Community Service: Strong Baby Sanctuary/Ascension-Columbia St. Mary’s

Health Care Heroes

Penelope Stewart

Strong Baby Sanctuary/Ascension-Columbia St. Mary’s

Penelope Stewart
Penelope Stewart

The infant mortality rate in this region is worse than 62 other countries around the world. African-American babies die before their first birthday at a rate three times higher than Caucasian babies. That’s why the work of the Ascension-Columbia St. Mary’s Strong Baby Sanctuary is so important.

The Strong Baby Sanctuary recruits community churches to serve as sanctuaries for expectant mothers and their families.

Serving primarily the African-American community, the sanctuaries work to provide resources to prevent premature and low-weight births and unsafe sleeping conditions–both significant factors in infant deaths.

Through the Blankets of Love program, the sanctuaries offer prenatal and parenting education, educate church volunteers and staff to help assist women, and coordinate needed supplies like Pack ‘n Play portable cribs, car seats and baby clothes for families in need.

The sanctuary pantry also offers food and equipment for expectant mothers and occasionally hosts community baby showers to collect needed supplies for expectant mothers in the community.

Penelope Stewart is the community outreach coordinator for the Strong Baby Sanctuary program and, in collaboration with CSM Community Health Ministry nurse Julia Means, has helped grow the program since its formation. Stewart and Means help identify churches and partners for the program.

The organization has grown from 10 churches in 2015 to 24 churches in 2016 and will reach more than 7,500 people this year with information and services.

Additionally, Ascension-Columbia St. Mary’s, in partnership with Urban Church Wellness program, the City of Milwaukee Health Department, the March of Dimes Wisconsin Chapter, and the Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families, also sponsor the “Strong Baby Sabbath,” a day on which clergy members throughout the community deliver messages to their congregations that raise awareness about preventable causes of infant death, including premature births and unsafe sleeping environments.

In 2015, 25 ministers and 85 churches participated in the Strong Baby Sabbath and reached more than 18,000 people with the message.

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