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Mahube-Otwa's Head Start Home Base program sees success for children and parents alike

Sisters Madalyn and Michaela Branstad enjoy some bubbles in the park during the Mahube-Otwa Head Start Home Base end of year party last week. DL NEWSPAPERS/Pippi Mayfield

Most people have heard about the benefits of Mahube-Otwa’s Head Start for children. But what many don’t hear about is the benefit to the parents and guardians of those children.

And even more people likely don’t know about the Head Start Home Base program for pregnant mothers to children age 3.

“They do a lot for parents, not just children,” parent and home base participant Liza Dahring said. “Pretty much anything you need help with, they can help.”

Once a week, the teachers of Head Start Home Base go into the children’s homes and work with them. Then another day a week, the parents and children all come together to socialize with one another.

“We do what moms would like us to do,” teacher Mitzi Flatau said.

That could mean working on certain skills for the child or bringing certain baby toys that the child interacts with. And for parents, it could mean discussing well-baby appointments or getting referrals for any services they may need.

Not only is it important for the children and parents to learn, it’s also important for them to socialize with each other.

“They can talk with other moms. That’s helpful,” Flatau said, adding that the mothers can build a relationship, too.

The home-based program started out in 1976, and soon added the center-based program, with parents and children coming into the Mahube-Otwa offices. Now there are both center- and home-based programs.

“Both are great services,” Katie Lawrence said.

The home-based and center-based programs have been running for over 35 years.

“We started with Home Base. There was a really big push for home-based back then,” Early Childhood Service Director Joyce Duffney said.

“It’s a good process. We make visits with families and build some nice relationships with one another.”

Those relationships were on display last week at the year-end celebration in the Detroit Lakes park. Families and teachers mingled together, going over scrapbooks from the year and eating ice cream sundaes.

At the celebration, Lawrence said she and her husband, Michael, have had their children involved in both the center-based and home-based programs. She said that through the program, their family has been able to participate in going to the park, the circus and parades.

“They are fun activities that center around our family,” she said.

One of the biggest benefits to being a part of the home-based program, Lawrence said, is “watching our children grow and learn new things.”

As parents, Lawrence said that she and her husband have gotten tips through the program as well.

“It’s been so great for us,” she said. “It’s just amazing how much our kids have grown.”

“It is amazing,” Michael Lawrence agreed. “They learn something new every day.”

Dahring said that when her daughter participated in the home-based program, not only did she benefit from the educational side of it, but also from the emotional side.

Her daughter had separation issues, but going in and socializing with other children got her ready for school, Dahring said.

“They are very interactive with young children,” she said of the home-based program and teachers. “It gives younger kids a chance to socialize. I would recommend it for any family.”

While the majority of Mahube-Otwa programs are income based, Family Services Director Kari Stattelman said that they do save 10 percent of their enrollment for families who go over the income requirements.

“We are connecting families with the resources they need,” she said. The program is about “developing that education piece. The earlier they are exposed, the better they do later on.”

Tiffani Ruiz said the most important aspect for her daughter was the socialization. As an only child at the time, “there were some kids she could play with so she wouldn’t be alone.”

Now her daughter loves to talk and be around people. Ruiz said her daughter’s vocabulary is advanced for her age, due to the program.

Ruiz now has two more children joining the program and she’s excited for them to learn as much as their sister has.

“If you have a kid that is young enough, go for it and do it because it’s so worth it,” she said.

Great-grandparents Don and Clarice Hanson said that while the home-based program is excellent for the great-granddaughters they are helping raise, it’s the assistance for them that’s really helping. Now in their 70s, Don said they were out of practice on raising children, but with Mahube-Otwa’s Home Base program, they have been able to get information and reintroduce them to caring for young children.

“The system with Mahube is tremendous,” he said. “They do an outstanding job.”

“The teachers are great with the kids. I think they learn a lot,” agreed Clarice. “The teachers are wonderful. They look out for the kids and look out for you.”

One of those teachers looking out for the youngest of participants is Cyndi Blaha. She mainly works with pregnant moms and children up to age 1.

“I seem to cater to the younger crowd,” she said with a smile.

She talks to young mothers about staying in school, going to the dentist and other important issues that some moms might not even know about.

While moms are pregnant, Blaha still meets with them once a week to see if they need anything, and then the pregnant moms also meet and socialize once a week.

“It sure has been fun. It’s an enjoyable job,” she said. “It’s good to see them grow.”

Blaha started working with Kayana Davis when her daughter was only a couple weeks old. Now at 1 year, Blaha is still watching out for Davis and her daughter.

Davis said she got involved in the Home Base program after her social worker suggested it. She said it was helpful because it has helped her to learn more about her baby as she is growing. It’s also been fun to see what her daughter can do at such a young age.

Some of those activities included “butt painting” because she was too young to finger paint so she scooted around on her butt with paint on it. Another was using tissue paper to make an Easter egg.

“Even though she’s younger, she was still capable. She wasn’t too young,” Davis said.

She said that by exposing her daughter to the different activities, the little girl isn’t as prone to getting into stuff she’s not supposed to, like paint for instance, because she’s already played in it and knows what it is.

“I’m getting to know more things about babies and what they can be exposed to do and what they can do,” Davis said. “I would recommend (the Home base program) to first time parents.”

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.