For many women, being pregnant and facing the prospect of becoming a first-time mother can be an exciting, but also very anxious-ridden time.
And for those who might lack family support or other resources needed to properly care for themselves and their child, it can seem that much more daunting.
That's where the Nurse-Family Partnership comes in.
Susquehanna Health registered nurse Cindy Kiess, left, visits with Tonisha McCrae, right, and son Ky’heeim, 2 months, at McCrae’s home in Williamsport.
The free, voluntary program matches nurses with first-time, low income mothers to help them prepare for birth and gain the skills necessary for successful rearing in the child's early years.
"The goal of the program is to have a good outcome of pregnancy," said Cindy Kiess, a Susquehanna Health registered nurse.
The health system adapted the Nurse Family Partnership 13 years ago.
The program now serves 125 families in Lycoming County and another 25 in Clinton County.
Most recently, the program received a $4,924 grant from Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania's Blue Ribbon Foundation.
"It's made a difference," said Julian Gombosi, Nurse Family Partnership program supervisor.
Nurses work with women, many of whom are referred to the program through public service agencies such as WIC or health care providers.
They receive support from the 28th week of pregnancy to the child's second birthday.
Kiess said she does physical assessments of clients and their children and helps mothers find resources to be successful.
Tonisha McCrae, of Williamsport gave birth two months ago to a baby boy, Ky'heeim while working with Kiess.
A single mother, she conceded she was frightened by the prospect of being pregnant and raising a child.
"They gave me a lot of information about things I didn't know," she said of the program.
At least once a week, Kiess has visited McCrae to advise her not only on the child-rearing process and life skills, but with her future.
She encouraged McCrae to pursue higher education as a means of improving herself and making a better life for her child.
McCrae is now studying to become a licensed practical nurse at Pennsylvania College of Technology, where her grade point average is a solid 3.2.
"I think she made my job pretty easy," Kiess said.
Blue Ribbon Foundation Director Cindy Yevich said her agency awarded the Nurse Family Partnership one of its grants because the program has proven to be successful.
"The Nurse Family Partnership is actually a national research-based program," she said.
The grant itself will pay for various child development tools, Gombosi said.
Kiess said the first few years of life are crucial in a child's development.
The development skills that Nurse Family Partnership nurses help impart to first-time mothers are the key to the program, whether it's learning to tap necessary resources or to realizing the importance of reading to a child.