Columns » Small Talk

Linda Harroun

Executive director of First Visitor -- Warm Welcome



Last year there were approximately 8,000 babies born in El Paso County. That's a lot of new babies and new mothers. First Visitor -- Warm Welcome is a non-profit, volunteer-based program within El Paso County that visits and assists new families. They promote the healthy growth of all infants and their parents through voluntary home visitation, education and support. Founded in 1995, originally as a project of the Pikes Peak Movement for Children, the organization is now funded by small non-government grants. In their five years of existence, First Visitor has seen incredible growth. In 1995 they serviced 11 families during the year. In 1999 alone, First Visitor visited 1,000 families. Their services are free of charge.

What are some of the basics that your organization provides? Well, we always bring a baby gift -- usually a blanket -- and a booklet that has lots of parenting skills, tips and questions. We offer support for the family, the new mother in particular. We answer questions, help find child care options, provide immunization schedules if needed and information on community resources. The whole point is to be a mentor for a new mom. Or any mom that needs help.

How many volunteers do you currently have? We have 35 to 40 at any given time. Most of the volunteers themselves are full-time working women. But most of our volunteers are working moms, already in the helping professions -- teachers, nurses, retired nurses or social workers.

How much time is then spent with each family? Each volunteer takes two or three families and then visits those families a couple times a month. They probably go for one hour every other week, and then a check-in phone call once per week. So a family is getting some kind of weekly contact, though that will vary, especially when you have a thousand families.

Are there programs like this in other states? It's growing. There's a program called Healthy Families America, and I believe they are in every state. But like most of these programs, [ours is] a small non-profit, funded by grants. I don't think there is any state that funds universal home visitation, though that's something that we're working on. The United States and South Africa are the only two industrialized nations which don't have universal home visitation. It's an expected thing in Europe. But it is a relatively new concept here.

What type of training do your volunteers go through? It's 15 hours of training. They learn child health and safety, bonding and attachment (the theory about brain development and the bonding that is basic to human interaction), child growth and development, infant massage, community resources. A big part of our program is linking families with other community resources and making sure they know about everything that is available in Colorado Springs.

Do volunteers have to be mothers? About 95 percent of our volunteers have been mothers. We've had a couple of young women who have been nannies. We've also got couples who visit other couples. And occasionally we send out male volunteers for new fathers.

What types of families are eligible for First Visitor? The program is open to any family with a new baby. Even a second or third baby, so it's not just necessarily first-time moms. Any mom, regardless of her socio-economic class can be visited. Many of the families we visit are here by themselves. They don't have extended families to help. Also, about a quarter of our visits are to teen moms. Really we visit anyone who needs an experienced mom to answer questions, be the mentor, be a friend.

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