for joining us in our efforts to help lift the low-income, first-time mothers and their babies out of poverty and onto a better future.
*The central idea of the guaranteed-income movement is that the most effective treatment for poverty is to simply give people money and let them decide what to do with it, rather than impose the rules, limitations, and bureaucratic hoops that come with most safety-net programs.
- DeParle, Kason. “Cash Aid to Poor Mothers Increases Brain Activity in Babies, Study Finds” New York Times January 24, 2022 (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/us/politics/child-tax-credit-brain-function.html)
- Newman, Andy. “How $1,000 a Month in Guaranteed Income Is Helping N.Y.C. Mothers.” New York Times. January 18, 2022. (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/18/nyregion/guaranteed-income-nyc-bridge-project.html)
Friends of New York City Nurse Family Partnership announced in July the appointment of two new members to its board of directors. “This is a large step in the growth of the organization,” said Karin Romans, who was appointed Executive Director in January.
The board is helmed by Susan Orkin, Co-Founder and Board President. “In founding Friends, Susan sought to level the playing field for first-time, low-income mothers. I’m glad to see our organization evolve under her leadership,” said Romans. “Our board is composed of a group of talented professionals who have dedicated their time to ensuring moms and babies get the support they need when they need it most: the early years. I am excited to see Rebekah and Christina channel their incredible skills, expertise, and energy into furthering our mission.”
“The mission of Friends is to support moms in the evidence-based Nurse Family Partnership program, which pairs a nurse with a first-time mother from pregnancy until the child is age 2. Susan says “I created Friends because I learned that there were no individual contributions coming into NFP–the best anti-poverty program I had seen in a 30-year social work career and I thought that money was being left on the table. In the past five years, we have supported clients and nurses in NFP with close to half a million dollars.” In the past year, we’ve added some modest staff and must build sustainability and capacity to continue to support NFP moms in creating financial stability for their families. I am excited to welcome our new board members who will help us accomplish this goal!” said Susan Orkin, Board President.
Below is a brief introduction of the two members:
Christina White, CPA is a director at PwC with more than 12 year of experience providing accounting audit and business advisory services to both emerging growth companies and multinational companies within the technology, media & entertainment industries.
Rebekah Wahba is the Global Head of Client Data at BlackRock. She has spent two decades working at the intersection of financial services and technology.
This brings the number of board members to twelve. Friends’ Board of Directors also includes: Susan Orkin, Christine Wasserstein, Susan Chinitz, Henry Mascia, Ellen Cohen, Faiza Issa, Mia Lipsit, Brittany Richards, Linda Rothenberg Stein, and Ariane Tschumi.
Will one of our awardees found the next Sears Roebuck, Macy’s or Nieman Marcus?
In preparing for a trip to Texas for my nephew’s wedding, my husband and I decided that we would visit the grave of my great-grandfather in San Antonio. Growing up, I knew only that his business “outfitted riders for the Sante Fe trail.” Recently, I learned that he had left Germany in the 1840s because of restrictions and conditions there that did not allow Jews to thrive. The only trade that they were allowed was leathercrafting.
Sure enough, in America, he was able to use that craft to found a very successful business:
L-Frank Saddlery that still exists today under a different name. It first became Straus-Frank and now Strafco and has moved from making saddles and collars for horses to distributing auto parts, tires and more. Many of the great department stores were similarly founded by Jews who came here as peddlers (having been restricted to the “rag business”) and parlayed their talents to founding most of the major department stores that we know.
Sadly, in America today, how many people are deprived of the opportunity to use their talents because they cannot scrape together the money to mount even the lowest rung of a ladder out of poverty? Hopefully, America is now awakening to systemic inequities that create barriers for talented people. The situation is not only a matter of injustice but should also be a matter of self-interest for all of us because our population growth is declining. We desperately need healthy adults – physically, mentally and socially. But babies whose families suffer the insults of poverty will not become the productive adults that we desperately need because they are stunted even while in the womb from the stresses and deprivations that afflict their parents.
Maybe one day government programs to help these families will be so plentiful that there will be no need for Friends. But, for now, you have helped over 300 women remove financial barriers that prevent them from earning enough to provide a healthful environment for their families. Women like Jannelys who came here from Venezuela in 2018 equipped with an engineering degree. She intended to spend time learning English and then go into engineering. But she became pregnant, could not work full time and took a job as a waitress until extreme nausea made even that impossible. After the baby’s birth, she and her partner tried to schedule alternating shifts to take care of the baby, but didn’t work either.
In Venezuela, she had operated a craft business and dreamed of doing that. But she had absolutely no money to pay for the equipment she needed. Her nurse told her about Heart’s Desire, “this awesome program.” Just $700 paid for the tools she needed. A year later she came back to us because the business was flourishing but with the baby’s expenses and the pandemic limiting her husband’s work hours, she had no money to license and brand it. Another $500 from us resolved that problem.
Imagine you’re a single mother. Your newborn baby Anna is taking her afternoon nap, so you decide it’s time for your first meal of the day. Your stomach reminds you it’s time for lunch, but your cabinets tell another story—the fridge is nearly empty, your shelves are bare.
How are you going to make it through another week?
Going to the food bank with a newborn is hard enough outside of a pandemic. The closest one is a bus ride away (and even on a slow day there’s a line out the door). Now, with over 1.5 million New Yorkers relying on food banks, you could be stuck waiting in line for hours. Forced to go home empty handed when your baby starts to get fussy.
Last March, new moms experiencing poverty were already struggling to provide for their families. When the crisis struck, hundreds of women—who were already financially stressed—were unable to buy diapers for their babies or put food on the table. Shelves were bare, prices soared. Some clients were sick and could not leave the house. And food pantries weren’t prepared for the increase in demand, either.
That’s where the Friends community stepped in. We could’ve never imagined the impact we’d have together.
Helping families survive the pandemic
With pandemic closures came distressing job losses. Women who received Heart’s Desire scholarships for their degrees and started a job in the beginning of March were now left without an income. Friends of NYC NFP shifted resources to meet urgent needs.
As NFP nurses scrambled to assess clients’ needs, the Friends community stepped up to support—ready to build a safety net for the families who needed it most. Femida Dharsee, RN and a former nurse supervisor for NYC’s Nurse-Family Partnership, said the pandemic brought so much uncertainty for the clients, but Friends stepped in when they needed it most:
“We weren’t equipped for what came,” she said, “but Friends of NYC NFP stepped in on time.”
Our generous community stepped up at such a critical time. Because of our supporters, over 400 families experiencing poverty were able to buy groceries and essentials for their families. Every dollar made a real impact on individual families across New York City.
Kickstarting financial stability for NYC families
As new and expectant moms, women in the NFP program are determined to sustain their family financially. Over 70 percent of NFP clients want to pursue higher education or certification programs, but they usually can’t afford the cost of tuition or books.
Nurses have a special relationship with the women in the NFP program, and they encourage their clients to apply for the Heart’s Desire Fund. “What Friends is helping do is targeting the right people who really need the help,” Femida says.
Femida says Friends is playing a huge part in launching women’s careers through the Heart’s Desire Fund: “There have been so many women who have been empowered to do what they want to do.”
Poverty starts to negatively impact brain development before a child is even born. Financial assistance empowers women in the NFP program to launch their careers and break the cycle of poverty for their children. Financial assistance also reduces stress and allows women to devote their emotional energy and attention to their children during the critical, earliest years.
Femida knows the impact of Friends is powerful, she says: “What we’re doing may not show; the difference we’re making on each individual. But just having clients graduate with that additional financial stability is powerful. That’s what makes us appreciate this fund so much. It has met a need that we were not otherwise able to fulfill.”
“We are making a difference in New York City, be it a drop at a time. But guess what? A lot of drops will make a spoonful or a cupful eventually.” — Femida Dharsee, Nurse Supervisor
Transforming the community together
Moms in the NFP program are creating a better future for their children—doing whatever it takes to provide for their families and become financially independent. With the support of NFP nurses and the Friends of NYC NFP community, moms are empowered to change the course of their children’s lives by taking just one step in the right direction. Like Femida says: “At the end of the day, we’re strengthening our community.”
Friends works side by side with NYC’s Nurse-Family Partnership to empower new moms experiencing poverty to create a better future for their children. Find out how you can get involved today.
Having a baby doesn’t mean you have to put your dreams aside.
With a Heart’s Desire grant, Jazmin Williams was empowered to grow her baking business and realize her dreams.
Putting her career on hold
Jazmin had a job as a trained chef. With years of experience in restaurants and catering halls, she had intended to return to her job after delivering her baby. But complications from a C-section derailed her plan.
Between her recovery, breastfeeding her newborn, and the expense of childcare, Jazmin needed to stay home with baby Kyler.
She started offering baked goods and savory meals to family and friends, and when they told her how much they loved the treats, Jazmin got the push she needed to start her own catering business.
Asking for support
What started with a handful of orders and making doughs from home by hand, evolved into a small business. “The community began supporting me,” Jazmin shares.
She knew she had so much more to offer, but couldn’t afford the supplies to grow her business. She turned to her NFP nurse: “I had a discussion with my nurse where I was discussing my passions and my goals and I did disclose to her that my ultimate goal was to start my own catering company to make delicious treats to share with people across the globe.”
Making ends meet for her family of three was difficult enough. Saving up for her own laptop and electric mixer would have taken at least a year, if not more. With her NFP nurse encouraging her, Jazmin applied for the Heart’s Desire Awards.
Seeing immediate business results
After being granted $900 through Heart’s Desire, Jazmin was able to double her production with an electric mixer.
“The mixer helped my business substantially because I was able to go from making two cakes per hour to four cakes per hour. It led to mass production and my orders being fulfilled faster.”
When Kyler was 8 months old, Jazmin went back to work full-time to fund her main goal of building a business. She shared her baked goods with coworkers and management offered her a contract to bake the cakes for their regular employee birthday celebrations
Since her cakes were ready to decorate as orders came in, she was able to maintain her nine-to-five job while building the business.
Working towards her goals
After she and her family relocated to Orlando, FL, Jazmin secured a job in loan servicing. She knows she’ll need a business loan for her business one day, and plans to learn everything she can about the industry so she’s more prepared when the time comes.
“For now, because I have secured a good position, I will continue to work here until I feel my business can support me and my family full-time.”
Jazmin is proud of how far her business has come since she had her baby. Without the help of Friends of NYC-NFP, she wouldn’t have been able to grow as quickly or feel as confident in her dream.
“I’m getting a little choked up here even thinking about it. I am extremely grateful. I did apply for multiple grants before. Putting the application in and getting approved for the Heart’s Desire Award…I don’t have any more words.”
Securing a better future
Working alongside new and expectant moms, NFP nurses help NYC moms identify their long-term career goals and brainstorm action steps together. Friends of NYC-NFP steps in to break financial obstacles and empower moms to advance their careers.
Gabby is a 25 year old mom with an 18-month-old daughter living in the Bronx. Inspired by her experience with NFP, she dreams of becoming a nurse one day, but she can’t do it on her own.
Finishing her nurse prerequisites
Gabby was working tirelessly to complete the prerequisite courses she needed for the nursing program at her college. But, when she gave birth in September 2019, she had to take a break from her education to care for her baby. Now that her daughter, Anita, is 18 months old, Gabby is ready to continue her education.
Applying to the Heart’s Desire Fund
Determination and perseverance weren’t going to be enough to cover the costs of going back to school. For Gabby, $900 and two textbooks stood in the way of starting her next course. On her own, she would’ve had to push back her start date until she could save the money.
Gabby was so excited to find out about Friends of NYC-NFP’s Heart’s Desire Awards from her nurse Nicole. Finally, she saw the next step on her path.
Being courageous for her daughter
After over a year of staying home with a baby, Gabby is worried going back to school will be a challenging transition. It’s one thing to care for a one-year-old; a whole other to balance attending virtual classes and studying.
“Even though school can make me nervous and at times anxious,” Gabby shared, “I enjoy being in school and hope to have the income in the future to continue my education and have a specialization in nursing.”
What NFP taught her about nursing
Like all NFP nurses, Nicole has been a significant part of Gabby’s support system throughout the pregnancy and her child’s early development. Nicole helped ease Gabby into parenthood by supporting her through the emotional, physical, and social challenges of becoming a new parent.
Even after over a year of working together, Gabby leans on Nicole for knowledge and guidance in caring for her baby and finds support and encouragement for returning to school.
Gabby is touched by how dedicated and caring Nicole has been throughout the NFP program: “When I have a meeting with Nicole over Zoom or phone call, I am reminded how amazing nurses can be by being so caring of their patients and dedicating their time to really check on them.”
That reminder inspired Gabby to work towards becoming a nurse one day. “Nicole has shown me what being a nurse is all about: truly being there for your patient, being compassionate to their needs, and providing the care they need.”
What the future holds
Gabby’s ultimate goal is to finish her Associate’s degree in nursing and move on to her four-year college. “What I truly desire is to have a profession and be able to increase my income and provide for myself and my daughter.”
Learn more about the Heart’s Desire Program and how you can help moms like Gabby.
When women work together, amazing things happen.
Christine Wasserstein is a retired psychotherapist and is a member of the national NFP’s Board of Directors. She has long been concerned about the effects of poverty on the emotional health of mothers and babies.
Susan Orkin shares Christine’s commitment to mothers and babies; she managed programs for vulnerable families for over 35 years and was an administrator for an NFP program in Pennsylvania.
Each of them recognized the power of promoting good outcomes for babies at the earliest moment possible. Spurred on by their mutual interest in the helping professions and NFP, they decided to work together to help mothers and babies in NYC.
We recently sat down to speak with our founders about the history of Friends of NYC-NFP and its intersection with Women’s History Month. Here’s a brief interview with Susan and Christine:
How did you meet?
CW: We met at Citizens’ Committee for Children’s Community Leadership Course in 2014.
SO: In exploring child advocacy organizations, I came across Citizens for Children of New York, which hosts an annual course for individuals interested in learning about key problem areas that confront low income populations and the agencies that address these challenges. Chris was one of the organizers of the course when I signed up. We became friends because of our mutual interest in Nurse Family Partnership.
What made you decide to partner and create Friends of NYC NFP?
SO: I had played a role in managing an NFP program just before I retired from a career managing social service programs. Chris had led me to the Community Advisory Board of NYC NFP and when I got there, I realized they had no mechanism for raising funds from individual donors. I thought that was leaving money on the table and I could do something about it (even though I’d never had fundraising experience and certainly never really thought through what the steps would be. It is good that I didn’t because I would have realized that I had no idea what it would take to be successful). I just figured that I would figure it out and I guess I did.
CW: I am on the national Board of Directors for Nurse-Family Partnership. I was delighted to meet Susan who had worked as an administrator in Pennsylvania for the NFP program there for a number of years. We shared a passion for wanting to help the moms in the NYC program in very tangible ways to become self-sufficient. To that end, we needed to reach out to our friends to fundraise, which required a non-profit status. A partnership was born…
NFP Board and nurses at a pre-pandemic event
What inspires you most about the moms we serve?
SO: I cannot get over the enormity of the struggles so many moms face and their courage and grit in the face of adversity.
CW: I am inspired by NFP moms’ interest, motivation, and passion to make their lives better for themselves and their children.
How does the work of Friends help women’s empowerment?
SO: So often clients talk about finally “being seen,” “more confident,” “more motivated than ever.” I’m inspired by stories like Camekia’s. Camekia is an NFP client who returned to school despite the adversity she had faced.
CW: The NFP mothers have pride in themselves for being better parents and supporting their families.
COVID-19 has set women back, according to one report by the National Women’s Law Center, 100% of the jobs lost in December were held by women. How have you seen COVID set women back and how can we recover?
SO: I have seen an enormous difference in how our son participates in raising his children vs my husband (and see it similarly among many couples we know). Yet despite this, the woman is still the backstop, organizer and educator, so yes all women have had an undue burden in this period—both stress and loss of jobs. I don’t know how we recover if corporations and public policy do not change. The child tax credit is an important start and continued pressure from women might help in the workplace but it might take quite a while.
CW: The incredible stress of poverty and child care are overwhelming. Recognition of that burden is being discussed, somewhat, in the media and in various levels of government. We, in the United States as opposed to Europe, are very far behind in the kind of support that families need to thrive. Day Care, nurseries, and community schools are very important.
Moving forward together
Breaking the cycle of poverty starts with empowering moms to advance their degrees, jumpstart their careers, and become the best moms they can be. We’re grateful to Susan and Christine for leading the way to a better future and recognizing Nurse-Family Partnership’s impact on first-time moms in NYC.
While Friends operates a set of important initiatives to assist clients and support nurses every day, we have the flexibility to respond to additional immediate needs. In 2020 this has been, of course, COVID-19. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we served as a crucial stopgap for NFP participants. Many of whom faced food insecurity, job loss, and furlough at greater rates due to the pandemic.
We supplied $90,000 worth of VISA gift cards to mothers suffering during the pandemic. We assisted over 400 clients who could not afford critical essentials for their babies (diapers, formula, cribs, etc.) as well as food and critical medications. Below, we share notes and stories from nurses and clients.
Having aged out of foster care, BL lived in a shelter for over 3 years. Just 3 months into obtaining her own apartment, she caught COVID-19. Because she was required to self-isolate, she lost her job and could not go to Public Assistance to complete a necessary recertification. She couldn’t afford basic needs for her baby or herself.
AB lost her job in January. To make matters worse, she experienced domestic violence and had to move out in February. Without the financial support that her partner had provided, she cannot pay for baby formula for her child.
“My husband and I have an 8-week-old baby girl. He was working but the employer closed and then he got very sick with COVID-19. It has been over a month and he is still showing symptoms and is out of work. I caught the virus two weeks later and our baby is now showing symptoms. We are terrified for her life. This has been one of the worst experiences of our lives, and it has been especially hard to cope with as new parents.”
“As undocumented individuals, we do not qualify for the stimulus check that the government has provided to many Americans. And without social security numbers, we face difficulty finding employment. We have filed our taxes since we were 18 years old, and still we will not receive any relief from the government. We have run out of money; our savings depleted during these last two months in quarantine. We need some help for food, on which we spend around $400.00 a month, and diapers which cost around $100.00 for a month’s supply. There are also our bills for Con-Edison ($150.00), phone ($163.00), cable and internet ($95.00), and of course, rent ($1875.00). We also need funds for my prenatal vitamins ($35.00). I must purchase them myself because the ones the doctor provided made me sick. I was not working the last two months of my pregnancy, but plan to go back to work when my baby turns six months old. D plans to go back as soon as there is an employment opportunity and the virus symptoms go away. Marisol, our nurse home-visitor, told us about the Heart’s Desire Emergency Response program and we would greatly appreciate it if you could help us in any way. Like many others, we are very uncertain about our future.”
“I want to say THANK YOU so much from the bottom of my heart for the gift card. It will go for essentials that I could not afford for my baby girl Joy. It is hard during this crazy time when my husband and I have both lost our jobs and when businesses are hiking up their prices. Words cannot describe my appreciation for this gift. It may not seem like a lot to some but to me this goes a long way and because of you my baby will be able to get the things she needs. Both my daughter and I are blessed to be a part of this AMAZING program.”
From nurse supervisors:
“The COVID-19 emergency has in no small way impacted our client’s lives, many have lost their jobs, while in some households, both clients and their significant others have been furloughed leaving already overwhelmed grandparents to provide financial support from limited resources. Thank you as you continue to provide avenues to our clients to meet emergency needs–including everything from diapers and food to medications and phone minutes–and your ongoing program to support their heart’s desires for better education and self-sufficiency. Our clients are overlooked by so many of the common social service programs.”
“You all are lifesavers! This pandemic has hit NYC really hard – our clients are experiencing delayed unemployment checks or stimulus payments, some clients are undocumented and can’t file for unemployment and most have no paid sick leave. Although there are food banks, and we certainly direct clients to them, they may be distant, have long lines, have limited supplies and are inaccessible to those who are sick.”
“I heard from a client yesterday who said that the emergency funds enabled her to buy lancets so she could test her blood sugar (she has diabetes). She normally makes money waiting tables and bartending. She is very resourceful, but I know that the extra money was not only critical for her health but relieved her budgetary stress.”
“One of my clients is 23 weeks pregnant, at risk for preterm labor, and will now be able to take an Uber to the hospital instead of walking. She had been advised not to walk as it triggers contractions, but until now she had no other transportation option. It’s a small mercy but it means a lot to our clients who are struggling right now.”