She often thinks of the young woman she met with twin babies and a two-year-old. The woman walked everywhere she went because she had no vehicle. She was in an abusive relationship. She had no money to support herself or her children. Her future looked bleak.
As the North Arkansas Partnership for Health Education (NAPHE) Circle of Life Program Coordinator, Tougaw inserted herself into the woman’s life. She helped her obtain her drivers’ license, find a new place to live, earn her Certified Nursing Assistant certificate and get a vehicle.
“She has come a long way,” Tougaw said of the client. “She has graduated from our program and is doing well. It’s great to be a part of that.”
It is that kind of dedication that earned Tougaw this year’s Arkansas Home Visiting Network’s Home Visiting Professional of the Year Award, which honors professionals who go above and beyond for their clients and programs.
“I was so surprised,” she said of the award. “There were people nominated that had years of experience, so I thought they would win. It is so exciting and humbling.”
NAPHE Executive Director Sherri Hinrichs said she isn’t surprised Tougaw won the award.
“From day one, Deena has always wanted the program to deliver services that are over and above what the grant minimums require,” she said. “She has never been shy about rolling up her sleeves to make sure all of her client’s needs are met, and so she established several community-based components to our program which allow local partners to provide many different types of client support not covered by the grant. Deena’s work comes from her heart and she is passionate about giving the clients enrolled in Circle of Life, the education, community resources, and other supportive services that will help them engage in successful parenting to build stronger families and brighter futures.”
Going above and beyond is a daily part of the job for Tougaw. It is not unusual to find Tougaw helping others at all times of the day or night.
“There was one client who was in a very violent relationship,” she said. “I kept telling her to call me, and I could help her. Finally, one day she called and said she could be in that relationship anymore. We went there and loaded up all of her belongings in our cars. We found her a new place to live. She has never looked back. She is in school now and has her own car.”
Tougaw said NAPHE’s Circle of Life program empowers pregnant and parenting teens to provide a healthy environment for their children as well as develop personal, educational and vocations skills for a more productive life. Tougaw said the program currently is serving 40 families in Boone and Carroll counties and will soon expand into Newton County.
Tougaw is especially proud of the community support for the program. Each year, Circle of Life partners with the Junior Auxiliary of Harrison and hosts an Adopt-A-Family Christmas event. The Circle of Life team also created a community carnival with representatives from local companies and organizations that were helpful for young mothers.
Tougaw said one project she would like to take on next year is finding funds to send Circle of Life clients and their children to a zoo.
Tougaw said although she majored in political science and journalism, she can’t image doing anything else but social work.
“It is a very busy job, but it’s very rewarding,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t have success, and the clients go back to making bad choices. But there are times that we have good outcomes. You have to focus on the good outcomes to get through, and you have to take the time to breathe when it doesn’t turn out so well.”