The Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation announced its new executive director for the Northwest New Mexico First Born® Program at a press conference Tuesday at the State Capitol.
Regina Huffman, former director of the Family Infant Toddler Program (FIT) in Gallup, has been named executive director.
Huffman has a master’s degree in counseling from Western New Mexico University and a bachelor of university studies degree in early education and psychology from the University of New Mexico.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has announced a $1.8 million grant to the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation to provide parenting training in San Juan and McKinley Counties.
St. Joseph Community Health is providing $150,000 and the Navajo Nation Growing in Beauty Program is giving $50,000.
Families having their first child will receive three years of home visits, medical advice and training to build parenting skills and child brain development through the Northwest New Mexico First Born® Program.
At least 200 families per year are expected to benefit from the guidance of home visitors, with the first beginning this spring.
An Española mother who benefited from the program told Legislators how the First Born program saved her life.
Alexina Ortiz, one of the first mothers in the program from Rio Arriba County, said when she became pregnant as a sophomore at McCurdy High School, where she was class president, prom queen and a cheerleader, “I thought my life was going to end … then I found First Born and a home visitor who had actually been my principal to help me through my pregnancy and my daughter’s early days. I loved it.” Ortiz said.
Ortiz now works as a receptionist/secretary at the LANL Foundation, graduated from high school in 2010 and is about to pursue an associate degree. Her four-year-old daughter Jalina, accompanied her to the Capitol Tuesday.
Susan Herrera, CEO of the LANL Foundation, said only 2 percent of New Mexico infants and toddlers receive home visits today, and the goal is to reach every first-time family. First Born is now in 16 of 34 New Mexico counties.
The Kellogg Foundation approached the LANL Foundation to build the northwest coalition because of its success in six other counties.
Anna Marie Garcia, First Born program officer at the LANL Foundation, credits people in the deep canyons and wide expanses of the two diverse counties with their work to reach an agreement to supplement existing programs.
The counties have among the highest poverty rates and the highest births to single mothers in the state. Almost half of children are born to single mothers.
First Born will support families ranging from those who have relocated to Farmington to work in the oil and gas industry, without a family support network, to a teen mother living without electricity, plumbing or transportation in the remote reaches of the Navajo Nation.
Through the program’s guidance, this mother will also have an opportunity to finish her high school education.
Also announced Tuesday: Dr. Kevin Sweeney, Chief of Staff, Gallup Indian Health Service Center is chair of the Northwest New Mexico First Born Program. Other directors are Dr. Susie John, director of the Teen Health
Center at Northern Navajo Medical Center; Tristan Kwiecinski, nurse at San Juan Regional Hospital; Olivia Kien, Central Consolidated Schools; Marnella Kucata Yepa, Pueblo of Zuni Teen Health Center; Tammy Hall, Gallup Schools Parents as Teachers; Judy Hudson, director of Child and Family Services, San Juan College and Ophelia Reeder, chair, Health Alliance Leadership Team.
On the advisory board are Paula Seanez, Director, Navajo National Growing in Beauty Program; Vicki Johnson, founder, First Born Program; Susan Herrera, CEO, LANL Foundation; Anna Marie Garcia, LANL Foundation First Born Program Officer; and Allen Sanchez, President/CEO, St. Joseph Community Health.