Born Ready

May. 2, 2016

Patrice Martin and her family on the playground

Baby University helps parents prepare their children to learn and thrive

With a 10-year-old, a 2-year-old and a baby on the way, Patrice Martin still managed to attend college and earn a degree in health care reimbursement.

But finding a job in her last trimester was impossible, and as a relatively new resident of Chattanooga, she found herself floundering a bit.

“I didn’t know how to get help with anything,” she says.

“Finishing college was my focus, and I didn’t have much for my baby about to be born.”

Patrice’s boys: infant Elijah, Juan, 10 and Sampson, 2.

Then Juan, her oldest son, came home from a visit to the Boys & Girls Club with a Baby University business card.

A representative was there giving out information about the early childhood development program.

She called, figuring that she would get a list of resources from them.

Instead, she got immediate and personal attention.

“The day I joined, they were having a Baby Fair and I was able to get a car seat so that I could safely bring my newborn home from the hospital,” she says.

“My 2-year-old, Sampson, is not talking yet, and Baby University connected us with Tennessee Early Intervention System for testing.

“They helped with clothes and diapers, and transportation to doctor appointments.”

A head start that does wonders

Baby University, spurred into creation by the Chattanooga mayor’s office to help struggling parents, is administered through Signal Centers, a family service nonprofit.

It focuses on helping parents through the critical early development of a child’s brain — from good prenatal care that leads to babies being born at full-term, through the first two years, when a child’s capacity to learn is mapped out for a lifetime.

Patrice Martin counts on Baby U’s LaSha’ Rockymore for advice.

Every family is assigned a Baby U specialist, a case manager who works hard to build a bond of trust and honesty with everyone in the family to meet the best interests of the child.

That may mean finding housing for homeless mothers, educating moms about breastfeeding, procuring a car seat, or getting baby clothes.

It includes encouraging playtime bonding, providing children’s books, and pointing out the connection between these kinds of parenting activities and a child’s ability to learn.

“When we think about education, most of us think of elementary school,” says Donna McConnico, CEO of Signal Centers.

“But children begin learning long before they go through the door on their first day.”

“We want to help families ready their children for a life of success, and these first families have been so generous in allowing us into their homes, and then going on to support each other.

“I look forward to attending a 20-year reunion to see how these kids will have blossomed.”

To learn more about services for children and youth in Tennessee, click here.

 Photos by Grant Dotson