From babies in homes right down the street to Haitians thousands of miles away, there are countless children facing health risks every day. These local organizations are stepping up to make sure those kids—no matter their location or circumstances—have a chance at a healthy and bright future.
NURSES FOR NEWBORNS
Nurses for Newborns has no target demographic. Issues like sickness, abuse and post-partum depression hit every zip code in St. Louis, says development director Claire Devoto. “It’s about saving babies’ lives and strengthening families. Our nurses are helping families find ways to help themselves.”
The organization aims to help at-risk families by sending highly skilled nurses into homes to provide health care, social and educational support. The nurses are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and may visit each home only once or many times over the baby’s first two years of life. For local families struggling with poverty, their needs are many. “The nurses check medical conditions, the safety of the home, and make sure the family has items like formula and diapers,” Devoto explains. “It’s the basic things that many of us are blessed with and take for granted.”
With 1,500 cases open at any one time, the agency’s 40 nurses make a difference in often stressful situations. “There’s this little helpless thing, and you’re all it has in the world,” Devoto says. “Even with all the education possible, it’s daunting to bring a tiny baby home.”
And for those who have very little, the prospect of raising a child is even more overwhelming. Devoto notes that there are many success stories, with parents completing their education and finding jobs while raising healthy and happy children—outcomes that may not have happened without Nurses for Newborns. “Our nurses open doors for these babies and families that no one else can,” she says. “They make all the difference.”
JUVENILE DIABETES RESEARCH FOUNDATION
The majority of the money raised by the St. Louis chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation goes directly to research focused on the cure, treatment and prevention of Type 1 diabetes. But while that mission continues, the organization also recognizes the importance of education and support for local children, says executive director Marie Davis. “When a child is newly diagnosed, we help the family process the ‘new normal’ in their lives, while also keeping the child safe and healthy.”
Educational materials, mentoring opportunities and family retreats help ease children and their families into a scary world where blood sugar levels can be a life or death situation. “There’s so much stress and tension, and a lot of that is about the emotions of the lifestyle change,” Davis notes. “We’re trying to relieve some of that stress.”
One of the biggest areas of anxiety can be school. “The child is in the hands of the school most of their awake hours, so that’s the place where we need to be the most concerned for his or her safety,” she says. JDRF instructs every person at the school—from teachers to bus drivers—how to handle a child with diabetes, while also answering students’ questions.
Events like Boo Fest, a sugar-free Halloween experience, also allows kids with type 1 diabetes to enjoy their childhoods while trying to remain well. Because they will never outgrow the disease, JDRF is there for the children as they transition from one life stage to the next, Davis says. “We can’t just look for a cure; we need to help people stay healthy and alive while doing so.”
MEDS & FOOD FOR KIDS
Its offices may reside in St. Louis, but the efforts of Meds & Food for Kids lay half a world away in Haiti. “People who are born in the United States are born on third base, while people born in Haiti are basically called out before they even have a chance to bat,” says executive director Dr. Patricia Wolff. “How fair is that?”
Wolff founded Meds & Food in 2003 after volunteering as a pediatrician in a Haitian clinic for 15 years. She could no longer ignore the dire straits facing children there. “The kids were sick because they were malnourished. If you are malnourished in the first two years of your life, you get brain damage, and you’re never as smart as you could have been. We needed to treat the malnutrition, not the symptoms, so children could reach their potential.”
To that end, Meds & Food began producing Medika Mamba, an energy-dense recipe of peanuts, powdered milk, sugar, oil, vitamins and minerals that is “the gold standard of treatment for malnutrition,” Wolff explains.
While it is cheaper to make the ‘ready-to-use therapeutic food’ in the U.S., the organization chooses to use Haitian workers and farmers to run the program. “The children are malnourished because their parents don’t have jobs or money. You have to educate, train and employ people, so they can create a better life for their family,” she says. “You have to fix it from the ground up.”
Meds & Food started with a little grinder in a church, making 100 kilograms of Medika Mamba a month. Today, it is generating 30,000 kilograms with a goal of 120,000 a month, along with other treatment and prevention products when a new factory is built. It can’t happen soon enough, Wolff says. “A child is always about today. You’re destroying their potential if you’re not helping them stay healthy today.”