To one degree or another, we all recognize the importance of healthy babies, born into homes that are safe and nurturing. Maybe we are aren’t all “baby people.” Maybe babies don’t really resonate with us. But, we all understand that babies don’t stay babies. They grow up to become adults who either add to the beautiful tapestry of their families and their communities or, to the contrary, they tear away at the fabric of their families and their communities.
I recently had coffee with a woman who adopted and raised two fetal alcohol children from infancy. Her compassion and care for her adopted children, as well as her biological children, amazed me. She didn’t take credit for the many years she invested in her children, but instead said to me that through all her experiences working in the foster care system, interacting with many mothers who had lost custody, “I honestly believe that most of the women I worked with, if they had more support, would have been capable of raising their own children.”
We at Step by Step believe that too. Step by Step’s mission is to do all we can to see that women have the education and the support to see their babies born healthy, that their children are not behind the eight ball from the very beginning. We then model behavior and educate on the importance of bonding in the early months of life.
We offer one-on-one counseling and mentoring. In some cases, we are able to provide housing. We direct our moms to as many resources and opportunities as possible to help them thrive, to connect them with healthy people and to help them learn how to establish healthy boundaries and relationships.
Our end goal is not just a healthy baby, though that is a very important first step. It goes beyond just a mom that bonds and nurtures in those early years (when neuro-synaptic connections are taking place at a rate of 700 per second). It is a well-adjusted child who goes on to become a healthy, productive, caring, and considerate adult, like the guest speaker at our Spring dinner and auction fundraiser – Devin. You can read his story below.
One of the first things we teach a mom is that the decisions she makes today could affect her and her child for the rest of their lives. Her steps to stay healthy, to commit to nurturing and caring for her baby, to embrace positive parenting and establish a safe home will dramatically affect not only her own well-being but will also have a lifelong impact on her child.
When it comes to healthy children and safe and healthy families, neighborhoods, and communities, we know we have to start sooner. Because we know that one day each child will grow up, and that “one day” starts today.
Krista Linden, Founder & Executive Director
Devin is 18 years old and a senior at Federal Way High School. He is an honor student with a 3.83 GPA. He is an athlete who has been recruited to play soccer in college. He bravely ran for ASB Vice President and won. Devin has been accepted to many colleges, but recently accepted a nearly full ride scholarship to attend UW, where he plans to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. The parenting journey is not easy for any parent, but it was particularly difficult for Penny, Devin’s mom. Penny has not only done an amazing job raising Devin, but Devin’s two siblings as well.
Penny was raised in the projects of Boston by a single mom. Penny’s childhood was rough. At the hands of an abusive mom who was always on government assistance, Penny found work as an escape from her home. The final beating occurred when Penny was in her late teens. Enough was enough, and she bought a one-way ticket to Washington. Penny, free of her mom, soon entered into another abusive relationship - one that involved lots of alcohol and drugs. She had three children in three years. Though Penny herself was not involved with substance abuse, the effect on her and her children continued to create an unhealthy and unsafe environment for them.
When Devin was two, and Penny was pregnant with her third child, her neighbor called Robyn with Step by Step, because she was very concerned with what was going on in Penny’s home. Step by Step was just getting started at the time and Robyn took Penny a meal, a meal that opened the door that Penny needed. Not only did Robyn bring a meal, but she brought her son Austin along on the visit. He was 4 months old. Penny immediately felt a bond, someone cared, and Penny caught a glimpse of healthy interaction between a parent and child, and Penny soaked it up like a sponge. She still has the business card that Robyn gave to her 16 years ago.
Penny felt that Robyn could relate to her, and she felt accepted by Robyn. But, most importantly, she said “I wanted better than what I saw and had always seen around me and I thought Robyn could show me a better way.” Penny often says that the kids she grew up with are all either dead or in jail, but Penny had the grit needed to do better for her children. She just needed some good examples, some healthy support and help to make better choices.
Penny took advantage of everything Step by Step had to offer. The bus pass Robyn provided for Penny was her gateway to school and work. Penny attended Step by Step’s very first Christmas Party in 2000 and has volunteered at almost every one since - kids in tow. Penny went on to later purchase her own home and started her own housecleaning business.
Penny recently said that the “company she keeps is intentional.” She learned to surround herself with healthy people who could show her/teach her what she didn’t learn or observe while growing up. She wanted better for herself and her children, and she got better. And, she is raising amazing kids!
This is what we at Step by Step are striving for: a healthy baby, bonding and nurturing early in life, and positive parenting in a safe home that allows children to grow and succeed. While everyone has times when they need help, our goal is that our moms would get to a place where they can give back and become producers and not always consumers.
We know that Devin will be successful as he enters college, gets his degree, and ventures into his adult life. He will be a contributor to society, and we are proud of that. But what we are most thankful for is that Devin, at 18, can honestly say that he is most thankful for his mom and his family. Devin, although he has not been free from hurt, knows what it is like to be loved and cared for by his mother, who has been there fighting for him, every step of the way.