Meet Spark Grant Winner Payal Tello

The recipients of this year’s Spark Grants are mothers, art makers, multidisciplinary performance artists. In each of their respective spheres, they seek to shine a light on the cultural impact of Black women’s labor, to investigate the lived spaces of the city we inhabit, and to provide much-needed support for mamas-to-be in marginalized communities.

This week, we’ll be introducing you to each of our grant winners, letting them shed a bit more light on what they do in their own words.

For our final interview, we introduce you to Payal Tello.

Tello is the executive director of TwinMommy101. Her work seeks to address public health disparities among vulnerable and marginalized populations. She also works to advocate for the positive social, emotional, and cognitive development of children during infancy, and will be using her Spark Grant to create a 20-week program that supports those efforts.

DWF Mag: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do?

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Payal Tello: My name is Payal (pronounced ‘pile’) Tello, and I am a native of Atlanta, Georgia. I have a background in psychology, sociology, and education. I am the executive director of TwinMommy101, where we work with perinatal families in the Atlanta area. The focus of our work is to support them as they learn how to “adult” with a new baby, and we achieve this through providing infant mental health advocacy services.

My interest has always been in advocating for at-risk and underserved youth. The goal of my work is to shift efforts that serve abused and neglected youth away from a crisis/intervention approach and toward prevention-based efforts, which of course means working with birthing parents and their families before baby is born.

 From being one of a few AAPI children within my predominantly white community growing up, to being an educator at a predominantly minority high school, to becoming a mother of biracial twin girls in 2013, life has offered me unique exposure to the disparities and inequities that are systematically built into our society. I have acquired an abundance of first-hand experiences that have shown me how the lack of access to necessary resources can impact one's resilience and ability to fully overcome crisis and break cycles. This lack can also significantly deplete the capacity and/or ability to parent your children the way you want to parent them, which also interferes with reproductive rights, which is why what I do is so important!

DWF Mag:You'll be using the funds to create a 20-week program that focuses on improving birth, parenting, and childhood experiences in underserved communities. What will this 20-week program include?

Tello: My project consists of a 20-week program focused on improving birth, parenting, and childhood experiences within underserved and marginalized communities. This evidence-based program will serve birthing parents during their third trimester by engaging them in small group classes and personalized consultations. This program will also create a bridge in the continuum of perinatal support by concluding with an in-home visit during the first month of the postpartum period.

 The curriculum I have developed will empower participants with conscious parenting practices. It places an emphasis on sensitive and appropriate caregiving, and an infant’s developmental need for touch and proximity.

The goal of this program is to promote healthy relationships and experiences by reducing trauma and stress within the parent-baby dyad.

 DWF Mag: What impact are you hoping this program will have on the families you serve?

 This program will be the first (of many) in my data collection efforts on the importance of a child’s early life interactions, and how it can impact their development and the family unit as a whole.

This program will teach participants how to optimally support their baby’s cognitive, social, and emotional development while still being able to meet their own daily demands and personal needs. While this program will not directly resolve all the issues in one’s life, it will provide a safe space for birthing folx to grow as individuals, parents, and a community.

DWF Mag: How will you measure the success of the program?

Tello: The outcomes of this project will be measured through various data collection efforts. The intentions of the research are to produce evidence that supports the benefits of conscious parenting practices. By measuring the most effective ways to shift outlooks of the roles of parents, and their responsibilities, we are able to implement abuse and neglect prevention for baby through non-clinical intervention for the birthing parent. This concept is invaluable because not only does research indicate that child abuse and neglect is intergenerational, but over 40 potential negative life outcomes have been associated with it.

DWF Mag: Why is this mission something that's so important to you?

Tello: One of my biggest fears is that my daughters, their peers, endless children in the future will have to endure the same experiences I have. Our society's emotional/mental health continues to neglectfully deteriorate, and without stable and healthy support systems, future generations will continue to live in high levels of chronic and traumatic stress. This would cause the perpetuation of negative cycles to continue, because it further normalizes the development and internalization of processes that decrease quality of life and well-being. I want to help break the cycles for others like I am doing for my daughters, especially because it wasn't until 3 years ago that I even realized I was caught in one!

Beth Ward