United for momentum

Black Mothers United program to serve more than 600 expectant mothers

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the August 16, 2018, issue.

For many, ZIP codes are little more than a jumble of numbers. But for some Sacramento County children, they can be the difference between life and death.

In several areas of the region, African-American infants and children experience mortality rates that are twice that of their peers. A team of community advocates continues trying to change that grim dynamic. After securing nearly $2 million to expand their Black Mothers United program, it just might.

Her Health First, formerly the Center for Community Health & Well Being, is one of more than 20 nonprofits working out of former classrooms at the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative. In a neighborhood fraught with violence, malnutrition and housing insecurity, Her Health First follows its name as a guide, subscribing to the mantra that “strong and healthy communities begin with strong and healthy women.” Executive director Shannon Read explains the organization’s goal as one that seeks to build health equity—not equality—for women throughout the community.

“We have to start with the population that’s experiencing the disproportionality,” Read said. “We have to help women of color first.”

In 2013, Her Health First pilot-launched the Black Mothers United program, designed to address the region’s disproportionate infant mortality rates in a holistic manner. Black Mothers United partners expectant African-American women with pregnancy coaches who help them get proper pre- and perinatal care.

The First 5 Sacramento Commission has been a vital funding source for Black Mothers United since the beginning. Following an 18-month trial period that saw zero infant deaths, First 5 Sacramento awarded Her Health First a three-year, $1.27 million contract to fully establish the program. In the nonprofit arena, Read explained, funding often disappears the moment an issue shows signs of improvement.

“We’re starting to see the needle move,” she said.

But First 5 Sacramento—whose goal is to support healthy infant development—seems to recognize that the job isn’t over. On July 1, the commission renewed its contract with Her Health First for another three years, this time upping the ante to $1.9 million.

“The power of programs like Black Mothers United is that they meet mothers where they are at, within each of their own unique circumstances, to provide individualized care,” said Julie Gallelo, executive director of First 5 Sacramento.

That tactic makes the program feasible for a range of women. If clients don’t have a house, pregnancy coaches visit them wherever they sleep. If clients don’t have a car, coaches can transport them to meetings and appointments.

The newest contract from First 5 Sacramento means HHF has the resources to form new partnerships and provide more services to Black Mothers United. The expansion includes offering free childbirth education courses, as well as partnering with organizations to connect mothers with additional training and medical care. HHF has also increased its role in the Black Child Legacy Campaign.

Advocates like Read stress that every woman has potential to birth a healthy child and change her community from within—they just need the right tools. With new momentum, Black Mothers United anticipates serving 630 new women across seven neighborhoods between 2018 and 2021.