The Motley Fool is teaming up with Nurse-Family Partnership as part of our annual Foolanthropy campaign. Nurse-Family Partnership sends nurses to teach poor mothers good health practices and responsible child care, and helps them find work and plan their economic future. Click here to make a contribution right now, or keep reading to learn more about this outstanding charity.

Nurse-Family Partnership is featured in the new book A Path Appears, written by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book is also the subject of an upcoming four-hour series that will air on PBS.

Below are seven questions we asked the best-selling authors about Nurse-Family Partnership and their book and documentary film.

1. How did you first learn about Nurse-Family Partnership?

We have known about the Nurse-Family Partnership for a number of years. When we were researching the importance of early childhood education for A Path Appears, the work of the Nurse-Family Partnership simply jumped out at us. Its results underscore how early parents need to start with their children in order to encourage the flourishing of the brain.

2. What are some lessons that we can learn from Nurse-Family Partnership?

No one gets a license to become a parent. Almost no one gets parental education. And yet, raising children to be wonderful, productive and engaged citizens is an important challenge in our society. Being poorly educated in parenting or completely unknowledgeable in how to be a parent can actually do harm to a child.

The Nurse-Family Partnership is basically giving parenting lessons to first-time, under-educated mothers. It has shown that educating the parent is critically important to educating a child and more importantly, that the process should start when the baby is in utero, not only after birth. The lessons that NFP gives to some of the new mothers can be life-saving. We describe in A Path Appears how Stacy gives some advice to Bonnie, a smoking, drinking, fist-fighting and pregnant 17-year-old. Bonnie cried and protested, but in the end, she came around, and she did well by her baby during its most critical time in the development of its brain, and her child succeeded beyond expectations.

3. What types of social welfare programs are most successful?

I don't know that anyone has actually done a ranking of the effectiveness of social welfare programs. In general, programs, such as the Nurse-Family Partnership, which focus on the early days of life, or on childhood education have been shown to have the biggest bang for the buck in breaking the cycle of poverty and putting children on a path toward success.

If programs start early, these kids can continue their education and climb the ladder of education out of poverty. If you miss those years, as we explain in A Path Appears, your brain cannot get those years of transformative development back! You have missed that window. Early childhood education programs not only aid the healthy intellectual development of children, they also save money by keeping children out of a life of crime, drugs or violence and very importantly, out of jail. Early childhood education programs also need to be supplemented by other programs to train the parents, and address other concerns that impede family life, whether it is violence in the home, unemployment or lack of food.

4. You highlight Nurse-Family Partnership in your new book A Path Appears. How does NFP fit into the overall theme of the book?

A Path Appears focuses on how to make a difference in the world, whether you are a group, an individual, a company or an institution. It also focuses on the use of evidence-based strategies -- not faith or morality -- to determine what works and what doesn't work. NFP has used a great deal of research and developed a body of evidence to demonstrate how successful its programs are. NFP's strength grows from evidence, and that's an approach we applaud in A Path Appears.

5. How important is early childhood development in combating poverty?

As mentioned above, education is a ladder out of poverty, and if you can catch an impoverished baby and envelop the baby with hugs, kisses, talking and reading, then you give that baby a fighting chance to climb out of poverty. By reaching out early with these childrearing tips, you allow his or her brain to develop during the period of greatest potential brain growth in humans. With such intellectual development, that child can learn how to read, write, do math and begin to chart his or her own path out of poverty. Without that early (and normal) development, that child is more likely to remain trapped in that cycle of poverty.

6. Can you tell us more about A Path Appears – both the book and documentary film?

A Path Appears is a lively narrative that introduces you to people who are making a difference in the world. These ordinary people use innovation, evidence and research, and downright pluck to bring about change. And we are not talking just about working through charities. There is a bubbling world of start-ups that are finding ways to address social change and make money. Indeed, we argue that market-based approaches can be extremely effective, and self-generating.

The three-part documentary series, A Path Appears, which premieres on PBS Monday January 26 at 10pm ET, follows the path of women who are raising children or who lived through rape, forced prostitution and hardscrabble lives, and examines how they are becoming change agents. As in the book, there are heroines and heroes who are mobilizing other people to restructure lives that are entangled in an evil web of poverty.

7. In what ways can ordinary people become more active in supporting organizations that are featured in your book?

We describe many ordinary people who simply decided one day that they wanted to go a bit farther to make a difference. What's remarkable is that their ordinary world was then transformed into something extraordinary, and so were their lives. And more importantly, you don't have to give up everything in your current life to join the endeavor. You can join a book club and turn it into a volunteer or giving club. Bringing friends along with you is a great way to have fun while learning about an issue, researching a topic, an organization or a social pursuit. In the appendix of A Path Appears, we have pages of organizations you can choose from depending upon what areas interest you. And the book has numerous examples of what ordinary people have done. To learn more or pick up a copy of the book, just visit our site.

Here's how YOU can get involved

  • Click here to learn more about or contribute to Nurse-Family Partnership.
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