Vice President, Community Impact
United Way of Greater Milwaukee
Every year, Milwaukee families suffer the unimaginable loss of a baby before his or her first birthday. This issue impacts all of us – regardless of age or race or zip code – and it will take all of us working together to save these lives and keep these families whole.
United Way of Greater Milwaukee takes our role in the community very seriously. We know that we have to mobilize our human and financial resources to attack this problem head on. So, in 2012, United Way of Greater Milwaukee launched our Healthy Births Initiative. The goals of this initiative are that:
- Young people delay parenthood until adulthood, and when financially, socially and physically ready.
- Adults in our community actively choose and plan to become parents.
- All parents-to-be receive excellent pre-conception, inter-conception, and post-natal care.
- Our community’s babies are born ready to thrive.
In order to achieve these outcomes, United Way invests in two core strategies: teen pregnancy prevention and infant mortality prevention. Over the past six years, this community has made significant progress regarding its teen birth rate – a 35% reduction in teen births over the last four years alone. This initiative has been successful because of the diversity of the partnership and an unwavering focus on this one outcome: reducing births to teens by 46% by 2015. We want to extend this model to preventing infant deaths, as well.
Just this year, the City of Milwaukee announced a commitment to reduce infant mortality overall by 10% and among African Americans by 15% by the year 2017. Achieving these goals will require an unprecedented willingness to collaborate, and an unrelenting focus on outcomes. We must involve diverse constituencies – business leaders, the faith community, health care providers, colleges and universities, and most importantly, the impacted population itself – our African American families, and we must consider and fund aggressive, bold, culturally appropriate programs.
United Way of Greater Milwaukee is grateful to the leadership of BMO Harris for making a significant investment in this initiative – and in this community. Over the next year these dollars will enhance and expand the capacity of “health homes,” including the four local Federally Qualified Health Centers, to serve families from conception and pregnancy through the first year of their baby’s life, and beyond. And while these initial funds will be invested in healthcare strategies, United Way will also look for opportunities to invest in programs that address a broad scope of issues that have particular impact on birth outcomes, including:
- Promoting father involvement and engagement;
- Increasing economic opportunities through transitional jobs;
- Smoking cessation;
- Alcohol and substance abuse treatment;
- Public Awareness Campaigns, including messaging that promotes: folic acid, safe sleep environments, and immunizations;
- Involving the Faith Community; and
- Reducing exposure to toxins/ environmental hazards.
The causes of infant mortality are complex, but the primary reason we are losing our babies is that they are born too small, too soon. November is Prematurity Awareness month. Local social service and faith-based agencies will be hosting a number of events to broaden our understanding of the issues and empower each of us to make a difference. United Way is working closely with St. Mark’s Quality of Life Center to provide opportunities for learning and fellowship regarding prematurity during November—other parishes and agencies are doing the same. I encourage everyone to take part and learn how you can make a difference.
Yes—we must commit to long-term solutions—strategies that will take years, in fact, to bear fruit. But in the meantime, we must also support initiatives and programs that have immediate potential for impact.
Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. We must act now to save babies.