Nadia Sierra's living room is clean and cozy, yet evidence abounds of her four-year-old daughter - a little face beaming from picture frames, a bright pink child-size chair adorned with Disney princesses, and in Sierra's smile as she talks about her little girl.
Today, 20-year-old Sierra runs a tight household and converses confidently about simultaneously holding down a job and single-handedly raising a child. Her success springs from hard work and dedication. Only four years ago, Sierra was a high school dropout, pregnant and facing the challenging prospect of becoming a teen mother.
It was at this point that she became involved with the Nurse-Family Partnership.
"They said, 'This program will be great for you,' and it was," she said.
Nurse-Family Partnership is designed to help first-time, low-income mothers deal with their pregnancy and learn about becoming a parent. The program pairs each mother with a nurse, who visits her at home several times a month until the baby is 2 years old.
An organization that stretches nationwide, NFP provides a program and curriculum for the mother to follow. The program focuses on promoting healthy practices for both baby and mother, improving child development through age-appropriate activities and bettering economic self-sufficiency by assisting the mother with personal improvement goals.
Summit County's NFP program has been around since 2001 and includes five other counties - Gilpin, Clear Creek, Lake, Chaffee and Park's Alma and Fairplay area. According to Amy Wineland, director of public health, the requirements to become an NFP site include showing the ability to serve at least 100 low-income, first-time moms, so the counties came together to apply collaboratively.
Wineland has worked with the program, first as a home-visit nurse and later as supervisor. She has been incredibly pleased with the results.
"I feel it's an amazing program as we see these young women become mothers and have an investment in themselves and their child to make their lives better," Wineland said. "It works, the program works. We have shown really good success with the program, in terms of all sorts of things - breastfeeding rates, immunization rates, going back to school, finishing school, getting jobs, we see the moms learn and choose to become economically self-sufficient. ... It's been an honor to be able to witness those changes in the women that we serve."
Sierra is quick to describe the way NFP helped her with her daughter Nitzy's development. She plunks down a large blue binder on the table and flips through its pages, pointing out the worksheets that tracked her daughter's progress and the educational songs and games that they still play together.
"It really did help me become a better mom," Sierra said, teaching her about proper nutrition and care, as well as developmental education.
Yet the program doesn't focus on just the baby; it also emphasizes the importance of the mother's goals, which might be anything from being healthy and managing the baby to finishing school or getting a job.
Sierra worked with her home-visit nurse, Lynne Mosbaugh, on creating goals and then taking the steps to meet them. For Sierra, this included finishing high school while holding down a job.
"She put it all together: high school, childcare, work, housing. She just figured it all out how to get it all done," Mosbaugh said proudly.
Time management was the most difficult aspect, Sierra said, but with Mosbaugh's help she was able to pull it off, attending Snowy Peaks High School while working.
"I'd be here from 7 in the morning, and then I would be in school from 8 to 2, and then I would go to work from 2-11, and then I would come home, and I would have to take care of Nitzy," Sierra said.
Her hard work paid off and she graduated with the first Snowy Peaks class last year. Though now her schedule has eased a bit, Sierra is looking forward to the next step. She loves living in Summit County, but she wants to buy a house, which is expensive. She plans to continue her education.
"I'm trying to get some college, so maybe Denver would be a better option right now in my life," she said. When asked what she wants to do, she replied, "I'm going to be an elementary principal some day."
"You will be," Mosbaugh said, grinning. "You will be."
In addition to helping with Nitzy's health and development, and Sierra's personal goals, NFP offered support with other aspects, from the technical process of filing for a birth certificate to emotional issues.
"It's a really big help, emotionally and physically," Sierra said. "She (Mosbaugh) really helped me when I had problems, like put some stuff in perspective."
They worked on ways to deal with stress, like being sure to set aside time for herself alone, without the baby, or taking a walk to clear her mind.
"It's stressful to be a new mom, it takes everything out of you," Sierra said with a laugh.
They also dealt with her emotions regarding body image and the changes she was experiencing.
"And they would help me because of course you gain weight. It was hard accepting yourself, and I think she did help me a lot," Sierra said. "Especially when you are a teen, and I used to weigh 100 pounds, so ... it was like oh my god what is this? But they helped me understand, you know, this is how much the baby weighs and this is your weight. You understand the process, not just like, oh I'm getting fat."
This aspect of support in NFP is highly important, Wineland said.
"Certainly we focus on the health and development of the child, and really help teach positive parenting skills, but we really want to empower the clients that we serve, and it's really to help get them a jumpstart into self-sufficiency and empowerment."
"I can't even believe it sometimes," Sierra said, of how her life has changed since Nitzy and the program. "Whoa, you know. Some people complain, 'oh I can't do this, it's so hard,' I'm like, 'whatever! This is so not hard.'"
She enthusiastically recommends NFP to others.
"Most definitely I would recommend it to everyone who's a new mom, because you don't know what you're getting yourself into," Sierra said, laughing. "And they will definitely help you understand everything."
Thinking back on the journey of the past four years, Sierra nods and smiles.
"It was hard, but I got through it, and now I can get through anything."