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PLU brings something extra to state's First Steps low-income service

B Y   M I C H E L L E   M I L L E R ,   E D I T O R I A L   A S S I S T A N T

[Photo: Giving Gifts] [Photo by Chris Tumbusch]
From left: First Steps case managers Deanne Kennedy and Lael Peterse '96 deliver Christmas presents to Jessica Post in December. Gifts and food were donated from the PLU Development Office.

While many organizations in Washington state provide First Steps services to low-income women and their families, PLU doesn't stop at the minimum requirements for the program -- it uses them as a spring-board. To the normal offering of health education and home visits, the PLU community has added holiday food baskets; donated clothing, toys and house-hold items; and a fund for household expenses.
      "We at PLU go above and beyond state requirements for the program by developing a more comprehensive and collaborative service model," said Lael Petersen '96, First Steps case manager and program coordinator. "We can do this because we have generous support from individuals and groups on campus."
      Many offices, families and individuals donate money for Thanksgiving food baskets (more than 60 baskets were delivered last year), and sponsor families in the "Adopt a Family" program, where food and presents are donated during Christmas (17 families were sponsored last year).
      "Most of the low-income families involved in the program are shocked and surprised that someone would put forth the money and time to help them out," Petersen said. "They are overwhelmed that anyone cares this much, and that makes them feel special."
      But needing doesn't stop after the holidays, First Steps at PLU realizes, and it has implemented year-round programs such as the Clothing Closet, which offers clothes, toys and domestic items donated by the PLU community. More than 500 articles of clothing came from PLU students when they moved off campus last May (90 percent of the clothes received come from PLU students). Another program is the "Reach Out Fund," a PLU-managed pool of private money donated to the program by family and friends of First Step's staff. The fund received more than $2,000 in its first three weeks and now receives monthly contributions from four donors. It is used only for client needs (rent, utility assistance, food, clothes, diapers, etc.).
      "The PLU community knows that the program is directly impacting people right here in our community, so they feel more connected and realize the program is real and hands-on," Petersen said.
      PLU faculty directly involved in the program are Howard Butcher, assistant professor of nursing, who helps clients with therapy and assessments one day a week, and retired philosophy Professor Gunnolf Mybro, who offers guidance and wisdom to the staff in addition to his paid role as billing manager.
      With strong faculty, staff, student and alumni involvement, the university remains true to its motto, "Educating for Lives of Thoughtful Inquiry, Service, Leadership and Care." "We are actually doing what we were taught to do -- educating for service," Petersen said.
      The state's First Steps program began in 1990 and covers medical expenses for pregnant women without medical insurance. PLU's program, which began in 1992, includes two registered nurses -- Teresa Ramsey '93 and Karen Shaffer '95 -- who provide education on nutrition, fetal development, labor and delivery, postpartum care, baby-care basics, parenting and birth control. Two case managers - Deanne Kennedy and Petersen - make home visits with many of the same families to provide resources for education, medical care, transportation, daycare, baby supplies, clothes and food.
      "Our philosophy is to look at the whole situation -- if a mom is in our office and has not eaten that day, we'll feed her before we sit down and talk about growth and development," Petersen said. "We may never get around to teaching that day if there is something else that needs addressing -- it is a matter of priorities."
      First Steps at PLU is divided into two teams, each with one nurse and one case manager. The program is located in the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) buildings in Lakewood and Parkland. Together, the teams serve more than 200 women each year. The maternity support nurses work with women until two months after the baby is born. Case managers work with the moms until the baby's first birthday. First Steps at PLU has so many clients, it must turn away up to 25 women each month.
      First Steps accepts clothing, food and monetary donations, and is also looking for volunteers. For more information, call Lael Petersen, 253-588-5957.

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