Infant Mortality Ambassador Spotlight: Alexis Davis

Infant Mortality Ambassadors are MomsFirst volunteers that choose to get involved and work toward the mission of reducing the racial disparity in infant mortality in Cleveland. Their involvement can take on many forms. We have had volunteers choose to write letters of support to our participants, come to our office and spend the day volunteering on a specific project, or share safe sleep education with their church congregation. Alexis Davis, a 2nd year medical student at Case Western Reserve University and the first in her family to graduate from college, took on a different approach. Motivated by her desire to help people from backgrounds similar to her own, but who may be lacking the access to opportunity and support that she had, Alexis decided to start an awareness campaign and coin drive at CWRU’s School of Medicine.


Alexis graduated from Cornell University in 2015. Alexis says that she learned early on that being poor and/or a minority in America often means receiving lower quality medical care, and even as a child, she saw injustice in this. This belief has stuck with her and continues to drive her dedication to serving disadvantaged communities. Alexis indicated that the mission of MomsFirst spoke to her because our work lies at the intersection of many of the issues that she and her family have faced as people of color in America.

Alexis was very active and persistent with getting the word out about the fundraiser. It was important to her to be concise while still conveying the importance of the issue and the work that MomsFirst is doing. She reached out to all of her networks to share the fundraiser. Her efforts paid off—and then some! After the one month campaign concluded, Alexis raised $1642.88 for MomsFirst. In addition, as a result of the awareness campaign, an additional student volunteer has reached out to find out ways that she can be involved.

Alexis Davis with all of the items she was able to purchase from the MomsFirst Wishlist on with the money she raised in December, 2017.

Alexis Davis with all of the items she was able to purchase from the MomsFirst Wishlist on with the money she raised in December, 2017.

Does this inspiring story motivate you to help your community? Alexis suggests taking some time to reflect on what issues are important to you and also what skills you have that can help others. Then, research what local organizations are looking for help. Alexis says, “Everyone can be of service to their community in some way; whether it is through donating time or money”.


MomsFirst is incredibly grateful to Alexis for being the change! Our staff and participants thank you!

Catching Up With Cleveland - Then & Now!

The National Healthy Start Association recently featured the Cleveland MomsFirst project in their recent newsletter. How far we have come! Check it out below:

THEN: Though the City of Cleveland has always been the grantee for the Healthy Start grant, the Project has gone through many changes, says Lisa Matthews, Project Director for the program. The infant mortality rate in 1991 in the 15 Cleveland neighborhoods that comprised the Project area was 21.4 per 1,000 live births and 21.8 among African American women. Initially known as Cleveland Healthy Family/Healthy Start (HF/HS), Cleveland’s community needs assessment showed a lack of service integration and coordination at the community level, low rates of adequate prenatal care, inaccessible health care services and limited or no collaboration among health provider organizations. (Source: Telling the Healthy Start Story: A Report on the Impact of the 22 Demonstration Projects, November 1998).

Mom & baby, August 2012

Mom & baby, August 2012

After some early adjustments to the program, HF/HS contracted directly with the agencies providing services, such as neighborhood settlement houses, to allow for more accountability. In the early years, HF/HS had over 100 outreach workers. They did not initially have a fatherhood program, and that is yet another thing that has changed.

A three-pronged approach aimed at the communities, city high schools and high-risk populations in shelters or incarcerated was implemented. The service models included outreach, infant mortality review and risk reduction. HF/HS also had a robust public information/education model. Each of the 15 neighborhoods had a consortium that met at a local settlement house, which provided a local meeting place. Key trends or impacts of CF/HS, according to the impact report were:

·  “The first significant collaboration among area provider organizations related to infant mortality (via infant mortality review activities);

· “Unprecedented community wide collaboration between public, private and academic sectors;

· “Significant penetration and enhancement of school-based outreach and services; and

· “Enhancement of standards and practice for outreach and services to women in jail.”

NOW: HF/HS is now called MomsFirst, Matthews said, because there are so many programs in Ohio with “Start” in their names. The name change was consumer driven, as consumers said all the programs with “Start” in their names (including both Healthy Start and Head Start) led to confusion.

MomsFirst is a Level 3 program and mentors programs throughout the state. The service area was expanded in 2001 to include the entire City of Cleveland.

For the period of 2011-2016, MomsFirst participants had a lower Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) than the overall state of Ohio and the nation – 5.7 deaths per 1,000 births. MomsFirst served over 1,700 participants and their families in 2016 and has had an IMR below the Healthy People goal of 6.0 deaths per 1,000 live births in seven of the last 10 years. MomsFirst enrolls primarily high risk African -American pregnant women and teens. Cleveland’s 2016 overall IMR was 10.2*, with a white rate of 5.4* and a black rate of 13.5.* MomsFirst’s IMR for project participants in 2016 was 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. These data provide strong evidence regarding the impact the program is having in reducing infant mortality in MomsFirst’s communities. 

Mom & Baby, September 2017

Mom & Baby, September 2017

MomsFirst’s 2016 Annual Report indicates that there were eight case managers and 30 community health workers; staff are funded primarily through the federal grant with others funded by the city and county. The program served 365 teen participants, 67 incarcerated participants and enrolled 655 new participants. And 557 babies were born to program participants! Here are some other fantastic stats:

· 12,974 home visits completed

· 8,899 medical appointments attended

· 1,486 depression screenings administered

· 1,339 reproductive life plans completed

· 105 referrals to job training

 Referral sources were 32% from outreach, 22% self-referred, 15% from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, 11% by a family member or friend and the remainder from other sources.

 What about dads? MomsFirst now has a robust fatherhood initiative, including a Welcome to Fatherhood binder given to participants, a fathers support group, bus tickets for dads to accompany moms to their appointments and condoms for dads. Fathers also participate in home visits with their partners. In 2016, 186 men were served.


2017 Baby Buggy Walk in the Park

Last month, in honor of National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, MomsFirst hosted our annual Baby Buggy Walk in the Park event—a community event where those who attend can get resources, learn new skills in mini-workshops, have a bite to eat, win raffle tickets and prizes, and join in with fellow parents and children for a fun walk in the park! This year, our event was at Fatima Family Center in the Hough neighborhood. We hosted approximately 200 community participants for a day of fitness, family and fun!

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We began the day with some breakfast and a resource vendor fair where everyone could get great information about childcare, healthcare, education, safe sleep, and everything in between. Next up was a series of mini-workshops that participants could attend to learn about things like healthy relationships, mental health, and how to cook delicious meals on a budget. During these workshops, MomsFirst staff members helped children make crafts and color. There was also time to play on the playground with other the children and make lots of friends!

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We all shared some lunch together and then went on a walk with the participants, their children, and the MomsFirst staff around League park. Those who joined in the walk enjoyed getting out and moving on a gorgeous day! The walk was led by a representative from GirlTrek—an organization that encourages African-American women to live healthy lives by walking more and by encouraging other women to walk too. The amazing weather and enthusiasm from everyone made it the perfect opportunity to work on health and fitness in a fun and supportive environment.

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            When we got back from the walk, it was the moment everyone had been waiting for—the raffle! There were stroller travel systems, toddler exersaucers, personal care gifts for moms and dads, and gift cards! Lots of participants walked away with prizes for themselves or for their children that put smiles on everyone’s faces.

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Overall, both participants and staff members had a fun-filled day. One participant said, “Everything was nice. The speakers and vendors had resourceful information that was beneficial to me and my kids. I would come to another event in the future and tell my friends about it.”  Some staff members exclaimed that their favorite parts of the day were seeing their participants, interacting with families and children, and seeing the people of the community get access to information and items that will help them out in the future. We hope that everyone who attended gained something from the event and we can’t wait to see what next year’s Baby Buggy Walk in the Park has in store!

Special thanks to all of the vendors that came out to support the community: AT&T, Buckeye Health Plan, Care Alliance, CEOGC, Cleveland Department of Public Health, Cleveland Public Library, 211 First Call for Help, Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, Legal Aid, Moms Quit for Two, OhioGuidestone, Passages, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Seeds of Literacy, Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc., GirlTrek, Starting Point, UnitedHealthCare, WIC, Womankind, YMCA, College Now, Birthing Beautiful Communities, and Fatima’s Family to Family program.

MomsFirst Community Liaisons

The word “liaison” has multiple definitions, often involving things like communication, facilitation, and cooperation. The most interesting, however, is in the world of cooking. A “liaison” can also come from an egg yolk in a sauce- the yolk becomes the binding agent that brings it together. This is an interesting but rather accurate way to think of the job of our MomsFirst Community Liaisons. They work to be the binding agents, the force connecting our project with the broader community.

Beginning earlier this year, MomsFirst began to welcome six new Community Liaisons. Since then, these women have been working hard to create a bridge between MomsFirst and other organizations around the city. In a typical work week, you might find a liaison meeting with the director of a nonprofit, working to create a partnership between the two organizations that allow us to serve even more women. Liaisons might be sitting at MomsFirst table at a resource fair, making connections with participants and community partners alike. If not there, often, our women are out in the community, using a grassroots approach to get the word out about MomsFirst. They are tirelessly becoming known resources for the community, recruiting participants and inspiring community members to become infant mortality ambassadors.

The MomsFirst table, staffed by Catherine Robinson, at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

The MomsFirst table, staffed by Catherine Robinson, at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

 The liaison position is an exciting opportunity to add another element to the MomsFirst family. The liaisons are working to be that binding agent that this project is looking for. Together, we’re all working to fight for the lives of babies and families in Cleveland.

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The MomsFirst Adolescent Component presents Movie and a Plan

On Saturday, August 24, 2017, the MomsFirst Adolescent Component staff at the May Dugan Center hosted sixteen of their participants for a screening of Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself and a planning session featuring Me & My Big Ideas planners.

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The young ladies had a great time and loved decorating their own planners.

Me & By Big Ideas planner sets ready to be opened and designed!

Me & By Big Ideas planner sets ready to be opened and designed!

A participant with Case Manager Bridjetta Levison

A participant with Case Manager Bridjetta Levison

Due to the positive response and popularity of this event, another session may be in the works. Contact Bridjetta Levison at 216-631-5800 ext. 101 so you can mark your planner for the next one!

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: