The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 11, 2012

Funding flows to new program that helps get children on track

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO — The United Way announced Tuesday it has funding for the first three years of a new program it hopes will help direct families of newborns to all the services available to them in the Mankato area.

The program, called First Steps, has been up and running for about three months. But on Tuesday Greater Mankato Area United Way President Laura Bowman said they’ve received a donation of $150,000 over three years from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, $90,000 over three years from the Mankato Clinic Foundation, and $40,000 from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

The United Way also is committing to contributing $60,000 annually to fund the program.

Bowman said the United Way recognized a need and found a way to make a program happen.

“We’re uniquely positioned to see the need, and to bring together the stakeholders,” Bowman said. “We’re trying to reduce barriers young families see when trying to navigate the health care system.”

First Steps is directed toward parents of newborns. The goal is to identify families who may not know what services are available and don’t know how to get them.

The program puts an expert right on site at both the Mankato Clinic and Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

 Teresa Freitag, First Steps coordinator, said the program has worked with nearly 50 people so far.

Things started slowly, she said. But after she met face to face with doctors and nurses and explained what the program is and how it can help families, referrals started coming in.

Families are told about the program during visits with their doctors. Then, if they choose, they can go directly from their doctor’s appointment to Freitag’s office. Once there she tells them how to get access to social services, Early Childhood Family Education programs, transportation assistance — anything a new parent or new family might need to be successful in raising a child.

One success story is Daniel Mayotte and Coty Royark. They spoke at a news conference Tuesday at South Central College about their history with drug addiction. The couple, in fact, met at a chemical dependency support meeting.

Mayotte said he’s been in an out of prison. Royark said she’d gotten pregnant at 15 and gave her baby up for adoption.

Now they’re older. And they’ve got a new child, Destine.

“They helped show us games to play with him,” Royark said. “He was a little behind in walking, clapping. Now Destine (who is 1) looks forward to our meetings.”

Freitag said she’s been working with people who come in and need just one visit and others, like Mayotte and Royark, who need follow-up visits.

“Families are stressed,” she said, “and they don’t know what’s out there in the community. ... They just want somebody to talk to and tell their story to, someone they feel comfortable with and they can help.”

Freitag says she hopes the program grows and becomes a staple in the realm of services new families can access.

So does Bowman.

“For those families whose children aren't developing on target, that's devastating,” she said. “That really is one of the reasons that a few years ago we asked, ‘What can we do to change those outcomes, have kids be born healthy and get them on track?’”