Helping Babies Reach Their First Birthdays

By Rich Desrosiers, Repository Executive Editor

July 9, 2017

In most homes, a baby’s first birthday is celebrated in grand style.

Big parties with gifts and balloons, maybe even a smash cake — although why anyone would buy or bake a cake and not eat it seems like a waste of great sugar (and a subject for another day).

Today’s focus is on the fact too many babies in Stark County aren’t surviving to age 1. Infant mortality rates have improved, but there is still a long way to go, especially among minority groups.

Over the past few weeks, two local agencies waged a friendly competition to bring attention to the issue of infant mortality by collecting items that will make a difference for at-risk families.

Together, the United Way of Greater Stark County and ArtsinStark will donate roughly 10,000 diapers and 20,000 baby wipes for distribution in August at a “Healthy Moms, Healthy babies” event hosted by Mercy Medical Center’s Immigrant Health Outreach Program.

The donation challenge “was a great opportunity to help families in our community and also a way to promote safe sleeping habits,” said Cassie Ausperk, director of the Health Impact Council at the United Way. “One of our ‘Bold Goals: 2020’ is to reduce infant mortality, and we saw this as a way to help reach that goal.”

With some variance, infant mortality numbers generally fall in the mid single digits (per 1,000 live births) for most demographic groups locally, statewide and nationally, Ausperk said. However, it is still slightly above 10 for African-Americans in Ohio — about 25 percent above the comparable national rate.

Low birth weight, premature births and unsafe sleeping environments all contribute to infant deaths. Some of the contributing factors are poverty, smoking, poor nutrition and lack of education.

United Way’s contribution to the “Community Baby Shower” also will include $1,000 to buy “sleepsacks” for mothers to use with their infants. The sleepsacks swaddle the baby and promote healthier sleep habits.

“Safe sleep means the baby is alone, in a crib and on its back,” Ausperk said.

Serious, yet fun

Kimberly Douce, vice president for Community Impact at the United Way, said the competition involving ArtsinStark was a first for the local agencies. She said Maria Heege, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Stark County, “reached out to ArtsinStark, where we have a good relationship.”

On Thursday, Robb Hankins, president and CEO of ArtsinStark, and two of his team members — Kimberly Phillips, director of education; and Steven Kleiber, vice president of advancement — brought their donations to the United Way’s office in downtown Canton. The brief ceremony, which included Ausperk, Douce and Dan Jenkins, United Way’s marketing and volunteer engagement coordinator, featured just the right amount of trash talk for longtime partners who contribute to each other’s annual campaigns and share a mission of improving lives.

“We called in our numbers early,” Hankins said, “so that gave them all night to go to Target and cheat.”

Hankins at first insisted ArtsinStark had collected 250,000 diapers “but someone broke into our office and took them.”

While the real number was far less, the stacks of boxed diapers soon will go to deserving young families as part of a Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies event Aug. 16, along with vital information that could make the difference in determining whether every baby reaches its magical first birthday.

That would be something to celebrate.

For more information about donating to future baby showers, contact Jenkins at [email protected].

Looking to do more than just donate? View our upcoming volunteer opportunities.

Reach Rich at 330-580-8310 or [email protected]