Choctaw Nation Outreach adds programs, helps more families

Choctaw Nation Outreach employees Christi Hammons of Tribal PREP; Brandi Smallwood of Chahta Inchukka; Anglea Dancer, Better Beginnings Senior Director; and Barbara Moffitt of Chahta Vlla Apela.

Choctaw Nation Outreach employees Christi Hammons of Tribal PREP; Brandi Smallwood of Chahta Inchukka; Anglea Dancer, Better Beginnings Senior Director; and Barbara Moffitt of Chahta Vlla Apela.

Choctaw Nation Outreach adds programs, helps more families
Better Beginning now includes Tribal PREP and Chahta Vlla Apela programs

The Choctaw Nation Outreach program has recently added two new programs to its Better Beginnings branch — the Tribal PREP (Personal Responsibility Educational Program for the Prevention of Teen Pregnancy) and Chahta Vlla Apela program were added to join the SPPT (Support for Pregnant and Parenting Teens) program and Chahta Inchukka (Tribal Maternal Early Childhood Program).

The Better Beginnings program, which receives its grants from the Department of Health and Human Services, was added to Outreach about three years ago, said Senior Director of the program Angela Dancer. “All of our programs are providing evidence-based curriculums that have been proven to be effective, and we’re bringing those curriculums to Native American communities,” she explained.

This is a significant achievement for the tribe, according to Angela. “There are no evidence-based curriculums that currently have been tested on Native Americans, so this is a new avenue,” she said. “Even though the curriculum has been proven, it hasn’t been proven with our target population, so we’re going to be one of the first programs out there that is providing an evidence-based curriculum to Native American communities.”

Dancer has worked for the tribe for 19 years and the Outreach program for 10 years.

“We have over 22 programs,” said Angela of Outreach, saying the programs focus on going out into the community and providing needed services to tribal members.

The Outreach program houses over 118 employees, and Randy Hammons serves as executive director.

With its two new programs, Better Beginnings has also added two new directors to its team: Christi Hammons for Tribal PREP and Barbara Moffitt for Chahta Vlla Apela.

“Chahta Vlla Apela means ‘helping our Choctaw children,’” said Barbara about her program, which was approved in January of this year.

Barbara’s program is similar to the existing Chahta Inchukka program, directed by Brandi Smallwood. “They’re serving people in at-risk situations,” said Angela, adding that ‘at-risk’ is a broad definition and encompasses many areas such as: mental health, substance abuse, child abuse, single parent or low income issue involved.

Angela said Barbara and Brandi’s programs are from the same funding but two different grants, whereas, the SPPT grant, directed by Rebecca Morris, is strictly for the teen population. Teens must be under the age of 21, be expecting a child or have a child under the age of 1, and seeking an educational goal.

These three programs include home-based services. “This means our workers go into the clients home to provide the curriculum; usually twice a month” said Angela.

According to Angela, Chahta Vlla Apela, Chahta Inchukka, and SPPT are teaching a curriculum entitled ‘Parents As Teachers,’ which is a parent-child interaction plan that focuses on the child development stage and the social wellbeing of the entire family.

Angela provided an example of how one of these home visits would take place: with the parent(s) observing, the Outreach worker would ask the young child to perform a basic activity, such as covering a toy with a towel and having the child look for and discover it. They would then ask the parent to perform the same activity, while observing the parent interacting with the child and completing the task.

Following the activity, the worker would ask the parent why they believe this activity is helping the child grow and how it is benefiting that child at that age.

“We’re really trying to get the parent to think about the cognitive growth, motor skills and communication skills,” Angela said. “It’s all about cognitively growing these children, to be on task and looking for red flags.”

Every home visit will have a parent-child interaction to promote one-on-one play time. Each interaction is hand-picked by the worker to address a specific area of child development. All home visits also have a section related to family well-being. The worker and parent identify family needs and connect with other Choctaw Nation services and departments to fulfill those needs. “It encourages the parent to set goals for themselves and their child. Then the worker helps to locate resources and services to achieve those goals” said Angela.

Chahta Inchukka and Vlla Apela workers also conduct home visits with the child’s future in mind. “The focus is, overall, child and family development, but school readiness as well,” said Angela. We’re looking at the kids prior to head start age, so hopefully we can find and address any red flags before school, so when they attend head start, they are ready and able to learn, she added.

“Let’s say a child is not developing correctly,” said Angela, “we have assessments that verify that child is struggling or in trouble. There are multiple screenings to see that the child is on task with his or her development.”

“I really enjoy the people,” said Barbara of her new job.

With the Chahta Vlla Apela being relatively new to Outreach, the program is currently in the ‘planning phase,’ according to Barbara. “Right now, I’ve been conducting the needs assessment to identify exactly what areas or needs that community will have, and then we chose our evidence-base curriculum to fit those areas and needs,” she said.

While the programs ran by Barbara, Brandi, and Rebecca involves home visits, Christi’s Tribal PREP program requires her to visit local schools.

“I enjoy educating the kids,” Christi said, who works with students in grades 6 through 8 in four different schools.

Christi visits middle schools in Boswell, Ft. Towson, Soper and Jones Academy twice a week.

“We have a curriculum that we teach called ‘Draw the Line, Respect the Line,’” said Christi, which is an evidence-based curriculum with studies supporting it.

According to Christi, Tribal PREP is intended to postpone the initiation of sex in adolescents, help prevent pregnancy, STDs and AIDS. “Hopefully we educate the students enough to help them make healthy choices,” she said.

Christi said when thinking of the future of Tribal PREP, she hopes for expansion and growth. “I hope we can expand the program and visit more schools,” she said. “In the future, if funding is available, we would like to not only visit schools, but hold community programs instead of strictly school-based settings.”

“I would love to see that program grow,” added Angela. She explained that while SPPT deals with teens that are pregnant or have a young child; Christi’s program focuses on preventing that pregnancy.

“The Choctaw Nation has a higher teen pregnancy rate inside of the 10 ∏ counties than that of the national rate,” stated Angela. “The vision of Christi’s grant was, let’s do something proactive to prevent those teenage pregnancies.”

Future plans for Better Beginnings include workers continuing providing for and helping families as much as possible, which Angela sees turning into a major accomplishment in the future. “If we keep funding long enough to do enough intervention services, then between the three home-based services, we can be serving at least 200 families in the next year,” she said. In addition, the PREP program and the healthy choices curriculum they bring, “We are positively influencing the next generation of children who will become the future leaders of our nation.”

If you are interested in learning more about Outreach and the Better Beginnings program, call 580-326-8304.