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Cover early intervention programs that work for public health, say speakers at Magnolia Place

Cover early intervention programs that work for public health, say speakers at Magnolia Place

Picture of Angilee Shah

Awareness of the afterschool programs and early intervention -- stories about their importance and effectiveness -- is very important to help combat prejudice, especially on television. But "for some reason, these stories don't sell," says Bennie Ford of LA's BEST, an afterschool program that offers education opportunities and programs to elementary schools in the City of Los Angeles.

California Broadcast Fellows began the second day of this weekend's seminar hearing from service providers at Magnolia Place, a community center in the middle of one of Los Angeles' roughest neighborhoods where it is difficult for families and communities to find safe places to gather. Partner organizations use the facility for events and outreach about healthcare and safety, but what is most important about Magnolia Place, says Children's Bureau president and CEO Alex Morales, is that it is a space for the community to develop social support groups.

Gang stories and racial violence are regularly on the news, but "the real story is still the tremendous cooperative nature," says Morales. The real stories, he says, are the Korean woman helping the Latino woman get on the bus, increased interracial marriage and the way that communities are working together. Childen's Bureau conceived of Magnolia Place as a central place for services and community in 2001 and dedicated the transformed warehouse in 2008.

"Where did you learn about budgeting, about nutrition -- where did you learn about being a parent?" he asks. His solution is "social edutainment," opportunities that are fun and offer community and education. The Children's Bureau's "resiliency protective factor model" is about giving people the resources to help themselves, not about just offering more services.

Morales advocates a wholistic approach to health for children. His organization offers programs to the 50,000 children and youth in a densely populated 4-square mile area in Los Angeles. West Adams, Pico Union and the North Figueroa Coorridor face significant challenges in terms of health and well-being. He says that programs like LA's BEST and the Nurse-Family Partnership, which provides home visits for first-time mothers, are important because they intervene early rather than waiting for crisis.

Ford is a Watts native who coordinates LA's BEST, an afterschool enrichment program, at Grape Street Elementary. "In my community there are no parks, there are no movie theaters, no malls," he says. "Parents are looking for places to send their kids."

He took LA's BEST's director to the projects and told her: "Roll your windows down. You're not on safari." When she asked him what Grape Street Elementary needs, he said, "We need a band." His vision was to have kids work together and march in a parade through the projects to show their parents what is possible. The mothers of the two drum captains -- one Hispanic and one black -- were neighbors who did not get along. But when they heard the drums he saw that their boys were working with each other, the mothers began talking and carpooling and working together as well.

Jeanne Smart is the director of Nurse-Family Partnership's Prenatal Care Guidance Program, which helps low-income young pregnant women -- their current contingent has a median age of 17 -- to succeed as parents. The program is operating in 28 states and has also been implemented in Scotland, Australia, The Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain and Canada.

"These young girls having babies, even if they're in families, are at great risk," said Smart. They often do no know how to take care of their children and need intervention during pregnancy, before she begins raising her children. Mothers, she says, are often numb. They have seen violence and are often in homes with drugs. They need basic information: how much to feed their babies, how to take care of diaper rashes and how to keep gangs and drugs out of ther children's lives.

According to a report in Time magazine, President Obama included $3 billion in the stimulus package to boost early childhood intervention programs and plans to expand intervention services with low-income first-time mothers.

In Los Angeles, 6,000 people fit the criteria for being served by Nurse-Family Partnership but Smart says she only has staff to serve 350 mothers. But hiring freezes make it difficult to increase staffing; Smart tries to create partnerships with schools and other service organizations to increase the program's reach. Nurses are particularly effective because patients will trust them more than doctors but they still have proper medical training, says Smart.

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