Steamboat Springs Samantha Fuhrer, 2, skied down a tiny slope at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area on Thursday, held up by her dad, Tim Fuhrer. She squealed with joy as her mom, Jennie Fuhrer, filmed her.
Samantha and her parents were celebrating a graduation of sorts Thursday: They recently finished the nurse-family partnership program, which is organized by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
Through that program, a registered nurse pairs up with first-time mothers, and fathers when they're involved, giving advice and answering questions through the pregnancy and the child's first two years.
Wanda Ely, a VNA nurse, has made weekly or monthly visits to the Fuhrer family, helping them through the pregnancy with all sorts of information, such as what Jennie should eat, what the couple should expect at the hospital during the birth, and how they could help structure their daughter's day.
"I know that we're better parents because of it," Jennie said. "There's so much knowledge that I've been able to learn from Wanda."
The nurse-family partnership is in its third year and operates on about $260,000 a year. It is paid for through state funds from the tobacco tax settlement, as well as through Medicaid dollars. To be eligible, mothers must be pregnant with their first child and meet income requirements, Ely said.
The nurse-family partnership program has been used and studied for more than 25 years, with research indicating that its use creates mothers-to-be who are healthier while they're pregnant and children who are less likely to disobey the law when they're older.
In Northwest Colorado, three nurses participate in the program. Ely covers Routt and Jackson Counties, and the other two cover Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.
Ely's visits were especially helpful to Emmanuelle Vital and her husband, Bradley Bartels, when they were expecting their first child, Louis Bartels. Because they live in Walden, it is helpful to get frequent advice on issues from health to day care, Vital said.
If Louis was sick with a fever, it was comforting to know that Ely had just visited him and said he was OK, Vital said.
"It makes (for) a richer experience, I guess," Vital said.
First-time pregnancies are both scary and exciting for parents, Ely said. Having someone to answer questions if the mother feels a strange movement or cramping, or has any other concerns, can mean a lot.
She helps parents learn more about nutrition, health insurance, immunizations, and how mothers can transition back to work.
"They basically have their own private nurse for 2 1/2 years," Ely said.
In Northwest Colorado, the program works with 100 families, which is the maximum it can handle. Although the program is more or less full at this point, the VNA always accepts new referrals.
Ely works with 26 clients. There are 23 in Routt County, six of whom are Hispanic. To help those families, an interpreter -- in this case, Jennie Fuhrer -- goes with her, Ely said.
The program also is rewarding for the nurses, Ely said, mostly because of "the changes I see -- all the positive behaviors and how the parents have grown, and how the families have become more established."
Sometimes the information or ideas Ely provides may seem mundane or basic, but for first-time parents, it's all new, Jennie Fuhrer said.
"If you've never done it before, you don't have a clue," she said.
Ely's help was especially important to the Fuhrers because Samantha was born eight weeks early, Jennie Fuhrer said.
Tim Fuhrer said that the program is helpful to both parents in different ways. He liked being able to talk to someone throughout his wife's pregnancy about what was happening and what could be expected.
"You have so many questions and so many doubts," he said. "(The program) just answered a lot of unknowns."
Without Ely, the Fuhrers' pregnancy and the couple's first two years of parenting could have been a lot more stressful, Tim Fuhrer said.
"It's just an invaluable program, really," he said.
Jennie Fuhrer said she gets questions from friends all the time, and she loves to share the information she's gained from Ely.
"I am constantly recommending this program," she said.
Through the program, the Fuhrers learned things such as how to set enough structure to benefit Samantha without taking away her independence. And it was nice to have an "outsider" come in and take a fresh look at how the Fuhrers were parenting, Jennie Fuhrer said.
"Even if you think you don't need help, we all need help," she said.
When Samantha was done skiing, her mother scooped her up and asked, "Are you going to miss Wanda?"
"Yeah," Samantha said.
"Do you love Wanda?" Jennie asked.
"Yeah," Samantha said.
For more information on the nurse-family partnership, call the VNA at 879-1632 or 824-8233.
-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org