South Bend nonprofit granted $2.1 million in state funding to fight infant deaths

 Barbara Jones and her baby, Natalie
Barbara Jones and her baby, Natalie (WNDU)
Published: Dec. 13, 2016 at 5:21 PM EST
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Each year, infant mortality rates in the U.S. continue to lag behind. Nearly six of every 1,000 babies born die before reaching their first birthday.

In the region, the numbers are even more astonishing. In Northern Indiana, the infant mortality rate sits at 7.4, and jumps to 9.8 when concentrating on St. Joseph County alone.

Black infants are 2.5 times more likely to die than white babies, and 4.3 times more likely to die in Northern Indiana.

To change those statistics, Community Wellness Partners in South Bend took the issue to the statehouse.

Thirty-one organizations across Indiana applied for the Safety PIN (Protecting Indiana's Newborns) Grant Program.

Only ten received funding, including Community Wellness Partners, which secured $2.1 million dollars to fight infant deaths.

"This grant means that we're able to get more feet on the ground, support more moms and we're able to reach into the community where we've been unable to reach before," said Kelli Brien, Maternal Child Health Coordinator, Community Wellness Partners.

Brien has worked as a doula for nine years.

"Anytime I needed her, she was right there," said Barbara Jones, who has received support from Community Wellness Partners.

Jones is a new mom of three-month old Natalie.

"She wasn't planned, she was a big surprise. I didn't know how I was going to tell my parents," said Jones.

The nonprofit helps moms like Barbara with the resources they need for a healthy pregnancy.

"Always been there for me....helped me quit smoking actually. To feel her little kicks when she was in me, it just made me want to change kind of who I was," said Jones.

"We have a higher prevalence of smoking rates in our area than across the state. So we know that second hand smoke, and even third hand smoke, and with third hand smoke, is when you hold the baby here and you've smoked, they're breathing that right off of your clothes," said Karl Nichols, Executive Director, Community Wellness Partners.

Lack of prenatal care, lack of breast-feeding and lack of safe sleep practices also contribute to higher infant mortality rates.

Nichols says the nonprofit's initiative, dubbed 'Speak Life: Here to Stay,' will focus efforts on African American and Latino women in our community.

"We wanted to make sure that we kept this at the forefront. I don't know how many trips I've made on 31, going to the statehouse, talking to the elected officials, saying, 'this is an issue, this is an issue, we need to address it, we need to address it,' and now it's addressed," said Nichols.

As part of the application process, each organization needed to provide an innovative way to impact the decline of infant mortality rates.

In teaming up with tech group, Telamon, out of Carmel, Community Wellness Partners will be launching an app, where expecting mothers can interact with professionals and get answers back immediately.

Mothers who receive assistance from Community Wellness Partners also have access to medical resources. In addition to pre- and post-natal support, the organization also helps expecting moms register for Medicaid, get to their doctors' appointments, and become educated on safe practices.

Community Wellness Partners teamed up with several organizations to make its Safety PIN Grant application possible. This includes the Northern Indiana Maternal & Child Health Network, Indiana Minority Health Coalition and Indiana Perinatal Network.

The nonprofit has also paired up with the LaPorte County and Elkhart County Minority Health Coalitions to implement the Speak Life initiative.

To see statistics on infant mortality in Indiana, click


To compare the United States' infant mortality rate with other countries, click


To view statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click