In the winter of 2004, Laura Peterson took a leap of faith, quit her real job, and created Hands to Hearts International (HHI) in response to the crisis of orphaned children worldwide. Over 10 years of experience in child development gave Laura a rich background and deep knowledge base to apply to serving needy children: she served on State Advisory Boards on issues of youth development and foster care, chaired her own county’s Advisory Board on Mental Health for four years, designed new programs for women and children within the agencies where she worked, was a wilderness therapist for troubled teens, and also was a clinical and administrative supervisor for a non-profit serving children who were emotionally disturbed. During this time, she saw the common thread of the most severe child mental health problems: Attachment Disorder, simply put as when children do not learn to love and be loved.

From 2004 to 2005, Laura researched, advocated, and volunteered an immeasurable amount of work to design HHI’s solution: nurturing children and empowering women. She designed HHI to deliver a simple and replicable model for social change, which now goes viral in some of the most remote corners of the world.  This is achieved by training local leaders, at the community level, who often lack opportunities for employment and education, and then mobilizing them to conduct HHI trainings for mothers and other caregivers.  Participants learn to create the foundation for healthy development and a lifetime of benefits, enabling their child to grow to be a positive and active member of their family, community and society.

In February 2006, HHI launched its first on-the-ground work,  in partnership with an orphanage run by Madras Social Service Guild (MASOS) in the tsunami affected area of South India. Women came from 500 km away just to participate, HHI’s training was wildly popular and immediate changes in caregivers’ attitudes and actions were apparent.   Soon other orphanages took HHI trainings and the impacts went far beyond early expectations.  One orphanage director reported, “No babies have died since [HHI]”.  Additionally: child illness rates went down, children showed increased weight gain and were easier to soothe, caregivers took greater pride and demonstrated more confidence in their work and were seen to be more nurturing and responsive to the babies. These results focused HHI’s strategy and catalyzed the expansion its training program. By May of 2007, HHI’s results were so remarkable that HHI was requested to train teachers in the world’s largest early childhood development program – India’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).

HHI Executive Director Tells the Story of How HHI Was Started

HHI accrued great experiential knowledge during its first two years of operations in India. In 2007, HHI collaborated with early childhood development experts from Portland State University to integrate all of our lessons learned, as well as remodel our curriculum to empower caregivers with the tools of their own cultures. This included weaving the promotion of healthy child development into simple daily interactions, regardless of resources or a lack thereof.

In 2014, HHI merged with Thrive Networks, with the intention to apply HHI’s model to strengthen and streamline their own child health programs. However, due to a variety of circumstances, this partnership did not succeed.

In 2016, HHI was transitioned to a completely FREE, open-sourced Early Childhood Development training program, designed specifically for the low-resource communities to use around the world. It is our hope that by making all of our materials free to all, that HHI will continue to touch the most children, at the earliest time, with the simplest, most cost effective form of care possible.

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