“When moms are nurtured, they can nurture their children better,” says Kate Brennan, senior manager at NurturePA, an innovative new service designed to help parents better understand, track and support the development of their young children.
Kate is a mom of three—and an educational professional who holds a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh’s early intervention program—so she understands the challenges parents face. “Parenting is really tough,” she says. “Imagine how helpful it would be to have a mentor providing information and support.”
Mentorship is exactly what NurturePA provides but the organization is delivering it in a unique way: text messaging. When new moms enroll in the program, which is focused on children from childbirth to age 3, they are matched up with a mentor. The mentor checks in regularly and moms can text any questions or concerns as they arise. They might discuss how the baby is sleeping, the challenges of breastfeeding or expected milestones.
Why texting? It makes getting (and giving) support more convenient and less intrusive. Over the last year and a half, Kate has enrolled about 160 new moms in NurturePA’s pilot program, and she notes that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s something that parents are comfortable with,” she says. “In a lot of cases, they prefer to communicate this way.”
Although texting is how moms and mentors communicate, it’s just one small part of the robust software platform that’s behind NurturePA. A proprietary software program tracks all conversations; provides research-based resources for mentors; delivers discussion prompts based on a child’s age and developmental milestones; and uses the data to provide valuable reporting on what moms need most.
During the pilot program, Kate and the NurturePA team are focusing on getting more mentors involved. “Building relationships is the crux of the program,” she says. “Our mentors are consistent, and they listen and provide good, reliable information.”
On the whole, the current group of mentors has found the experience very rewarding and they love that it’s a convenient way to support other parents in the area. Alicia Mrachko, a NurturePA mentor, says that each of her relationships is different but she has seen the impact of her conversations with moms. “With some moms, I’m just a nice woman who checks in and they appreciate that,” she says. “But there are a few moms with whom I feel I’ve made a big difference.”
The majority of funding for the development and piloting of NurturePA has been provided by the Hillman Foundation and the Jefferson Regional Foundation. And so far, its success is a strong indication that the program will one day be available to all new moms in the Pittsburgh area.
Until then, NurturePA is looking for parents who are interested in becoming mentors. The commitment requires just a few hours a week, and NurturePA provides comprehensive training. To learn more email firstname.lastname@example.org.