Kelly Romanoff

Image: Barbara Banks

Last year, 215 women in labor arrived at Sarasota Memorial Hospital without having received any prenatal care.

Some were undocumented immigrants afraid to come forward, others were drug users or suffering from mental health problems, some were too poor to find transportation. Those challenges didn’t go away after the women gave birth. And the care their children receive during their first 1,000 days will go a long way toward determining the trajectory of their lives.

Kelly Romanoff, a projects manager with the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, says she became “baptized in the church of early childhood development” after Chuck Barancik, one of the foundation’s founders, asked staffers at the nonprofit to look into it. Romanoff, who at press time was about to give birth to her first child, says one slide in an academic presentation on the topic shocked her. It compared brain activity in a child raised in a healthy environment to brain activity in a malnourished child raised in a stressed household. The healthy child’s temporal lobes showed up bright and colorful; the malnourished child’s temporal lobes were dark and silent.

Fired up, Romanoff led the charge to create First 1000 Days Sarasota County, an initiative that brings together 32 health care nonprofits and government agencies. The foundation is committed to raising $1 million to help organizations share data, host a summit on Medicaid, hire a care navigator for new moms at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and fund an outreach and education campaign for the next three years. “First 1000 Days is not creating new programs,” Romanoff says. “It’s strengthening the connection between the programs so that it’s easier for families to get the services they need.” 

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