Notoya Scott shook the baby so hard its brain rattled.
"It doesn't take much to hurt a baby's brain," Scott said. "Just a playful toss in the air can be damaging."
The baby Scott was holding wasn't real. The top of the skull on the life-like doll allows spectators to see the brain and how it is affected by certain treatment.
The audience on this day was Valeka Walker, a pregnant 19-year-old Columbus woman.
Walker, 36 weeks along in her pregnancy, is a client in the Columbus Nurse-Family Partnership program. She attended Northside High School but got her degree from Hallie Turner Private School. She hopes to someday be a mortician.
"I wanted to make sure my baby got the best treatment possible. That's why I joined the program," Walker said. She learned about the nonprofit, federally funded organization from a notice in her doctor's office and called 706-653-4200.
The program falls under the umbrella of Great Start Columbus, a system of community-based services, organizations and individuals linked by their common focus on pregnant women, children up to 5 years of age and their families.
In the Nurse-Family Partnership program, a nurse makes regular home visits during the client's pregnancy and then until the child reaches the age of 2.
Goals of the program include helping women improve pregnancy outcomes by having them engage in good preventive health practices and improving child health and development by helping parents provide responsible and competent care for their children.
"I have learned so much about my body during pregnancy and also about how to care for a baby," Walker said.
She keeps a journal with notes.
Carla Hightower, a registered nurse certified in inpatient obstetrics, works with Walker. Scott, the nurse supervisor, said there are currently 46 clients, all of whom are low-income, first-time mothers. There is no age limit, but those applying need to be less than 28 weeks along in their pregnancy.
"Valeka can ask me any questions she might have," Hightower said. "The answers are not just what I think but are all research based."
Hightower said the Nurse-Family Partnership also acts as a referral service and can help clients connect with other community services to get help with school or a job.
As part of the program, the expectant mother gets a free portable crib. Last week, Hightower and Scott taught Walker how to assemble hers. As they did, they explained how to care for the baby who will be sleeping in it.
"The baby should always be on its back," Hightower told her.
"Never give the baby a pillow," Scott added.
The young women get information about everything from domestic violence to lactation to baby proofing the house.
"In a sense, we are a life coach," Hightower said.
The clients are taught what to look for to make sure the baby is growing properly and doing things at the appropriate age. A nurse also will monitor that growth. A client's entire family is invited to join the process.
Scott said the younger the client, the more questions.
"Those 14 or 15 years old will text you like crazy," Scott said. "They will get a cramp in their side and wonder if they should go to the hospital. They will get a bloody nose and ask if that is common during pregnancy."
Every three months, the clients meet for a party at the Columbus Library. Some have met a fellow office worker or relative whom they did not realize is also in the program.
"You know, you do some baby sitting, have some friends with babies and you think you know a lot about having a baby but then you get into a program like this and realize you don't really know much," Walker said.
She said she was "shocked" by how much she did not know.
Walker described herself as a shy person but feels a strong bond toward Hightower and thinks she can tell her nurse anything.