Tom and Suzanne Hough of Carrollton Bank

In the 20 years since its founding, Nurses for Newborns Foundation has helped almost 70,000 infants and their families—a staggering number of lives changed through the nonprofit’s efforts. “That’s a whole city of babies who got a better start to life, and whose parents got some reassurance during those early days when it’s so frightening to bring a baby home to a situation without support,” says executive director Melinda Ohlemiller.

The organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary milestone with the 2012 Night for Newborns Dinner Auction on April 22. Held at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac, the fundraiser will include live entertainment and raffles, as well as silent, super silent and live auctions. Ohlemiller notes the event also is an opportunity for Nurses for Newborns to thank the local individuals and businesses who are big champions of the cause, including the evening’s Presenting Sponsor, Charter Communications; Gold Sponsors Carrollton Bank and Drs. Nanci and James Bobrow; and McGraw Milhaven Award Winner, Cornerstone Mortgage. “We depend on the generosity of the community to help us carry out our mission.”

The organization’s mission focuses on helping atrisk families with infants in 25 counties throughout Missouri. Families struggling in some way—from health issues to lack of resources—are referred to the organization, and one of its 40 highly skilled nurses visit the home, where he or she may encounter an array of situations. “The stories range from nurses walking into homes and having to start CPR immediately, to a mother who is experiencing postpartum depression and she has nowhere to turn,” Ohlemiller explains. “We have the opportunity to provide vital services at such a critical time.”

Those services center around education and “the idea that we need to prevent and get ahead of myriad health problems and issues that can come up with a young baby,” Ohlemiller says. “If an infant loses its health in the first month of life, it’s catch-up from there on.” Weekly visits during that first month allow nurses to teach families concepts like proper feeding, recognizing the symptoms of illness, injury prevention and safe sleeping, while connecting parents with key community resources. “There are ZIP codes in our area that have infant death rates that rival third-world countries. Way too many babies lose their lives due to things that are completely preventable.”

Nurses for Newborns works to change those rates, serving 3,000 infants in 2011, with nurses following families for up to two years. The organization also helps pregnant moms, including working with teenagers as soon as they know they’re expecting. Home visits enable the health care to be more holistic than a clinic appointment, Ohlemiller notes. “In that home environment, nurses are able to see the whole situation and the challenges a family might be facing.”

With 90 percent of the families that the nonprofit assists meeting poverty guidelines, the challenges they face are many. Services are free, and Nurses for Newborns relies on community support, donations and volunteers, as well as governmental and United Way funds. Some former clients also have returned to become volunteers or community outreach mothers who extend the work of the nurses in certain neighborhoods.

As Nurses for Newborns enters its third decade, it looks toward fulfilling its dream of every baby being given a chance at a great life. “Our goal is to become an even stronger organization that can teach other communities how to provide this work, while ensuring a sustainable future for these services in St. Louis,” Ohlemiller says. “What we do is so incredibly important.”