By Julie Wiessner
The Parenting Arizona Program in Winslow has been through some tough times, including a 75 percent cut to its funding in 2009. During that time, the program lost its building and eight full-time staff members, and went from serving 50 families to 14.
What remained were 20-hour a week Regional Manager Sue Branch and two 10-hour a week in-home visitation staff, Melvina Spencer and Randi Lewis. The program has been serving families within a 50-mile radius of Winslow since 2004, including the communities of Winslow, Holbrook and Dilkon.
Branch had the option to shut down the program completely or run it from her home, which she did for 4½ years. The Winslow program is now back to full-time, and last month a grand re-opening was held in its new facility at 218 W. Third St.
Parenting Arizona is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 agency of Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLA). Branch is the regional manager of CPLC, Parenting Arizona.
There are no limitations as to who can participate in the program; it is open to the public and it is not income based. There is only one requirement to get into the program: a woman must be pregnant, or have a baby under three months old.
Winslow Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Hall noted, “When the 2009 budget cuts came along, Sue Branch kept the program running. Although she lost the building and a lot of funding, she took the program to her house and ran it from there. She is an amazing individual who will not take any bows for what she did.”
“I am a social worker,” said Branch. “I will help anyone who needs help.”
How did Branch’s family feel about her working from home? “My family knows and supports me with what I do. I have a 17-year-old son who is a perpetual volunteer. He loves helping out,” she replied.
The aim of the program is to have healthy and strong individuals who will be ready for school and life, and be successful. The program has the potential to make families stronger, and therefore to make society stronger and more resilient.
To really get to the heart of the matter, Branch said, “Babies don’t come with instruction manuals. Parents need to know that the first five years of a child’s life are crucial. Within that time frame, all of the child’s patterns are set into place for the rest of their life.”
Branch is an ardent supporter of getting this vital information to parents. “If parents will know this, we will have better parents and better children. It is very critical to get this information to parents of newborns,” she said.
To Branch, this positive prevention program makes a huge difference in how children turn out. “I am passionate about prevention because it makes a difference, especially when parents are made aware that all of their actions affect their child’s entire life,” said Branch. This is the reason she would not shut the program down in 2009.
Branch has seen in many instances how the program works to help people. In one particular case she managed, a woman who was born in the Winslow area moved to Las Vegas, Nev., and fell on hard times. She became pregnant, moved back home and, with the help of the program, gave up the lifestyle and the addiction she had grown used to. Branch said, “She is now a good parent with good life skills. She stayed with the program for five years, and graduated from it and is now self-sufficient and a good parent.”
Branch noted that the program served about 100 families over the last year. “The most common denominator the families have that we see is unemployment and substance use,” she explained.
Of those 100 families, after allowing for families entering into the program at varying times over the last year, Branch commented, “I would have to say that better than 50 percent have become employed and better than 50 percent have maintained sobriety. They go hand-in-hand; you have to stay sober to keep employment.
“They are able to gain employment and maintain it. When they hit a bump in the road, or make a mistake, we give them support. This is the reason we go into the home to begin with is to give them support from home.”
After the 2009 budget cuts, the program gradually received more funding from the Department of Economic Security Healthy Families Arizona program, and from the Maternal Infant Child Home Visitation Grant. But now, it also receives funding from the United Way and the Arizona Lottery.
“We have worked our way back to full-time status,” said Branch.
For more statistics and information on how this program is making a difference, visit the Healthy Families Arizona website at www.azdes.gov.
By Julie Wiessner