Offering young mothers a helping
December 4, 2001
Fountain, left, a participant in the Healthy Kids
program, plays with her 6-month-old son, Matthew
Johnson, while her Healthy Kids nurse, Bonnie Tonkin,
center, and her mom, Mimi Fountain, join in at
Fountain’s home in Durango, on
By Jennifer Reeder
Special to the
Rebekah Fountain was 16, pregnant and "a
little scared." But the Durango High School junior decided to
keep her baby. So her mother, Mimi Fountain, called Durango’s
Women’s Resource Center looking for direction and
That’s when the Fountains found out about
Healthy Kids – a relatively new program that pairs registered
nurses with first-time, low-income mothers. Through the free
program, nurse Bonnie Tonkin started meeting with Rebekah
Fountain last winter to talk about nutrition, exercise and the
baby’s development. Nurses initially meet with mothers weekly
and continue to meet with them at least once a month until the
child’s second birthday.
"We got so close to Bonnie; we love her,"
Mimi Fountain said.
After Matthew’s birth in June, Tonkin
continued to visit Rebekah Fountain to ensure mother and
"She brings presents sometimes, like safety
plugs, cabinet locks and a (baby backpack)," Rebekah said.
"It’s a really great program – all the love and support and
information they give you tells you what to look forward
Rebekah, now a senior in high school, and her
mother are taking a nursing course at Pueblo Community
College. Rebekah wants to work in the obstetrics unit because
her experience was so positive, she said.
Healthy Kids, which operates out of San Juan
Basin Health Department, started taking referrals from La
Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma, San Juan and Dolores counties in
March of 2000. Nurses start visiting mothers in their homes
preferably before the 16th week of pregnancy and at the latest
by the 28th, said Healthy Kids Director Mary Goggin.
The program’s main objectives are to promote
the physical health of the mother and the developing child as
well as parenting skills, Goggin said. The program also
focuses on supporting the mother in her choices and achieving
"The premise is that the mother is the expert
in her own life," Goggin said. "We point out her strengths,
the positive aspects of what she’s doing. Our nurses ask,
‘What is your heart’s desire?’"
Once goals are set, Goggin said the nurses
help to keep mothers on track by asking things such as,
"‘How’s that GED course going? Did you get those safety covers
on the light plugs yet?’"
There are eight nurses involved with
Durango’s Healthy Kids program, which can accommodate women
who speak Spanish.
The Healthy Kids program is based on research
by Dr. David Olds, who tested the nurse/family partnership
idea in 1977 and in 1990 and found it helped reduce children’s
injuries, improved women’s prenatal health and reduced the use
of welfare and food stamps.
A Denver-based nonprofit, Invest in Kids,
brought the concept to Colorado and helped set up the state’s
first program in Durango. The program is now available in 38
of Colorado’s 64 counties.
"We were spoiled starting in Durango," said
Invest in Kids Executive Director Jennifer Atler. "Everyone
there works together really well. They’re committed to
Atler initially met with a number of
community leaders including Bill Mashaw, a board member of Big
Brothers Big Sisters. Mashaw said he saw a need for
preventative programs after a career as an FBI agent left him
disillusioned with the number of young people being sent to
"Our prison system needed reform from the
standpoint of rehabilitating people," he said. Mashaw said it
is important to have a program like Healthy Kids that helps
children get on the right track early in life.
Atler also met with Lee Taylor, executive
director of Tri-County Head Start. Taylor said that Healthy
Kids, which spends approximately $3,000 per family, is
cost-effective in the long run. "It costs $88,000 a year to
institutionalize one kid," Taylor said. "By investing in kids
early, we get a bigger bang out of our bucks."
Healthy Kids was initially funded by local
dollars, but the 2000 state Legislature allocated tobacco
settlement dollars to the program. Of the $4.3 million
appropriated to the program for fiscal year 2001-2002, the
Durango-based program will receive $358,936, Atler said. There
are 95 local families enrolled in Healthy Kids.
Lynn Westberg, director of San Juan Basin
Health, said that because Healthy Kids emphasizes the
strengths of the mother, all eligible women should consider
"The program is totally nonjudgmental,"
Westberg said. "It’s just there to provide support for the mom
and her new baby."
Mimi Fountain agreed. "It makes you feel
spoiled and special, having your own nurse come and check on