It Takes a Village

MomsFirst has been working to engage communities across Cleveland in acts of service to make an impact on reducing infant mortality. Community members of all ages are taking on the task with enthusiasm! For mother’s day, a group of first graders at Paul L. Dunbar School wrote encouraging letters to moms-to-be. The children were excited to use their creativity to make an expectant mom smile for Mother’s Day. MomsFirst appreciates their hard work and act of kindness. We would also like to thank their teacher, Mrs. Tracy Reese of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, for partnering with us to make a difference in our community.

 

In addition, community members are volunteering their time to make sure more moms in Cleveland feel supported during pregnancy. The increase of support from the community is one way to help reduce stress and improve pregnancy outcomes. A volunteer from the community wrote 5 letters to encourage expectant mothers in the MomsFirst program. With the support of Cleveland residents, we are able to move our community engagement work forward as we strive towards collective impact.

We are so appreciative of the support from the community, and so are our participants!

For more information on how to get involved, please visit: http://momsfirst.org/for-advocates/

 

 

 

MomsFirst Celebrates 1 Year of Partnership with Cleveland Kids' Book Bank

Reading to a child and having books in the home are key indicators of future academic success but two-thirds of low income families do not own a single children’s book. Through a partnership with the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, which is now one year strong, MomsFirst participants are able to have access to books free of cost. Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank works to foster improved literacy and a love of reading by providing gently used books to children in need. In 2016, MomsFirst distributed 9,508 books from Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank to its 1700+ participants and families. MomsFirst participants are appreciative of the partnership. “I am currently a client in the MomsFirst program. I really like the new book program that my worker brings out for my daughters. My kids love reading every night before bedtime”, said one participant.

Understanding early brain development is an important public health topic for community health education. According to research, reading aloud from birth for at least 15 minutes daily is the best way to prepare a child for school. While early literacy may not be early reading instruction or teaching babies to read, the natural skills developed through the positive interactions between babies and parents help babies learn language through social experiences and positively impacts success in school. Kindergarten readiness begins at birth.

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MomsFirst Community Health Worker, Kristen Knudsen of Merrick House, remembers being read to every night by her mother. “Every night no matter what she would read to me. I hated school.  I had no interest in going, but I always did really well with reading”, she stated.  “My home life was not good so reading let me escape that. It was a way for me to live a different life through reading”, she said.

Newborn to age 3 are critical years in the development of language skills. Barriers such as poverty or lead exposure make attaining these skills more challenging, however,  free resources provided to families help ease the burden of barriers and give hope to parents who want a better future for their children. “MomsFirst is very important because there are very few programs for poverty level families that are free and dedicated to maintaining and tracking the development of children. I also liked the literacy program supported by MomsFirst because it encourages frequent reading and interaction within the first years of life”, said one MomsFirst participant.

Children in the community are also benefiting from free books they discover in Cleveland Little Free Libraries. Cleveland Little Free Libraries, a project of the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, are small, engaging neighborhood kiosks filled with books. There are more than 85 little free libraries in Cleveland.  Friendly Inn Settlement House, a provider of MomsFirst services, sponsors a little free library in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood.

 “Friendly Inn has had a little free library for about 3 years now and we see children looking in there to get books on their way to and from school”, said Bobbie Hurley, MomsFirst Case Manager at Friendly Inn Settlement House.

Partnerships give visibility to important issues like infant mortality, link more residents to resources and provide the advocacy needed to make families in need a priority. Collaboration is one way MomsFirst uses collective impact to make sure more babies reach their first birthdays, and thrive well beyond that important milestone.

For more information:

http://msass.case.edu/housing-lead-levels-kindergarten-readiness/

http://www.ala.org/united/products_services/booksforbabies/earlyliteracy

http://www.kidsbookbank.org/

http://readaloud.org/

Three "Generations" of Community Health Workers

Ms. Pinkard, MomsFirst Community Health Worker at Friendly Inn Settlement House, had no idea that she would be working for the program that helped push her forward shortly after graduating from college summa cum laude. Looking at the smile on Ms. Pinkards face, it’s hard to imagine the battle that she faced when expecting her third child. “I was jobless and struggling. It was an unexpected pregnancy; I was in college trying to graduate. I was very sad and depressed about not working and having the resources I needed”, said Pinkard.  When Ms. Pinkard met her Community Health Worker, Mrs. Walker-White of St. Martin de Porres Family Center, she found a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Coming into the program with her was destined, said Pinkard. “I needed the support, I needed the resources. With this pregnancy, I didn’t have the support and someone to motivate me and I was very happy that she was able to do that”, she stated.

In preparation for motherhood, many women have traditionally relied on role models such as older female relatives or someone who seemed like a mother to them, such as a neighbor. These role models would circle around them. The value of caring for one another is evident in the work of Community Health Workers who go the extra mile to support mothers through pregnancy. These women often come from different paths but meet at a pivotal point in their lives.

While their stories may be different, they share a common thread. This thread is unity, sisterhood and perseverance.  Mrs. Walker-White remembers standing alongside Ms. Pinkard when she was expecting. As her Community Health Worker, Mrs. Walker-White was dedicated to making sure she had all of the resources she needed to succeed. “Whatever I gave her, she followed through. She also helped me because she would find resources in the community that were free and tell me to give them to my participants”, said Walker-White.

Mrs. Walker-White knew what it was like to be pregnant and in need of support. She didn’t grow up thinking that she would get pregnant with her first child at 17. Planted in a neighborhood where a helping hand was right next door, she soon discovered family in the community when she needed it the most. “I was just a young girl having a baby. I didn’t know what I was doing. We were in a bad place as far as our family, “she stated.

 Ms. Wynn and Ms. Jackson, both Community Health Workers at Lexington Bell Community Center, helped her survive one of the toughest times in her life.  Ms. Wynn who was once Mrs. Walker-White’s neighbor, reached out to tell her about MomsFirst, which was then called Healthy Family/ Healthy Start.

Candence Pinkard, LaTanisha Walker-White and Deedra Jackson. Ms. Jackson was Mrs. Walker-White's CHW and Mrs. Walker-White was Ms. Pinkard's CHW. As a remarkable testament of the success of the program, all three women are currently MomsFirst CHWs.

Candence Pinkard, LaTanisha Walker-White and Deedra Jackson. Ms. Jackson was Mrs. Walker-White's CHW and Mrs. Walker-White was Ms. Pinkard's CHW. As a remarkable testament of the success of the program, all three women are currently MomsFirst CHWs.

Mrs. Walker-White grew up in Cleveland’s Hough community, the same neighborhood that was once plagued by riots stemming from racial tension in July of 1966. The economic and physical condition of the Hough Neighborhood did not improve after the riots. Some attribute the public’s realization of the social and economic inequities faced by African Americans in Cleveland to the riots.

“Sometimes you can be a victim of your community. You just accepted how it was going to be”, said Walker-White. But due to the support of a caring neighbor and Community Health Workers, she was able to choose a path of her own.

“I was in a youth program and the youth counselor took me to the abortion clinic and tried to make me get an abortion. Ms. Jackson and Ms. Wynn came along and said if that’s not what you want to do, we are going to help you through this and we are going to make sure this baby lives”, she stated. This support helped her have a healthy pregnancy.

Walker-White was also struggling as a high school student and often missed school due to her chronic asthma.  “I got put out of school three times because I turned 18 and they treated me like I had just dropped out”, she said.  Discouraged, Mrs. Walker-White was not going to get a diploma. “Ms. Wynn came home one day and told me she found a school for me”, said Walker. “The one thing that they told me that I still remember today is you can do whatever you want to do. You can achieve whatever goal you want to achieve so keep going no matter what happens, “she stated.

Ms. Jackson remembers Mrs. Walker-White’s story vividly.  She became a shoulder to lean on for many women throughout her 25 years of experience as a Community Health Worker.  “I make it clear to my participants that they can talk to me about anything. It’s confidential, between me and you”, said Jackson.  

Ms. Jackson didn’t know that Ms. Walker would follow in her footsteps. Overjoyed when she saw her at a MomsFirst meeting, she couldn’t help but rejoice.  “I like to see them when they do well, that makes me happy,” said Jackson. “They will come back and tell you they were glad you were in their life. It made me feel good as a person, I did something right”, she said.

 The support that Mrs. Walker-White and Ms. Pinkard received as participants in the program has had a positive impact on their lives, inspiring them to pay it forward now as Community Health Workers.  “It makes me work even harder to help others be successful, if I can do it, you can do it,” said Pinkard.

Aiming for Equity

The human race is impacted by infant mortality in a way that has brought people of all backgrounds together. In this spirit, many dedicated and concerned citizens came together to aim for equity at the 2016 Infant Mortality Summit held at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland on December 5 & 6.

In Ohio, 1005 infants died before their first birthday in 2015, in comparison to 955 in 2014. Ohio’s infant mortality rate is higher than most states and the nation as a whole. Black infants in Ohio continue to die at nearly three times the rate of white infants. Professionals, community leaders, family members and advocates for women and children, gathered at the 2016 Infant Mortality Summit because they want to do something about it. History has shown that when the community gathers together on one accord, they can pave the way for gradual change. The faith of leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is still leaving a mark on the hearts and minds of all people. With the dream still not fully realized, there is still work to do.

All races and socioeconomic groups experience infant death; however, African American babies are dying at a rate much higher than other racial groups even when considering education and socioeconomic status differences. Despite the victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, racial discrimination and oppression has not abated. Modern civil rights movements are still needed to address the daunting inequities that plague the lives of children and families in Cleveland and around the country. A Collective Impact framework is being used to tackle complex social issues like infant mortality.

The success of the MomsFirst Project was displayed via poster in the main hall during the Summit. Women who participate in the MomsFirst program experience better birth outcomes that their counterparts who don't.

The success of the MomsFirst Project was displayed via poster in the main hall during the Summit. Women who participate in the MomsFirst program experience better birth outcomes that their counterparts who don't.

In the fight against infant mortality partnerships are being formed to build healthier neighborhoods and stronger communities where children can grow up safe- without being at risk for health disparities and social injustices. The Cleveland/Cuyahoga Partnership to Improve Birth Outcomes is one partnership that uses community collaboration to address these issues.

The Summit was a place where organizations and individuals alike could highlight their progress and receive encouragement for the road ahead. MomsFirst participant, Rayleenah Saleem, who recently told her breastfeeding success story served as a panelist for the session titled, “Breast for Success is an Intervention that Works: Engaging High-Risk Inner-City Mothers and Fathers/Partners in Breastfeeding Education”, along with MomsFirst Case Manager, Eira Yates. Breast for Success is a culturally competent breastfeeding education program that seeks to address the barriers that many women experience regarding breastfeeding. Breast for Success also has a parallel father-friendly version dedicated to engagement of fathers and partners. Fatherhood matters and many men are also taking a stand to collaborate with organizations that make families stronger.

The Cleveland Regional Perinatal Network, a partner of MomsFirst also presented a poster featuring their successes with connecting women to behavioral health services.

The Cleveland Regional Perinatal Network, a partner of MomsFirst also presented a poster featuring their successes with connecting women to behavioral health services.

The evidence of community collaboration was strong at Ohio’s Infant Mortality Summit as numerous organizations united under the leadership of the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality chaired by Lisa Holloway of the March of Dimes Ohio Chapter and Dr. Arthur R. James of The Ohio State University.

Every family deserves to experience the freedom of equity. How each person defines equity may vary, but we can start by making sure our children live long enough to decide.

To learn more about how to get involved to make an impact right here in Cleveland, visit http://momsfirst.org/for-advocates/.

Sources:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead

National Prematurity Awareness Month

Healthy Cleveland Initiative's Healthy Neighborhoods subcommittee and MomsFirst partnered to talk to moms that have lost a baby due to prematurity.

Premature birth (a birth prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy) is the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. Fortunately, though, premature birth rates are on the decline, affecting roughly 9.6% of births. That number changes when premature birth rates are considered by race. Non-Hispanic black women are more likely than non-Hispanic white women to deliver premature babies. Research suggests that toxic stress, which disproportionately affects black women, is a contributing factor.

The Healthy Neighborhoods subcommittee of the Healthy Cleveland Initiative (http://www.healthycle.org/) has been exploring the ways in which the social determinants of health (such as poverty, poor quality schools, food insecurity, under or unemployment, racism, etc.) contribute to a person's stress level, and how that stress level can affect a birth outcome.

On November 16th, a representative from the Healthy Neighborhoods committee and a representative from MomsFirst sat down with three women that have been touched by MomsFirst (2 participants and 1 Community Health Worker) that have lost a baby (or in one participant's case, two babies) due to prematurity.

Many of the themes the committee has been discussing for months bubbled to the surface during the 2 hour conversation in which each mom took a turn sharing her story. Those themes will be explored in much more depth at the next committee meeting, with this effort culminating in a public awareness campaign using a mother's voice. What was abundantly clear throughout the discussion was that no mother should have to bury her child and the loss robs the world of what the child could have been.

"Taco", the son of MomsFirst Community Health Worker, Jennifer Jones, who passed away at 10.5 months old after being born 3 months premature.

"Taco", the son of MomsFirst Community Health Worker, Jennifer Jones, who passed away at 10.5 months old after being born 3 months premature.

Pregnant women need support from everyone in the family and community. If you're pregnant, be sure to see a doctor for regular prenatal care and seek help for any issues that might be causing you stress. There is help available, no matter what you're going through. Call 211 if you're unsure where to turn. If you know someone who is pregnant, cook her a healthy meal, offer to babysit if she has other children, drive her to a doctor appointment,  ask her what she needs help with, etc.

Stay tuned for more to come on this topic, especially as the awareness campaign kicks off in 2017. For more information on how to support pregnant women in your area, visit http://momsfirst.org/for-advocates/.

Every baby born into society is our baby. We share in everything that goes well for them and everything that does not.
— Charlotte Wilen, Infant Health Advocate

Everyone is talking about MomsFirst!

Invest in Children, one of the funders of MomsFirst, recently featured a participant in a success story on their website. Thank you, Invest in Children, for highlighting the important work being done by MomsFirst Community Health Workers everyday.

To read about Paulette and her family, click here.

MomsFirst was also featured in the United Way of Greater Cleveland's blog. Click here to read about the work being done throughout the community to decrease infant mortality.