Categorized | Featured, Health

Community resources band together to take Baby STEPS

From left, Christina Ranan, Obstetric Nurse Manager; David Hurd, The Rotary Club of Hilo Bay; Darissa Kekuawela, Baby STEPS to Stronger Big Island Families and Kamehameha Schools; Howard N. Ainsley, East Hawaii Regional CEO of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation; Wehilani Johnson holding baby boy Rydan DeMello; Ricky DeMello, Rydan’s dad. (Photo courtesy of Baby STEPS)


Starting this month, newborns on the Big Island will receive a special “welcome to the world” gift thanks to the generosity of a philanthropic organization, the time and energy of volunteers and the dedication of a team of early childhood educators.

The Newborn Baskets project is one of several early childhood initiatives spearheaded on the Island of Hawaii by Baby STEPS to Stronger Big Island Families. The basket project, originally started in 2004, took a brief hiatus in 2009 and is resuming this fall in all three hospitals on the Island of Hawaii.

The first basket – filled with tools and resources to strengthen families – was delivered Sept. 10 at Hilo Medical Center to newborn Rydan DeMello and parents Wehilani Johnson and Ricky DeMello.

Similar assembly work and deliveries will be done by volunteers from Family Support Hawaii for North Hawaii Community Hospital and Kona Community Hospital.

“Hilo Medical Center truly welcomes the Newborn Baby Baskets Project,” said Howard N. Ainsley, Regional CEO of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation. “I would like to thank everyone involved in bringing this valuable program back to our hospital and the families that will benefit from the promotion of parent-child bonding.”

The baskets are meant to welcome infants and provide a research-based booster pack of “tools” to help ensure that each newborn and his or her family are getting the best possible start to family life.

Among the items in each basket are an Island wide Resource Directory of services for infants (0-5) and their families, which is compiled by the Baby STEPS Council and generously printed by Kamehameha Schools, a “Snugli,” which is a soft “hands free” front pack baby carrier that research says nurtures valuable “attachment” between the infant and mom, dad and other care-givers and Baby’s first book from “Read To Me International.”

Each of the items included in every basket are premised on peer-reviewed early childhood and substance abuse prevention research and best practices, said Angela Thomas, an early childhood expert, and the lead for the Baby STEPS to Stronger Big Island Families team.

In Hilo, the Rotary Clubs – led by The Rotary Club of Hilo Bay – are volunteering to assemble and deliver baskets to Hilo Medical Center. David Hurd, Community Service Officer for The Rotary Club of Hilo Bay, said the project succeeds at all levels for Rotary.

“It will definitely be of great aid both to the parents of newborns and the child itself; it will allow Rotarians of different clubs to work together on a common cause; it is a Literacy project which is one of the areas Rotarians focus on; and finally it passes the Four-Way Test of the things we as Rotarians think, say and do: ‘Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?’” Hurd said. “There are no downsides to this project!”

Thomas agrees, “It isn’t just that new moms, dads and family members love a gift basket, although we have gotten positive feedback from families. It’s more about our community caring about and prioritizing babies and young families. Research and experience tell us babies who strongly ‘attach’ or ‘bond’ with parents and caregivers are happier, healthier children and adults. They exhibit better self esteem, an eagerness to learn and are less at risk for substance and/or child abuse.”

A generous donation from Traders for Charity, Inc. was matched with the Baby Basket project by Social Currency, a philanthropic concierge that assists results-oriented donors. The funds are being used to purchase supplies to create the baskets and offset costs for the tools and resources which fill each basket.

Baby STEPS to Stronger Big Island Families, a program of Friends of the Future, is an initiative created by individuals and organizations committed to helping all keiki on Hawaii Island to be healthy, happy and to thrive by supporting families, strengthening practitioners and engaging communities.

Coordinated by Angela Thomas, MA Ed, group projects include: development and distribution of a Literacy Continuums booklet, coordination of the annual Hawaii Island Early Childhood Conference, development and distribution of a resource directory for families with young children, establishment of a take home literacy book bag program, distribution of age-appropriate books to children by partnering with a free food distribution program to needy families, and the Baby Baskets program.

For information on Baby STEPS to Stronger Big Island Families, contact Thomas at 887-1228.

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