By Karen Stokes
Years ago, Julia Means, community health ministry nurse with Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, attended a conference that deeply affected her. At the conference, they discussed the fact that many babies born in Milwaukee were dying before the age of one.
Shortly after, Means founded Blanket of Love. Ascension Blanket of Love is a prenatal and parenting education program for pregnant women, their spouse or friend and family. Blanket of Love creates a community of support through the combination of a welcoming meal, an educational program presentation and time for sharing with staff and other members of the group. With a goal to wrap women and families in support, from pregnancy through early parenting, to help more babies celebrate their first birthdays.
Currently, there are 16 Blanket of Love program sites throughout Milwaukee, including sites at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s, Ascension St. Francis and at Ascension St. Joseph. Additionally, 36 churches in Milwaukee are committed as Blanket of Love Sanctuaries to be safe places where pregnant women, new mothers and families can get health-related support and information for healthy babies and healthy families. The Sanctuaries reach approximately 4,700 families yearly.
On Aug. 17, members of Ebenezer Church of God in Christ along with community members participated in the Blessing of the Baby event sponsored by Ascension. “It was important to me that our children be covered. So many of our children are traumatized from the neighborhoods that they live in to the homes that they live in and I just pray that God will give them a sense of urgency inside their little bodies that [they] want to seek God and know that they’re safe because they do have a father in heaven looking over them,” said Means.
Blessing of the Baby is a celebration of healthy babies and an acknowledgement by the parents that the child is a gift from God.
“You’ve been invited here today to have your child blessed. We believe that God authentically blesses those parents that bring their children to Him,” said Elder Jonathan Saffold, Sr, founder of Ebenezer Church of God in Christ.
Song, prayer and spiritual teachings preceded the anointing of babies, expectant mothers and children with oil at the service. The service is not a baptism, but an opportunity to recognize how important our children are to God and the community.
“Never had a Baby Blessing where the whole community was involved,” Elder Saffold said. “Parish nurse and church member Julia Means has been working for years to help mothers get ready to have their babies.”
Following the service, the families were invited to a baby shower in the lower level of the church. Multi-colored balloons, stuffed animals and toys displayed in a vibrant decorated room where games, food, gifts for babies, children and parents were shared to make this celebration even more joyous.
Ascension’s mission is rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as healer, committed to serving all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable. Their Catholic health ministry is dedicated to spiritually-centered, holistic care which sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities.
“Ascension sponsored the Baby Blessing event and they are a Christian organization and not afraid to show it,” Means said. “I am an employee of Ascension and I like working for them so I can utilize my faith in my job.”