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Not this time around

Her parents finished school at eighth grade and were married by age 16. She and eight siblings shared a home without running water or a bathroom.

Then, at 16, just like her parents, Lisa Lawson-Bono married her first husband. But Lisa was determined to break the cycle.

"When I got pregnant, of course everyone was like, 'You're just doomed. You're doomed for a life of poverty,'" she says. "And I was like, 'No. No I'm not.'"

Initially, Lisa and her family lived with her husband's parents. Soon they started "climbing up that ladder," as she puts it. They moved to a trailer, then a house and finally they built a house of their own.

She wasn't just improving her family situation; Lisa was improving herself. When her second child entered first  grade, Lisa enrolled in a nursing program. By age 35, she had a nursing degree.

Finally, with some stability, Lisa worked as a labor and delivery nurse for a couple of years. Looking at newborn babies reminded her of her children, and she wondered what kind of lives those babies would have when they got home.

One day a coworker told her about an open job at the health department with Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) that trains young and often poor couples to be better parents.

This year marks her 16th year with HANDS, where she is now the program manager. "We're there to help them figure what they want to do and how to get there," she says.

"Because I've been that mother, I know where they're coming from," she says. "If these girls will listen to me, they can do the same thing."

One client is Hailey Daugherty, 27, a mother of four, the youngest of which is 8 months old. "HANDS has helped me build a better relationship with my child," she says.

The program is available for families until a child is 3. Infant mortality is 74 percent less likely, compared to the state average, if a family is enrolled in HANDS, according to the Kentucky Department of Public Health.

However, one of the biggest issues with the program is a lack of awareness. Most families learn about the program only through word-of-mouth.

It is the "best kept secret in the state," Lisa says. "We all have that hope and dream for our children, that life will be different for them than it was for us. Having one person in their lives can change that for them. I like to be that one person."

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