The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt by everyone, including our youngest population, babies. Columbia University researchers discovered that babies born during the pandemic’s first year scored slightly lower on a developmental screening test of motor and social skills at six months of age – regardless of whether their mothers had COVID-19 during pregnancy – compared to babies who were born just before the pandemic. Gulf Coast Community Foundation understood the need for helping our most vulnerable population and took action.
In April, the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County received a grant from the COVID-19 Response Initiative, a joint philanthropic effort by Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation to ensure the well-being of our region. The grant allowed Healthy Start’s Care Coordinators to continue providing necessary items for families in need during home visits. “We are so thankful to Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation for providing funding that will allow us to meet the basic family needs of local families during these difficult and challenging times," said Shon Ewens, Executive Director of Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County.
During the pandemic, most face-to-face visits were done virtually, but the Care Coordinators have been returning to in-person visits. One of the ways the Healthy Start Care Coordinators keep the moms they are visiting in-person engaged is by bringing baby items (diapers, books, etc.) to the home visit. “When I visit clients bringing 'that gift that makes all the difference,' as I call it, I see their faces light up with gratitude and relief. Whether it's a package of diapers, wipes, a Pack ‘n Play, a breast pump, used clothing, food or a gift card, they all get very emotional. It warms my heart to see the impact of these items on families. It helps me build a relationship with them and sets me on track to gain their trust,” said Odhet Ortega, Healthy Start Program Bilingual Care Coordinator.
Khady Diarra, Program Administrator with Healthy Start at the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, leads the team of Care Coordinators. Care coordination and other special services are provided free of charge by professional social workers, nurses, counselors and educators to pregnant women, new moms, infants, and children up to three years of age. The program includes case management and "wraparound services" such as psychosocial counseling, stress management education, prenatal and parenting education, nutrition education, childbirth education, breastfeeding education and support, tobacco cessation education and support, and more. The program helps to ensure healthy outcomes for babies in their first years of life.
“Investing in young children provides a great return throughout their lives and for our whole community. Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County and the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota reach out to families in need of extra support and make sure they have the basic necessities and empowerment to care for their new babies. I can’t think of a more important mission, especially after the isolation of the pandemic,” said Jennifer Johnston, Director of Community Leadership with Gulf Coast Community Foundation.
To learn more about Gulf Coast Community Foundation, visit www.gulfcoastcf.org.