By Princess Safiya Byers Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Feb 21, 2022 at 5:01 PM Photography: Jessica Namaste

Blanca Rivera-Esteves initially joined HIPPY to help her son prepare to start school.

But she loved the program so much that she applied for a job.

“HIPPY gave me confidence as a parent,” she said. “I wanted to be able to give that to other parents.”

She now works with a team to empower other parents of kids from ages 2 to 4 by providing them the tools, skills and confidence to work with their children at home.

Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, or HIPPY, is a free program that works with families in the home to support parents in their critical role as their child’s first and most important teacher. It is delivered via a partnership with COA’s Burke Early Education Center.

The program provides parents across Milwaukee with a "parent partner" who comes to their homes weekly to coach them on the HIPPY curriculum and to deliver resources.

“We work around the parent’s schedule,” Rivera-Esteves said. “Then we meet them at home and spend 45 minutes to an hour going over the curriculum and modeling for parents what doing these activities with their children could look like.”

She said that while a home visit is most usual, HIPPY tries to meet parents where they are, including in a coffee shop or even at their job for their lunch break.

Giving parents the tools they need

Jessica Namaste, the program director, said the HIPPY model helps children develop a love for learning, and it helps parents prioritize positive frequent engagement with their children.

“Every parent wants the best for their children but not every parent has the tools to do it,” Namaste said. “This gives them the tools to advocate for their children and to create a better connection with them.”

The program has 838 parents and children enrolled this year. They come from different parts of the city, different cultures and have different family structures.

“HIPPY is more than teaching kids,” said Namaste. “Sometimes it’s opening parents up to just having fun with their children because they were never taught to do that.”

Parent-partners say they learn as much from the families as they teach them.

“Some days my job feels like I’m visiting other countries because of the different cultures and traditions I get to be a part of,” Rivera-Esteves said. “So sometimes while I’m teaching them, I’m learning new things that I can do at home or that I can share with other families I work with.”

While HIPPY Milwaukee follows the National HIPPY USA model, it has been able to add, change and adapt its programming for the specific needs of Milwaukeeans.

For example, it added a summer program, which staff implements in the parks for free. It also offers mental health consultations for families in need and, most recently, it created and filled the position of a HIPPY resource specialist.

The partnership between HIPPY and COA’s Burke Early Education Center delivers HIPPY programming to children in the Amani neighborhood.

“HIPPY is therapeutic and reassuring for families,” said Taisha Schindel, the HIPPY resource specialist. “So we realize that people can’t be the best parent if they are stressed and worrying.”

Schindel, who has been with HIPPY since 2017, said that helping families create a better family structure is one of the best parts of the work.

“Seeing parents happy when they see their child’s progress is an amazing experience,” she said. “But watching a parent and the child grow together just makes you so happy.”

In her new role, she is seeing the children grow firsthand.

“We had a 2-year-old that we thought didn’t speak, but after going in and reading with them for a few weeks, he’s following along and participating now,” she said. “Not just educational changes but I see kids communicating more and having fewer tantrums.”

For more information

The program enrolls participants every year. If you are interested, you can look here.

Other ways to be involved

You can donate books and art supplies to the program for children and families.

You can volunteer at HIPPY’s monthly family-gathering nights.