It’s just a little beige house on Hopewell’s North 4th Avenue, but I hear big things are happening inside. I’m dropping by to learn more about Hopewell-Prince George Healthy Families, a local nonprofit that works to make a positive difference for children and families in the Hopewell and Prince George County communities.
I’m meeting with the Executive Director Diane Varner, who’ll introduce me to a family that has experienced first-hand the transformative services this little house has inside. Diane greets me at the front door. She’s smiling broadly and begins to enthusiastically tell me what Hopewell-Prince George Healthy Families is all about. “What we do here is ensure that children are born healthy, reach school age healthy and ready to learn, and grow up to be healthy, contributing members in their communities.” That sounds like a tall order to me, but she continues to tell me how they do it. “Our home-based family support services are offered to high-risk parents, prenatally or at birth, and we continue to help them on a voluntary, free-of-charge basis up to five years after the birth of their children.”
Diane Varner, Executive Director of Hopewell-Prince George Healthy Families
As we’re talking, a small family enters the room. It’s Quiana Frazier and her three children. This is the family I’m here to meet. So, after greeting everyone, we find a comfortable spot to talk for a while. Quiana, a working mom, introduces her three children, “This is Love, she’s 13 and Ezra, he’s 6, and this is his little brother Harvey. He’s 4.” The boys head for the closet and pull out a few boxes of Lego® blocks while Quiana, Love, Diane and I continue our conversation. In a gentle, peaceful tone, Quiana tells me how she became involved with Healthy Families. “I became aware of them from a friend when I was pregnant with Love. Then one day while I was taking a walk, I saw the office and decided to stop in and that’s when the magic began!” I ask her to tell me about the “magic.” “They taught me things I didn’t learn at the doctor—about my growing belly, my growing baby. Things like what to expect after birth and my home life with a new little person.”
Diane interjects that Healthy Families does this by offering weekly home visits to assess needs and educate a new mom on a wide range of subjects like child development milestones, safe housing and even methods for early education of the new baby or toddler. By being involved with the family from birth to age 5, “we basically prepare the family and the child to enter school as a happy, healthy youngster ready to learn and develop.” Quiana adds, “They’ve helped me tremendously over the years. You see, I was raised by my grandmother and when Love was born my grandmother was elderly and couldn’t help a lot—so Healthy Families was like my grandmother—to help me, to talk with me and give me the comfort, direction and wisdom I needed.”
Just then, Harvey taps me on the arm to show me the tall Lego® tower he’s made. It’s teetering a bit so Diane suggests that maybe it needs a broader foundation to help stabilize it and make it stronger. Then, in the blink of an eye, the tower crashes, so Harvey and Ezra set about to rebuilding it with a stronger foundation.
I ask Diane to tell me more about what Healthy Families offers. “We have parent groups every other month where parents can get together to learn and share knowledge with one another.” Quiana adds, “We learn things like how to feed a baby and how to handle tantrums—you know, it really DOES take a village!”
Diane continues, “We’re adding a topic focus to parent groups—topics like child and home safety or budgeting and we even have a Harvest meeting where we enjoy a meal together. Later this year we’ll be enjoying a Holiday Program—it’s kind of like Angel Tree but with Teddy Bears—where client families are adopted by community members. That’s always a lot of fun!”
Hopewell-Prince George Healthy Families staff (L to R) Family Support Specialist Andrew Sawyer, Executive Director Diane Varner, Family Support Specialist Shantae Wheeler, and Program Supervisor Carolyn Owens with Quiana Frazier and her children Ezra, Love and Harvey
The benefits and impact of the Healthy Families programs are so evident in the joy and contentment of Quiana’s children. Love tells me she’s in the 8th grade at Carter G. Woodson Middle School where her favorite subjects are reading and math. She’s also on a soccer team. Ezra attends kindergarten at Harry E. James Elementary School where he enjoys learning and recess time with his friends. He tells me he loves making books, drawing and coloring—and Legos®. Harvey pops up and tells me he attends the Head Start Program at Woodlawn Learning Center and, no surprise, he loves Legos® too!
So, what does the future hold for Diane and her team? “We’ll continue to serve our families in every way we can! We’re starting up some new learning opportunities like parenting education and teen pregnancy prevention and we’ll continue to work with new fathers, too. And since this is our 20th year in service, we’re honoring our beloved former long-time Executive Director by launching the first Bernetta Quinn Scholarship.” The future looks bright for Quiana, too. She’s hoping to open a foster home for children between ages 12 and 18. “It’s hard to be adopted after age 12 and that’s when they really need to learn life skills and how to step into adulthood. I want to offer a safe and healthy place for them to grow.” I think she’s seen a solid model for that in the Healthy Families programs.
From my brief time with Diane and the Frazier family, it’s quite clear that Hopewell-Prince George Healthy Families is working hard to create healthy communities and bright futures for our children. The John Randolph Foundation is proud to be a community partner supporting the Healthy Families’ mission. It’s easy to contact Hopewell-Prince George Healthy Families via their simple online enrollment (https://hopewellva.gov/hopewell-prince-george-healthy-families/) or a phone call to their office (804) 352-4018. Or just drop by their office located at 208 North 4th Avenue in Hopewell. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ezra and Harvey building on a strong foundation.
As we wrap up, Ezra and Harvey are tugging at my sleeve. They show me two huge Lego® towers they’ve built that are now standing much taller than the earlier models. The towers are quite impressive having been built in much the same way as the many Healthy Families clients—with a broad, solid foundation and help from everyone in the village!
Hopewell-Prince George Healthy Families’ new home on North 4th Avenue in Hopewell
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This post was written by Ken Newman