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Stories of Hope - PALS

Personal Commendation

Becoming a mother inspired this African American woman in her early twenties to do more with her life, but with only a high school education and limited job skills, she despaired of ever being independent of her in-laws.

Having a child motivated Catina like nothing before in her life. Neither studies nor extracurricular activities sparked any particular excitement, nor had any jobs following graduation from high school. Catina was working at a Randall's bakery when a track star she barely knew from school came to the counter. He was soon returning for chocolate chip cookies every day and within six months they married. A year later Emmanuel was born. They moved to their own apartment, having lived with her in-laws since they married. For the first time, Catina felt important, grown up, and inspired to make something of her life.

Independence lasted only five months

Catina lost her job and Patrick lost his and they returned to his parents' home. Catina was pregnant again, this time with major complications. She had surgery to seal her cervix, and spent the final months scared and worried until Jordan was safely born.

Moving back in with her in-laws was a big setback for Catina. The four of them slept in one small bedroom filled wall to wall with beds. In the rest of the house Catina was always mindful that she was in someone else's space. She held the baby, restraining him from crawling on the floor or reaching and grasping for objects around the house. She sat the toddler on the couch, keeping him from moving freely, exploring or leaving toys "in the way." Even tensions in the marriage had to be muffled and suppressed.

Catina stayed home all day every day except for a walk. This was followed by the children's naptime, when her lethargy would deepen. Rationally, Catina considered herself lucky for the support from her husband's family. But she felt confined with no way out, like "there was no fresh air, like living in a room with no windows."

A breath of fresh air

When her minister suggested PALS (Playing and Learning Strategies), a parenting program based on the work of University of Texas developmental psychologist Dr. Susan Landry, Catina decided to enroll. Fourth in a family of 10, Catina felt comfortable as a mother, but wanted to learn new things to help her children.

The program "facilitator" quickly engaged her attention. In Catina's living room, they watched and analyzed videos of parent-child interactions. Catina realized that although she had been spending full time with her children, she had not necessarily been interacting much with them. She now learned to recognize and build on interests her children show, to be more alert to their signals. She started analyzing what she saw other mothers do and discussing this with her facilitator. She was an eager student.

PALS also provided Catina mentors, two older African American women from the Acres Home community where she lives. They as well as the facilitator encouraged her to think about her life and goals. Their confidence in her and their practical suggestions helped Catina believe that becoming self-sufficient was possible. She reconnected with her dormant aspirations and determination.

Restraints fall away

Within four months of joining the UT program, Catina was employed as a receptionist at a nutrition program for mothers and children. Her diligence and enthusiasm gained her supervisor's attention and she is in line for a promotion. Two months after starting work, she and her family moved into their own apartment. A few months later, both she and Patrick enrolled in independent study at North Harris County Community College. Catina plans to pursue a career in nursing. UT's contribution toward childcare costs makes Catina's transition possible; rent plus unsubsidized childcare would exceed her take home pay. Catina credits PALS for both the emotional and financial support that helped her return to work and get on her own two feet.

Catina feels energized and upbeat balancing demands of marriage, parenting, work and study. She is more assertive and decisive. The whole family is thriving in their own space. The children run and play. Their clenched fists and fingers have opened, as have all their spirits. The family enjoys visiting with Patrick's folks. Catina looks forward to the remaining PALS sessions, knowing she already has become a more stimulating, responsive, encouraging, and creative mother.

Catina feels amply rewarded. Her children talk and interact more, are more curious and alert. They show her "so much more love and attention." Catina is happy and proud of all she has changed in her life.

"I commend myself, " she says. "Everything is coming together at once."

Carol Safran

PALS Child Health and Development Project
University of Texas Health Science Center
Acres Homes, Northwest Houston

  • Promotes healthy cognitive, language, emotional and social development among poor infants and toddlers at risk for difficulties.
  • Teaches mothers Play And Learning Strategies to stimulate and encourage development and diminish punitive responses, through in-home role modeling and coaching sessions.
  • Supports mothers with community based mentors, links to jobs, education, day care and other services, and a social network.
  • Serves about 50 families a year.

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