Evelia Acuna found out she was pregnant at age 15. As the fourth of nine children, Acuna had experience caring for her younger siblings, but she felt unprepared to take on the full responsibility of her own child.
“I was overwhelmed,” Acuna said. “I was 15, and I was barely still in high school. I was living with my boyfriend, because my mom couldn’t provide for me.”
Through referrals from Gila River Health Care, Acuna, who lives in Coolidge, signed up for the Well Child Family Care program when she was six months pregnant.
The First Things First Gila River Indian Community Regional Partnership Council funds the Well Child Family Care program, formally named the Family Support Coordination, to provide support to teenage parents, ages 13 to 18 years old, living in the community. Young parents receive parent education about early childhood development, breastfeeding, infant sleep safety, using car seats and other information. Their development specialist connects them to resources within the community, like AHCCCS and WIC benefits, and helps them to pursue a GED or high school diploma.
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For Development Specialist Rochelle LodgePole, a parent educator in the program, the first step was building a relationship with Acuna. She didn’t want to overwhelm Acuna with information, instead, LodgePole let her know she was accepted and supported.
“We would talk, and I’d let her know she could do this and I had confidence in her,” Rochelle LodgePole said.
“Then we started doing parent education through home visits. She was one of my youngest clients at the time, but she became very focused on being the best mom she could be. I was completely floored.”
One of Acuna’s goals is to finish high school and pursue a career. She was recently accepted into a three-year program to become a nursing assistant. Acuna takes nursing classes in the morning and high school classes in the afternoon.
After giving birth to her daughter, Alexandria, Acuna worked with LodgePole on learning how to care for her infant daughter, and how to care for herself while managing stress in her roles as a mother and student.
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“She taught me how to cope whenever I got frustrated, like reevaluating situations,” Acuna said. “She teaches me how to interact with my daughter and to do better things for her development. I learned to meet her needs better and try new things. These are simple things that I didn’t know.”
Now with Alexandria at 18 months old, Acuna likes to point at objects with her daughter and tell her the word. Acuna wants to prepare Alexandria for preschool so she can communicate with others. Acuna says the program has really helped her to learn how to better care for her daughter.
“I took care of my siblings,” she said. “But what I’m learning now is different from what I used to do with my siblings. Now l understand developmental stages. I didn’t know about those before, so it helps me. I want to teach Alex better things. I would have said I would have known how to take care of her, but I didn’t. Now I am learning to do better.”