With her 2-year-old twin boys perched on her lap, their big eyes regarding the stranger in their home, Lidia shares her family’s journey, one that started in Honduras. She moved to Northern Virginia three years ago for three major reasons: to escape her abusive husband, to find work that would allow her to provide fully for her sons, and to ensure that her sons would get the best education they could.
“My dream is that my sons study hard, go to school and get good grades,” says Lidia, and her attitude seems to have taken root among her children. Lidia’s oldest son, now in 8th grade, earns only A’s and B’s on top of helping take care of his younger brothers and the household chores. “She taught him values,” says Goulnara, Lidia’s current family support worker. Lidia’s 3-year-old son already wants to go to kindergarten — or “kinder,” as Lidia affectionately refers to it in Spanish. “I’m going to be speaking with [the kindergarten teacher] to see if he can start early.”
Her determination to see that her children have the opportunity for a good life and good education colors all of Lidia’s life, and it is enabled by the advice, support and connection Healthy Families Alexandria provides for Lidia and her second husband.
Lidia began Healthy Families Alexandria unexpectedly pregnant with twins by the husband she had just left, along with her sons that are now 3 and 15. Goulnara has provided Lidia and her family — which now includes an infant son — with a wealth of knowledge. Topics range from the children’s physical and emotional health (including marital advice to facilitate a happy home environment) to school readiness (including new games and lessons that Lidia can then teach her children).
“[Goulnara] has given me so much good advice,” Lidia says. It is what she likes best about Healthy Families Alexandria. That advice is given both during home visits and in handouts, so that Lidia can refer to it at home at any time. Healthy Families uses the curriculum of Parents as Teachers, one of the nation’s largest evidence-based parenting education models, for helping parents prepare their children for school. Parents as Teachers has been shown in multiple studies to improve overall family literacy, and oral language development of at-risk 4-years-olds is on par with national averages after participating.
Lidia herself sets the example by being a good student of school readiness techniques, according to Goulnara. “Lidia is receptive. She listens. She truly applies [the school readiness lessons] to her kids.”
The support that Goulnara and Healthy Families Alexandria have provided for Lidia’s family is “the part that has been the most valuable for me,” says Lidia. For example, she once burned herself badly and called Goulnara, who gave her immediate advice and ordered a taxi for Lidia to get to a clinic. (Lidia and her husband do not have a car.) When Goulnara arrived at the clinic, the nurse told her how good it was that Goulnara had gotten Lidia to the clinic, “because Lidia had a first-degree burn and could die of blood infection if she came late.” Goulnara stayed with Lidia until 8 p.m. that evening to ensure that Lidia – who does not speak English fluently – was able to communicate her needs and understand everything from the medical staff.
“They support you in supporting your children,” Lidia summarizes, whether it be a crisis such as the day she was burned, or the day-to-day worrying that comes of raising five children outside of her home country. “You don’t feel so alone.” Goulnara is compassionate: “When you deal with many things, sometimes you neglect some, no matter how hard you try.”
Such support is invaluable for Lidia and her husband, whose relatives primarily reside in their respective native countries. The closest family that Lidia has lives in New York.
Many young and new mothers are not aware of local community resources or cannot easily access them; Healthy Families Alexandria helps bridge this gap by making as many referrals as are needed. Goulnara has been able to connect Lidia with a backpack and school supplies for her oldest son for two years now. “That money was then available for food,” Lidia says gravely, as well as legal assistance so that Lidia can obtain a work permit. Goulnara has also connected Lidia with mental health counseling, which lends Lidia and her family additional advice and support.
Healthy Families Alexandria also helps build connections within the family. In addition to providing advice that facilitates happy, engaging relationships, Goulnara actively encourages the family to bond by doing fun things together. Lidia speaks fondly of the many times she, her husband and her children have spent playing and relaxing at the local park.
The program brings people together not just within their own families but within their communities as well. The most fun part of Healthy Families Alexandria, Lidia says, is the annual holiday party for its families. There is food, company and fun – and transportation is provided, which is essential for families such as Lidia’s.
To Lidia, the depth of advice, support and connection that has been available to her for the past three years makes Healthy Families Alexandria “a very beautiful program.” After Lidia learned she was pregnant with her twins, she came to a conclusion that has sustained her ever since: Her children have been born to her so that she can give them a good future, one that “being in [Honduras] wouldn’t have allowed.” And that is what Healthy Families Alexandria does: takes new families under its wing and — with education and encouragement — gives them access to a better life.
*Lidia’s story has been translated from Spanish to English.
“Healthy Families supports you in supporting your children. You don’t feel so alone.”