After 12 weeks of meetings every Wednesday, this is how one of the new mothers talked about what the pilot 5 Steps to Five program in Port Chester has meant to her …
By Allen Clark
After 12 weeks of meetings every Wednesday, this is how one of the new mothers talked about what the pilot 5 Steps to Five program in Port Chester has meant to her: “You have given me light in how to teach my new baby.” Another said, “I wish I’d known this with my first child. I’d have brought him up much better.” These mothers were part of the first group of seven low-income families to try out the new Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiative that began this past March at The Carver Center.
Now, the 5 Steps to Five group that is raising all the money for the program has taken a second big step: weekly Saturday morning sessions for parents and babies 9 months and older. And every Wednesday afternoon, a second 12-week group with parents of newborns is underway. The beginning sessions are called “Foundation,” the Saturday ones, “Exploration.”
5 Steps focuses on the importance of nurturing, talking, and reading to babies – interaction that research has shown helps infants’ minds develop their inherent potential. As the babies grow up, facilitators add advanced advice and activities appropriate to the changing cognitive, emotional, and social needs and conditions of infants, plus their advancing motor skills. The program continues right up until the infants enter Head Start at age 3.
The Foundation course was largely put together and is conducted by Rye Neck resident Tina Petrone who earned her Master’s of Education at Bank Street College’s Infant Parent Development Program, using evidence-based programs like “Nurturing Parenting.” The Exploration course is run by Rye resident Rocio Marquez-Rodriquez who has worked with disadvantaged families for 20 years.
Based on the pilot programs this year, 5 Steps looks forward to four Foundation groups in 2015, or a total of 40 new parents and babies, plus Exploration sessions almost ever Saturday through the year, currently with capacity for 20 parents/infants each week. Combined, 5 Steps to Five will be helping 50 to 60 qualified participants by year-end. That number should reach close to 100 in 2016.
To finance this expansion, 5 Steps to Five began reaching out to the Rye, Port Chester, and neighboring communities this month. With a new challenge grant from the Eugene and Emily Grant Family Foundation in Mamaroneck, all donations will receive matching funds up to a total of $100,000. This is the second challenge grant the Grant Family Foundation has made; the first, for $50,000, helped fund the pilot year.
It seems a week doesn’t go by without an article in regional and national media about the need for ECD, the value of reading to your baby, or pre-K programs. 5 Steps to Five takes these goals one, important step further – it begins at birth. The organization’s underlying rationale is that too much time, money, and effort has gone into addressing the consequences of poverty. Founder Kent Warner’s plan attacks a primary cause of poverty.
By building literacy, problem-solving capabilities, and self-worth early on, disadvantaged infants will be better prepared to succeed in school and in life. As Rye resident and supporter Alan Kelsey said, “It is my firm belief that the only way out of poverty is education, and this takes collaboration among parents and children.” Warner added, “Our program isn’t ‘charity’; it’s an investment.”
The author is a member of the 5 Steps to Five advisory committee.