“It’s one thing to share prenatal information, and it’s another to have access to resources and make parenting accessible,” said Michelle Ramirez, who delivered her baby on Dec. 6.
“It is very traumatic, as a Latina, to be surrounded by terrible stories that women around me experienced during pregnancy. Especially being a Black or Brown woman. I just thought I have the power to make it as best as possible,” said Ramirez, a family engagement specialist who works for All Our Kids Network (AOK) and was recently connected to Kids Above All (KAA) as a resource to aid her pregnancy journey. The 28-year-old Mexican-Salvadoran took it upon herself to find a bilingual Doula accessible for her and her husband.
Kids Above All stands out among other programs in the area due to their active interest in serving the Latino community by breaking language barrier accessibility and servicing Latino communities in Spanish. The non-profit provides Early Childhood Education Programs to help kids in under-resourced communities in Chicago, suburban Cook County, Kane County, and Lake County.
Success in childhood starts even before birth; that’s why, as part of their early childhood programs, KAA includes doula services through their Power Empowerment Programs (PEP), which are accessible to all under-resourced communities in the Chicago area. Although Ramirez is bilingual, her husband is Mexican and doesn’t speak English fluently yet. However, this wasn’t a problem when Ramirez requested a Spanish-speaking doula.
“Kids Above All has done a really good job of making sure that when we go into the communities, we have staff that is going to be helpful and that can speak to and provide information and support directly to these families without the language barrier,” explained Andrew Dohan, Director of Marketing, Communications & IT at Kids Above All. “Having staff that reflects the populations that we serve gives greater outcomes for us and for our families,” he added.
According to a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association study, Latinas with private insurance plans have a 22% higher rate of severe pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic white women, and low-income Hispanic women on Medicaid have a 28% higher rate of complications than white women. The disparity between resources available to minorities in many neighborhoods continues to be an issue for Latina women who seek resources during pregnancy. However, programs like Kids Above All aim to make a difference. Dohan explained that 68% of the clients who benefit from doula services are Latinos, and “just about 58% of the children that benefit from the PEP programs are also Latinos.” Some of these disparities include less education, lower socioeconomic status, less access to medical care, lack of insurance, and lower use of prenatal care. In addition, the proximity to medical services and local doctors is a problem in many neighborhoods of lower-income households.
On Nov. 9, Kid’s Above All had its Annual Gala, where the organization raised over $500,000. The funds were contributed by people within the community who share the organization’s mission of making a difference in the lives of individuals and families in under-resourced communities across the area.” Private, national companies have a direct impact at a local level through in-kind donations and philanthropic efforts like a holiday gift drive. Aside from annual gala revenue and private contributions, Kid’s Above All is 70% funded by the public sector during the year.
Noel Norris, Associate Director of Early Child Programming Doula Services (the department that oversees the PEP program and doula service), specified that the non-profit receives local funding through the City of Chicago from DFSS Department of Family Support Services, from MIECHV, which is the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Federal Grant, and through state funding from the Illinois State Board of Education.
To be eligible for the program, applicants must meet the following criteria:
- Reside in Kane County, Lake County, or Suburban Cook County
- Be Pregnant or have a newborn under six weeks old
- Have a monthly income at or below 185% of the federal poverty level (FPL) *This essentially means that the total salary of a family household can’t surpass $77,000 a year.
Currently, doula services eligibility is specific to the counties mentioned above and not in the city of Downtown Chicago due to funding allocation per region. However, it is essential to note that the Parent Empowerment Program (PEP) is an amplified program that services communities within the city of Chicago for free, making it possible for other neighborhoods within the city that have a high density of Latinos, such as Little Village, Humboldt Park to also have access to these educational resources.
Although Doula services are currently restricted to those who reside in Kane County, Lake County, or Suburban Cook County, the PEP program in Chicago does include post-partum services such as lactation consultancy (with services also available in Spanish) and home visiting programs to aid on parenthood education, mental health resources, and mindfulness awareness.
“One of the main things we figured out, especially in our early childhood programs, [is that] word of mouth is huge in the Latino community,” said Dohan. A key factor in linking community and impact effectively is creating a sense of roots within the Latino community. Therefore, providing clients with tools and information in their mother tongue makes Kids Above All an accessible resource.
Kid’s Above All gets referrals from local hospitals to help those in need. However, a referral is not required to be a recipient of the program, and those interested are encouraged to email or request help through their local centers. Kid’s Above All has centers throughout Chicago that are tailored to enrich parents’ experience through parenthood and enlighten a child’s future.
For more information about resources and how to access them, visit Kids Above All or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover Photo by Jonathan Borba
Doris Alvarez is a graduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Former anchor producer for NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. She is now transitioning from broadcast news to print and digital writing. Doris has a passion for covering women’s health, lifestyle, and cultural issues.
IL Latino News partners with the Medill School of Journalism in providing students with mentoring and real work experiences.