The Friends Blog
by Julia Alhenawi
When summertime rolls around every year, all parents know that means one thing: no more school, meaning their children stay home all day for the rest of the summer, dropping the usual routine they use everyday during the school year. It is a strange adjustment for both parents and their children, as parents wonder what to do with their kids and children wonder how to spend their days with no school and homework. It can be especially challenging for parents of infants and toddlers who work throughout the summer, as they can’t be home to take care of their children all day. For the parents we work with whose daycare and Universal Pre-K programs have ended for the school year, they have to turn to summer camps, private childcare, and even the support of family and friends to assist them as they juggle summer hours with their children and their work. So what are the options for parents when the school year comes to an end and how realistic is it for those in the NPF program?
The first thing that comes to mind is hiring a summer babysitter. Going for that option is easier said than done for multiple reasons, and the two biggest ones involve finding the right babysitter for the job and paying them all summer as well. The financial aspect of this option can be problematic, as many parents can’t afford to work and hire a babysitter for the summer with some sitters costing more than $100/hr plus additional fees per child. Today, sixty percent of people are living paycheck to paycheck and as a result, hiring a babysitter for the summer financially is not an option. So if they can’t hire a babysitter for their children, what else can they do?
The next option parents turn to is sending their children to summer camp, which is an option that can be twice as expensive as hiring someone to watch their kids at home. The president of the ACA (American Camp Association) said so himself, as he stated the average cost of summer camp in the United States is around $178.49 a day and $448.53 a day for sleep-away camp. While summer camp prices and durations vary, the average cost is generally too high for parents in our community. Not to mention, the fact summer camps are not necessarily a good option to look after very young children, as the average child that goes to summer camp is either 8 years or older. So not only are summer camps too expensive for the average person, they are also not a feasible childcare option, particularly for toddlers and babies.
So what are parents supposed to do instead? The truth is, not much, which is a big problem that many families face. It is also an issue that not enough people acknowledge or talk about, and it has become so normalized that no one is willing to do anything about it. The people that truly suffer from this problem are low income families with preschool aged children. Parents who can barely afford childcare for the summer, let alone throughout the school year, struggle the most with taking care of their children when school is out. Some of these parents are single parents that work more than one job just to make ends meet for themselves and their children. What’s even more concerning is that their children are oftentimes in need of constant supervision, which they can’t give because of their jobs. As a result, these parents have to depend on people they trust such as close family members to watch their children, which, for many, is not an option as not everyone lives close to family or friends that do not work full time jobs themselves. Sometimes parents have to leave their kids at home all day with their eldest child to look after their younger siblings, or for their one child to look after themselves. These circumstances happen more often than people would think, especially in immigrant, low-income households that have no other choice but to do so. Children deserve to be properly cared for during the summertime while their parents are working hard to provide for them. One place to look when trying to find the right option for your family is on the NYC Health website which has a specific page dedicated to low-cost child care and summer camps and an application for grants to apply to help cover the cost of summer care. The page lists licensed child care options for families residing in the city as well as a guide to finding the right camp for your family. This is a good start but can be tricky to navigate and the deadlines to apply can catch parents off guard as many are as early as March. We try our best at Friends to provide parents with the funds they need to give peace of mind over the wellbeing and care of their children while they pursue financial stability, but we can only do so much as one organization. Parents should be able to choose from multiple affordable alternatives that do not require a grant or special application to look after their children. All families deserve to have a good, stress-free summer, where children get to have fun in a safe environment, and their parents don’t have to worry about them while they are away. Donors who support friends are helping to solve this issue and ensuring the summer is a happy time for all and for that we say Thank You!
Hope Creates Brighter Futures by Jazmin Williams
As Mother’s Day approaches, there is not a more important time than now to take a moment to honor and celebrate mothers. This year, Nurse-Family Partnership celebrates 20 years, and Friends is honored to have partnered with them for the last seven years. This collaboration between a city-run agency and a nonprofit is unique and can fill gaps and strengthen services meant to support mothers.
Before joining NFP, I had a lot of anxiety. I lost my parents to cancer, four months apart from each other, at 16yrs old, a time I’d consider the most important in an adolescent’s life. This pain was and is indescribable. My family members immediately stepped up and are my greatest support system, but they have their own lives and families to look after, so I’ve always felt alone. Becoming pregnant was such a blessing, but the prospect of bringing a baby into the world with minimal support and not having much to offer was so unbearable resulting in complications during my pregnancy. It was during this time I was referred to NFP.
The additional support system created by NFP nurses is different from family support. The nurses are there for mom and baby and give advice based on their medical expertise, which is not always the case with family; however well-meaning. The nurse who worked with me made me feel confident in my parenting, and when you feel confident, you are a better caretaker to your baby.
I firmly believe that raising children “takes a village,” and maybe that’s why working at Friends is not only a full-circle moment but also gives me a sense of fulfillment. Not only does it allow me to continue the work that helped me and my family grow but I feel I can connect with other mothers and give them a small piece of the confidence and hope my nurse gave me. There are many best-kept secrets in New York, but Friends has to be among the top best-kept secrets to help moms and babies from my community.
The other week I was hosting a community session, and a timid mother stood in the corner. She said her child hadn’t socialized much, and maybe mom hadn’t either. Together with the other moms, we encouraged her to come to do a craft with us, and by the end of the session, she’d blossomed. When I think about the benefits I can bring to mothers, it’s not just the financial grants Friends provides. It’s the connection and confidence that comes from the community.
I am optimistic my generation of mothers will activate change. As someone who dealt with anxiety, I am passionate about ensuring NFP moms have all the resources and tools to care for their mental health. I feel today. Moms are invested in ensuring they take care of their mental and physical health for the baby. But that’s not to say it isn’t challenging. Between taking care of children or maintaining a job or both, being a mother is a never-ending, demanding, and taxing duty to fulfill. Many people consider motherhood a full-time job, but in reality, it is equivalent to two and a half full-time jobs.
According to a research study, the amount of time American mothers devote to parent-related tasks is equivalent to a 98-hour work week. This goes beyond typical full-time jobs, as standard employees in the workplace work 40 hours a week across the country. And many of our clients have worked 2-3 jobs and now have to find a way to afford to take care of their baby, ensure their baby is meeting developmental milestones, and have time to bond. All of this can be incredibly discouraging.
The pandemic has exacerbated health crises for low-income moms, and inflation and a lack of support from government programs have created a difficult environment for the moms I speak to on a daily basis. It can be hard when you have a wonderful mother. Still, her ability to focus her caregiving efforts on her child is compounded by anxiety from having her SNAP benefits shut off in error or another client waiting on a childcare voucher for weeks or one who does not qualify because of those multiple jobs previously mentioned. I know we cannot solve or end every problem, but I have hope because organizations like Friends and the many people who support us exist. They know moms in challenging situations do not have time to wait for change, and we can step in to provide some relief and aid. Friends creates a sense of hope and makes life a little easier.
And hope is what keeps us going. It is my hope the challenges I faced will not be a vain attempt at protecting my children from facing those same challenges. I know my hardships don’t define me and can be avoidable with systemic changes. All of our moms are destined for greatness. Together Friends and NFP have partnered to make that greatness more attainable, helping create brighter futures for moms and babies. The effects of programs like this will last generations.
Jazmin Williams began her journey with Friends in 2017 as part of the Nurse Family-Partnership program. As our first alumni hire, Jazmin comes to us with more than ten years in the food industry and six years in human resources and public communications. As a Friends client, Jazmin started her own business, Jazzy Eats, which is going strong today. Jazmin was a recipient of a Heart’s Desire scholarship in 2019 that assisted her in expanding her growing catering business. She was an ambassador for Friends and our mission before joining us in a staff position.
As the Program Coordinator for Friends since 2021, Jazmin manages the day-to-day programs and grant-giving process, overall program systems, and policy implementation. Jazmin’s addition to our team has brought a number of new partnerships to the table through her charismatic and outgoing personality. She is an amazing mother of two, an advocate for women, and a mentor for mothers, especially black mothers. Through her new work in public and health services, Jazmin has plans to take her catering business in a new direction, teaching and healing with delicious food to all mothers and families.
By Jazmin Williams
My Black History is Bold
Adjective of being unapologetically black
My Black History is Strength
Through centuries of suffering we have and will prevail
My Black History is Love
Despite the narrative of broken homes in my communities
My Black History is Fanciful
The light at the end of the tunnel is continually in fleet
My Black History is my Covenant
The pieces left in my hands to rewrite and redistribute
My Black History will be Generational
Health and Wealth
My Black History will be Powerful
My impact will reach far and wide
My Black History will be Veracious
In textbooks and classrooms
My Black History will NOT be Pecuniary
My history is not a market My people are not a brand
My Black Children’s History will be Simpler
I’m breaking down the barriers so they won’t have to
What is the greatest impact of being a part of this organization?I think the greatest impact is being supported and not judged. A lot of times it is hard to discuss the hardships you’re facing, which makes it difficult to ask for help. Friends of NYC NFP offers an unbiased lending hand.
How has being a recipient of the Heart’s Desire Fund changed your life? My life has changed significantly because with the funds that I received. I was able to jump start a small business of my own. Now I will always have a means to make extra money to support my family.
Working 2 or 3 jobs and being a great hands-on parent is unrealistic. Having the option to have an income that doesn’t take time away from spending with my children is a luxury that may not have come as soon as it did without the support of Friends and its donors.
Jazmin joined Friends in 2022 as Program Associate. She oversees the Heart’s Desire Fund, LEAP, and is working on launching an alumni group. She’s worked in the restaurant industry, owned her own business, and is a CNA, among other talents. In addition to Friends, she works part-time and is a hands-on mom to two amazing kiddos (pictured above).
Most of us are hard-working moms trying to break generational curses and give our children a better life than was given to us.I am a very firm believer that I am destined for success. However, sometimes life circumstances have taken me back to the beginning of the race to start all over again despite my efforts. The assistance you provide allows us to achieve goals that are otherwise unattainable. Thank you for all of your help.
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.