In 2014, I left a community service forum deeply troubled by a startling statistic – 150 Columbus families would lose a child before his or her first birthday. That night I resolved to lead the fight to lower infant mortality in our community. I formed the Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force, whose recommendations led to the creation of CelebrateOne, which has been dedicated to helping babies reach their first birthdays.
I am not the only one moved to action by the infant mortality rate in Columbus.
Rod Swain remembers reading an article about infant mortality in Columbus a couple of years ago. Like me, he was unable to shake the fact that 150 babies would not make it to their first birthdays. Rod works at City Year Columbus, where their mission is to keep students in school and on track in high-poverty neighborhoods. He loves his work, recruiting young adults to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth – but he realized that so many babies would never have the opportunity for education at all.
In October, Rod had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of competing on “Jeopardy.” He decided that whatever he won, he would give to CelebrateOne. In his letter he wrote, “Ever since I first learned about the infant mortality problem here in Columbus, I have been very disturbed by it personally. I hope this donation will help, and I’m only sorry it couldn’t be more.”
While there is much more to be done, we’ve had a lot of early wins in our fight against infant mortality.
- We reduced sleep-related deaths by 50% from 2016.
- We increased the number of prenatal appointments for pregnant women by 39% through the StepOne program.
- We trained more than 625 residents on safe sleep practices, with them becoming safe sleep ambassadors in their communities.
- We received an-almost $1 million grant from the Ohio Finance Housing Agency to help extremely low-income and homeless women find stable housing during pregnancy.
- Recently, we were told we will receive $3.3 million in state funding for the CelebrateOne work.
Rod’s donation, and the grants and funding we’ve received, means we are able to continue to provide services to expectant mothers and babies. It means we are getting closer to our goals of getting more babies to their first birthdays and beyond.
We’ve won a few battles, but the reality is that this is a long fight. Decreasing infant mortality is a bigger problem that can’t be fixed with one solution. We have to address issues from a societal and community level, from socioeconomic factors to healthcare access, from education on sleep habits to tobacco use.
Everyone has a role to play in this fight to reduce infant mortality. I am grateful to our CelebrateOne team, all of our partners, our sleep ambassadors, community connectors and Rod. I am confident we are moving in the right direction.
And I am inspired by people like Rod Swain who thinks we are, too.
Ginther is Mayor of Columbus. For more information, visit http://celebrateone.info/