HFA – Family Nights

Mind Really Matters

Recent research demonstrates that who we are as adults is largely shaped by our earliest childhood experiences. A child learns more during the first three years than during any other time of life. At birth, an infant is born with billions of brain cells that begin to form critical connections (synapses). During the first eight months development, a child may have up to an astonishing 1,000 trillion connections. Sometime after the first year, the brain begins to eliminate unused connections cutting the connections to 500 trillion. How parents respond to an infant directly impacts the types of connections that will be made. All interactions, whether positive or negative, influence how the brain is wired. Infants who experience positive interactions are develop connections that allow them as adults to think their cortex, the most complex area of the brain. A brain that is exposed to negative interactions is wired to respond to situations by using the limbic, a less complex area (Bruce D. Perry, MD PH. D. www.ChildTrauma.org).

Parents of the Healthy Families America (HFA) Program participated in a simulated brain building training on Wednesday, July 17th at the Lewistown Children’s Center. The training reflected the correlation between parental responses to an infant’s needs and brain development. Groups of parents were provided with written parent-child interaction scenarios and how these scenarios could affect brain development.

Dads in Health Families America Program "Build Brains"

Dads in Health Families America Program “Build Brains”

The parents built simulated brains to demonstrate the effects of these interactions. One parent responded that, “I wish I would have known these things when my 22 year old was a baby, not for me, but for her.”  As a follow up to the training and as a reminder to parents, HFA home visitors will provide parents participating in the program an opportunity to build their own simulated healthy developed brains.





Program for New Parents Celebrates One Year – February 2013

One year ago, the evidence-based program, Healthy Families America (HFA), made its way to Mifflin County, funded through the “Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visitation Grant.”  Program administrators and stakeholders identified first-time parents as the target population to receive services through HFA.

During the first year, Lewistown Hospital, Geisinger Medical Group, Mifflin County OB/GYN and WIC have partnered with HFA to provide initial assessment to every expectant mother in Mifflin County.  With the collaboration of these agencies, the first parent was enrolled on February 8, 2011.

Ezra Bell, son of Brad and Marcella Bell eagerly awaits a kiss from mom and dad.
Ezra Bell, son of Brad and Marcella Bell eagerly awaits a kiss from mom and dad.

A first-year anniversary/game night was held on Wednesday, February 13, 2103 at the Lewistown Children’s Center.  A group of parents – Marcella and Brad Bell, Angel Soccio, Jason George, Amanda and Terry Rheams, and Sydnye Bottorff – planned and prepared activities for the occasion, which included a Valentine’s Day picture booth for parents and children.  The parents were provided with an opportunity to engage in active games, interact, and get to know one another.  The evening was attended by 27 parents and 11 infants.

When asked to reflect on the impact of HFA upon their family, parents said:

“You have done a great job with being a positive leader for my family.  You have provided very helpful information and been very kind to my family.  Our home visitor has done a great job.  She had done everything possible to help us grow including pushing me towards my goals, helping me make new friends and providing helpful information.”   – Eric Barrlett

“HFA helped push me to achieve my goals so I could give my son a happy, healthy life.” – Sydnye Bottorff

“HFA helped me open up my mind to different ideas to do with my family and has given me great ideas on activities to do with my child.”  – parent


First-Time Families Come Together – November 2012

Niko and Erza explore and play with blocks - smiled upon by mom Marcella.

Niko and Erza explore and play with blocks – smiled upon by mom Marcella.

Local first-time families met on November 14th to share and talk about family traditions and developmentally appropriate toys. Sixteen families, whose first child is unborn or under 10 months of age, gathered at the Lewistown Children’s Center for dinner and activities. Prior to the event, each family contributed to the Healthy Families America Family Tradition Booklet. A few of the many traditions that were noted by parents include: family portraits once a year, taking pictures the first day of school, listening to Greek music, reading before bed every day, wearing new “jammies” and watching movies together Christmas Eve, and making a sandwich platter and going on a drive to look at neighborhood lights. As a part of the family traditions, each family had the opportunity to make a handprint or footprint keepsake. Additionally, Dana Grove Photography was available to take family photos.

As Brenton finsihes his bottle, he gazes at his father, Jason.

As Brenton finsihes his bottle, he gazes at his father, Jason.

Homemade age-appropriate toys, such as blocks made with boxes and duct tape, peek-a-boo blocks made with empty baby food containers and small toys, and wave bottles made with water, oil, food coloring, glitter and sequins were available for parents and children to play with and explore.

During this time, parents discussed ways in which they could use the toys in their home to extend their child’s learning.

Parents had lots to say about the event, including:

“The most fun was watching the babies interact and the pictures.”
“The thing I liked the best was being able to socialize while learning and doing activities.”
“The thing I learned…was how to make safe homemade toys.”
“The thing I learned…as a grandmother is that I can make new toys with what I have without spending so much money.”


Healthy Families America Hosts Family Night Event – September 2012

Small steps to safety and preparedness were the focus of the Healthy Families America (HFA) Family Night on Wednesday, September 12th. HFA promoted National Preparedness Month designated by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New mother, Heather, and expectant mother, Sydnye, make a black and white tracking book for their baby.

Approximately eight families attended the family event, which included car seat inspections by Mifflin County Regional Police and basic first aid until help arrives training by FAME EMS. All families made and received materials for an emergency and first aid kit. Socialization activities included dinner and safety bingo. Because infants are attracted to black and white color, time with babies included making a black and white baby book to stimulate brain and tracking development. Additional infant socialization time included reading babies cues.

One family commented that the best parts of the evening were the safety information, FAMES presentation, and Mifflin County Regional Police Department car seat inspection.


As father, Reggie, reads his son’s cues, he patiently waits for baby Reggie to reengage in the activity.