Lisa Sledge's first client, in 2011, was a 19-year-old, married Burmese woman referred to Nurse-Family Partnership by a Southside high school. Lisa immediately decided an honest approach was best, "Forgive my ignorance," she said, "but I don't know much about your culture."
The new nurse home visitor was eager to learn. She sought out resources at the public library and later through the Chin Center. Word about Lisa's respect for its diverse culture spread in the close-knit Burmese community and led to more referrals. "It's a passion that started growing," she says. "We learn from each other."
Lisa especially admires the Burmese people's selflessness. "When they rise up, they pull the next one up behind them," she says, gesturing widely to illustrate the point. "It's all about community and growing each other."
All low-income moms face challenges, Lisa notes, but the additional burdens of adjusting to a new culture and learning its language can overwhelm her Burmese clients. For example, she and other NFP nurses have accompanied the moms on Indianapolis's bus routes until the moms felt comfortable riding alone. NFP Indiana has begun to produce its facilitators, printed resources, in one of the main Burmese languages.
While Lisa's Burmese moms have a special place in her heart, her clients include Pakistani, Indian, Nigerian, African American, Hispanic and Caucasian women. With each of them, she focuses on the importance of attention and play. "Research has shown this will develop the children's brains as much as good nutrition," she says. "I tell my moms, 'You need to learn to enjoy your time with your baby or toddler. You are their first teacher, and you do have something to teach them."
Lisa, now a mother of four, knows firsthand that her moms sometimes don't believe they have much to offer. "I myself was that socioeconomically low teen mom," she says. As the middle of eight children and a mother at 17, her path might have been much different had an older couple not stepped in to mentor her. He was a high-ranking business executive; his wife, a nurse who "taught me how to play with my son," Lisa says fondly. Her mentors attended her high school graduation and college orientation. "God brought the right people into my life," she says.
Lisa's love of teaching extends to the classroom, as a clinical instructor at IUPUI and to the St. Vincent pediatric residents who shadow her on home visits. She is working on a master's degree in education and intends to pursue a doctoral degree. Her long-term goal—"and it's long, long, long," she says, smiling—is to become a college professor.