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A good start in life

Megan Nickerson, a Cynthiana native and mother of a 6-year-old girl, heads to a home visit with one of the clients she counsels for HANDS, a program for expectant and new parents. Megan does home visits with 17 clients to help them learn about safe and healthy environments for child development. She earned her bachelor's degree in social work from Northern Kentucky University.

As a young social worker and single mom, Megan Nickerson can appreciate the lives of the clients she counsels for the state's HANDS program in Harrison County.

It's her job to teach expectant and new parents how to create a healthy, safe home environment for young children. Not long ago, she was a client of HANDS, which stands for Health Access Nurturing Development Services. It is a state program administered through local health departments in Kentucky.

“I truly believe HANDS made me into a better, more educated mom," Megan says.

A native of Cynthiana, Megan was in college when her daughter, Jerah Nickerson, was born in 2013. She earned her bachelor's degree in social work at Northern Kentucky University in 2015.

Today she has 17 HANDS clients and does home visits with them, each lasting 30 minutes to an hour.

"Everyone needs some hands in their life.”  Megan says.

HANDS gave her invaluable, science-based parenting education and training, she says. Particularly, she credited HANDS for convincing her of the benefits of breastfeeding and giving her the strength to finish her college degree on time as a single mom. She also had support from her family to finish while raising a young child.

The goal of HANDS is to motivate stressed clients -- often low-income, single parents -- to develop skills that  nurture their infants and young children for early learning and healthy growth.

In addition, Megan makes hand-crafted artwork for the families she counsels. For example, every year around Halloween she uses ink to create hand and foot prints of the children on orange paper. The children often are fascinated by their colorful new ‘toys." Many families  treasure the crafts as their child’s annual growth marks.

Megan says she has "lived, breathed and loved every second" of her HANDS work.

Right after settling down in the Moore family's living room, Megan greets Dawson Moore, 11 months, sitting on the lap of mother Ashley Moore. Two-year-old Raelynn Moore sits on the couch next to her mom.
Megan began working with HANDS, which stands for Health Access Nurturing Development Services, after being enrolled in the program herself during college.
Megan shows Raelynn a picture book as part of an exercise to test her stage of development.
Raelynn passes her tests with flying colors and gets a reward lift from Megan.
Megan Nickerson, a social worker who helps expectant and new parents through a state program called HANDS, feeds 2-month-old Kingsleigh Whitaker. Part of her work includes teaching parents about the importance of the relationship between a parent and child.
Two-month-old Kingsleigh Whitaker fiddles with Megan's fingers while sucking on a bottle. It was a sign the baby girl was "feeling comfortable and safe," Megan said.
In the waiting room of a dental office, Megan's daughter, Jerah Nickerson, 6, is worried about her upcoming procedure and trying to convince Megan to spare her the dentist's chair.
Megan's mother, Lisa Nickerson, a Cynthiana firefighter, hugs her daughter at a gas station across the street from the fire station. Lisa became the city's first female firefighter 18 years ago.
Exposing children to art is an important compoent of the HANDS program, so Megan makes crafts for her clients. For Halloween, she puts hand and foot prints of the children on holiday-themed paper and brings it to their homes.