The Power of Good Role Models


Native American Health Center, Inc. Success Story PhotoCheyenne Gould learned about the Strong Families home visiting program when she was pregnant with her first child. During one of her prenatal visits at the Native American Health Center in Oakland, California, she was introduced to Shamika Dokes-Brown. When the home visitor told her about all the services and community events the program offered, she decided to give it a try.

Cheyenne is grateful for the 5 years she and her family participated in the program. “I liked the program’s constant reminder of my culture,” she said. “Living in the city, I feel a lot of the culture has been washed away. And I liked the way Shamika and other home visitors talked to me. I never felt judged about my parenting skills. When I had a problem going on, it was met with understanding and support.”

Strong Families provides home visiting to pregnant and parenting families with Native American children in Alameda County. The program is sponsored by the Native American Health Center and funded by a grant from the Tribal Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

Before Shamika joined the staff of Strong Families, she worked in perinatal care, a job she loved. After attending a meeting about Family Spirit, the home visiting model used by Strong Families, she was hooked on the approach. “I immediately fell in love with the curriculum,” said Shamika. “And I was excited about the idea of being able to bring this into families’ homes. Later, when they posted a position for home visitor, it felt like the skills and qualifications were tailored for me.”

In June 2018, a new chapter began in Cheyenne’s and Shamika’s relationship. “I’d been trying to get back into the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom,” said Cheyenne. “I wanted to do something to better our lives. So, I thought, why not the Native American Health Center? When I saw they were hiring for a home visitor, I got really excited. I wondered if it might be weird since I’d been a participant, but I got a lot of support to apply.”

By that time, Shamika had been promoted to program director. “Hiring a home visitor is a huge investment,” she said. “There is a lot of intensive training that has to be done, and the truth is, not everybody is cut out to be a home visitor. What stood out about Cheyenne was more than being an amazing mother and wife. She’s also rooted in the community, and she understands what it means to be a role model as a mom and as a strong Native woman.”

Cheyenne recently celebrated her first anniversary as a home visitor. Both women value the deep sense of teamwork among the six staff members of Strong Families. This includes an in-person “checkout” at the end of each day, when staff debrief and share ideas. “If there is something that a home visitor isn’t certain how to do, we want them to reach out for support, ask the questions, and keep the lines of communication open,” said Shamika. “You don’t have to do things alone. Superheroes don’t work alone, they work together.”

The team has high hopes for the future of Strong Families. Sustaining and growing the program is the number-one goal. Continuing to hire program participants as home visitors is another. They want to do more to welcome and involve fathers. Creating a much-needed childcare
center is also on their wish list.

In many ways, Shamika mirrors the support that home visitors offer families. She encourages her staff to grow and pursue their dreams—even if it means leaving Strong Families someday. “They all have their own gifts and strengths,” she said. “I want them to continue to build their skill sets and not limit themselves. Whatever direction their hearts lead them in, I want to be part of supporting them to reach that level.”

* * * * *

More information about the Strong Families program at the Native American Health Center, or contact Shamika Dokes-Brown via email or at 501-434-5321.

ACF’s Tribal MIECHV Program provides grants to tribal entities to develop, implement, and evaluate home visiting programs in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities. The grants are intended to help develop and strengthen tribal capacity to support and promote the health and well-being of AIAN families, expand the evidence base around home visiting in tribal communities, and support and strengthen cooperation and linkages between programs that serve tribal children and their families. Learn more about the program and grantees.

November 25, 2019
Last Reviewed: February 18, 2020