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Seeds of success

Durham Connects helps babies, families blossom

by Danielle Jackson



On its Web site, Durham Connects offers a wealth of knowledge on the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. But that’s nothing compared with what it actually does for Durham County residents.


The program  — a partnership of Duke University, the Durham County Health Department and the Durham Family Initiative that’s funded by Duke Endowment — provides free, at-home nursing visits to new parents and their babies to help ease the transition into parenthood. It is the brainchild of Dr. Ken Dodge and stems from his work with Duke Endowment for improving outcomes for families and children in Durham County.


The nonprofit’s staff of 10 nurses — four of whom are bilingual — already have completed more than 1,000 visits, which are typically done three weeks after delivery. In addition to providing a physical assessment of mom and baby, they’re there to lend an ear, offer advice, and schedule up to two additional follow-up visits as needed.


“Our mission is to connect people with resources,” says Jeannine Sato, the program’s director.

“It could be help finding a postpartum exercise class or crib, or offering information on going back to work or finding child care,” she adds. “There are so many great resources in our community that are designed to help parents.”


Early praise

While it’s still in its development and testing phase, Durham Connects’ successes already can be heard throughout the county.


“You’re so busy when you have a newborn that making another trip out can be difficult,” says Jenny Snead Williams, a Duke University employee who used the program after having son Jacob in October.


“The nurse provided us with a lot of resources,” she adds, noting that Jacob had colic and difficulty gaining weight in the beginning.


“She watched us through a breastfeeding session and gave tips,” she says. “You can’t get that kind of support over the phone.”


“You’re in your own home, so you’re less embarrassed to ask questions,” says Allison Rosenstein Coovadia of Durham, who used Durham Connects after delivering both of her daughters.


“They’re so comforting, welcoming, and full of good advice and resources,” she adds. “I have friends who’ve delivered in Wake and Orange counties who were envious.”


A countywide effort

While Durham Connects currently reaches out only to parents who’ve had their babies on even-numbered days, the hope is that all families eventually will be helped through the program.


 “At first, we were in at-risk communities but wanted to expand into the entire community as a preventive program,” Sato says.


The idea is to mitigate or prevent problems that can arise down the road by stressing education at the forefront.


“Lots of great things can come out of talking with parents at a time of most stress,” she says.


“We want to show Durham County residents that there’s someone looking out for them in this potentially stressful time of their lives,” Sato adds. “It’s like Durham’s welcoming committee.”


The great thing about the program, Williams notes, is that it’s universal.


“This is a resource for everyone, at all income levels,” she says.


“We don’t have the same type of community that our mothers and grandmothers had,” Williams adds. “There are a lot of folks living here with no family nearby and who don’t really know what’s available, so it’s so important to take advantage of these things, whether it’s finding day care or making connections to others in the community.” 


Danielle Jackson is editor of Fifteen501, Wake Living and Triad Living magazines.



To learn more

Durham Connects, a free newborn nurse visiting program offered to Durham County residents, is a partnership between the Durham County Health Department and the Durham Family Initiative. To learn more about the program, call (919) 668-3279 or visit