CHiP staff on outreach at a rainy Market Day in Friendship Court. From left: Torri Ayers, Naasira El-Abdullah, and Regina Key. Credit: Credit: Kayli Wren, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Jefferson Area CHiP launched its Neighborhood Outreach Project this year to focus on reaching Charlottesville families that could benefit from CHiP services in Friendship Court, Westhaven, South First Street and Green Stone.

CHiP (Children’s Health Improvement Program), a nonprofit, partners families with nurses and family support workers who support parents in fostering a healthy, positive start to their children’s lives.

“The key to CHiP’s program is partnering with families and building a trusting relationship,” said Executive Director Jon Nafziger. “Because trust issues are so significant in the work we do — in going into people’s homes — we have to work hard to build that trust.” 

Nafziger said CHiP faces challenges in building relationships with some families due to Charlottesville’s racial history. The Neighborhood Outreach Project is one way CHiP is working to reach African-American families and build that trust, Nafziger said.

“Our goal is to try to be as visible in the community as possible, [to] get the word out that we are here and we are available to provide services for families,” said Naasira El-Abdullah, who works in the Neighborhood Outreach Office.  “Charlottesville is a small place, so people just need to know that you are there.”  

Torri Ayers, CHiP’s neighborhood project coordinator, often goes to Market Days to do outreach in the neighborhoods the organization is looking to get to know better.

“We’re still in the midst of getting to know people and getting people to know our faces,” Ayers said.

She said there are many resources in these neighborhoods that families don’t utilize.

“It’s one of those things where you just keep showing up … Just trying to let them know, I’m a person just like you, and I’m just trying to help you out and meet you where you are,” Ayers said.

According to Ayers, one reason people could be wary of letting others into their homes is the feeling of someone intruding in their personal business.

“We are not about going in and making a list of a family’s problems and telling them all of the things they are doing wrong. A lot of families are more used to that model,” Nafziger said.

“We consider families to be partners in the process and we work hard to help them identify their strengths and build on those strengths,” he said.

CHiP is currently working with about 275 families. Through the outreach project, Ayers said CHiP is building more relationships with the communities “slowly but surely.”

In addition to Market Days, CHiP does outreach in its focus neighborhoods through events such as the Celebration of Healthy Moms and Healthy Babies in Friendship Court in May, an Improving Pregnancy Outcomes event and a city parks and recreation cookout celebrating the end of the school year, Ayers said.

For events such as these, CHiP partners with organizations such as Planned Parenthood, My Sister’s Keeper Collective and the Neighborhood Family Health Center.

CHiP also works closely with community partners such as City of Promise, an organization working to improve the educational and developmental paths of Charlottesville children.

“CHiP is a great resource for our families,” said Ashley Howard, a coach at City of Promise. “We have learned that many of our families have knowledge of CHiP, and are empowered because of the services they have and are receiving.”

Ayers says CHiP is so personable because teams, consisting of one nurse and two family support workers, work with families in their own homes.

Sometimes, CHiP’s role is as simple as helping to manage doctor’s appointments or assuring parents that they are doing a good job. Other times, CHiP helps families to problem-solve if they are facing housing issues, having utilities cut off or don’t have enough food in the home, Nafziger said.

“Balancing the demands of working and other family commitments and having the time and energy to devote to your child is the challenge for many of us,” he said. “But with these families, it can be layered with less financial resources and, in some cases, less family resources to support them.”

During home visits, CHiP teams conduct regular developmental screenings to see if a child is on track and program-specific activities to help the child catch up if needed.

Teams bring individualized and pre-made nursing and parent education kits to home visits to support parents in doing activities with their child.

A poison prevention chart in one nursing kit shows pictures of candy and medicine side by side to show parents the importance of keeping medicines out of reach. Parent education kits are built around Parents as Teachers curriculum.

Teams also take a book to each home visit to encourage parents to read with their children.

Connecting with parents early is so critical because the prime time for children’s brain development is during those early years, Nafziger said. The early life of a child, from birth to age 3, is “a tremendous opportunity to create a positive foundation for kids,” he said.

“We’ve learned a lot about the impact of toxic levels of stress on children and on brain development,” Nafziger said. “For better or worse, every day they are absorbing what’s going on around them.”

CHiP has four teams in its Charlottesville office. One team works almost exclusively with refugee families. Another team is bilingual and works primarily with Spanish-speaking families. CHiP has additional office sites in downtown Charlottesville, as well as in Fluvanna and Louisa counties.