Over the years, the story of Sharon Rohrbach and the Nurses for Newborns Foundation (NFNF) has been well documented by local and national media outlets. Rohrbach, the registered nurse who co-founded the organization in 1992, has since retired, passing on the torch to Melinda Ohlemiller, the Foundation’s new chief executive officer.
Ohlemiller brings with her a lifetime of work for children and families and personal experience with motherhood. “My vision is that every baby born has an opportunity to grow and flourish in a safe environment with people around them who have the support they need to care for them,” she says, adding, “I feel like I’ve spent my entire life getting ready to do this job.” With a background in clinical and developmental psychology, Ohlemiller has served nationally on a number of expert panels, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national task force on fetal alcohol syndrome.
Ohlemiller says her drive to help families stems from being the mother of two sons. “I had a very harrowing pregnancy with one of my sons. My other, whom we adopted, was only 2 pounds when he was born. So I know the power of intervening early,” she says. “I’ve witnessed thousands of families struggle with bringing a new baby home, and feeling terrified by the experience. One of the greatest privileges of working at Nurses for Newborns is being able to lend a hand when a hand is needed.”
Ohlemiller’s goal is to continue NFNF’s holistic approach to helping families. “There are things other than health care that impact the health and safety of children. Maternal depression, for instance, has been found to impact the growth and development of a child in the early years.” Another objective is to increase the Foundation’s collaboration with other community agencies to “service as many families as we can.”
Central to Nurses for Newborn’s success through the years is support from the community, notes Ohlemiller. “We witness their generosity every day. People walk in just to hand us a bag of diapers, baby formula, or a $5 bill,” she says. Other items on the wish list include portable cribs, gently used or new baby clothes (sizes preemie to 4T), and high chairs.
These days, Ohlemiller and her staff are busy preparing for the Foundation’s biggest fund-raiser of the year, ‘A Night for Newborns,’ which will be held Sunday, March 29. “The money raised goes directly to caring for the babies and paying our nurses, which is the primary expense of our organization,” she says. “We turn those dollars into more visits for families.” This year’s event at the St. Louis Marriott West will feature cocktails, dinner, entertainment and silent and live auctions. For the third year in a row, Barbara Druhe and Gloria Wind are co-chairing the event, with radio personality McGraw Millhaven serving as honorary chair.
The evening will also feature the presentation of special awards to the Deaconess Foundation and Dr. Corinne Walentik for their contributions to ‘Saving Babies and Strengthening Families.’ The Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based, grant-making organization that focuses on improving health in the region, especially in low-income communities, is the ‘Community Partner Award’ recipient. Deaconess president/CEO Rev. Jerry Paul says the award is significant because it recognizes that the relationship between the two organizations goes beyond money. “Nurses for Newborns has become a must-have organization for St. Louis,” he says. “Motherhood is hard enough under the best circumstances, but for someone with few resources, this program has managed to demonstrate dramatic outcomes. These remarkable nurses step in and do for at-risk babies what any mother would want for her own child. No one else in St. Louis does that.”
Dr. Corinne Walentik, a NFNF founding board member and a professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University, is the recipient of the ‘Champion for Babies’ award. “Nurses for Newborns is a safety net for many fragile babies, something that allows us to know that at-risk babies will get good follow-up, and that their mothers will be given direction to achieve good, long-term outcomes,” Walentik says, noting that positive outcomes include fewer emergency room visits and hospital readmission, better immunization rates, and more involvement in the Parents as Teachers program. “This organization does so much good, I’d like to see it expanded in parts of Missouri where they don’t have it.”
In addition to ‘A Night for Newborns,’ Nurses for Newborns Foundation is gearing up for ‘Boogie for Babies’ this summer. The June 20 event at Grant’s Farm will honor founder Sharon Rohrbach. For more information, call 544-3433 or visit nfnf.org.