Detroit seeks volunteers to help curb infant mortality
Detroit — The city of Detroit is seeking volunteers for a new program that links pregnant Detroit mothers with female mentors to guide them through their baby’s first birthday.
Mayor Mike Duggan unveiled plans in February for SisterFriends Detroit, a community-based support program aimed at helping reduce premature births and infant mortality. Since then, SisterFriends has operated as a pilot program, matching volunteer mentors with 42 pregnant women in the city.
On Wednesday, Duggan said the city is now hoping to recruit 1,000 volunteers to pair with 1,000 expectant mothers over the next couple of years. Babies in Detroit not making their first birthdays, Duggan said, is a “tragedy that is not acceptable in this community.”
“There is a segment of pregnant women, particularly teenagers, who feel disconnected from their government, who feel disconnected from the medical community and who we need to make an extra effort for outreach,” Duggan said during a press conference at City Hall. “If you are a woman in this community with a good heart and common sense who wants to help participate in one baby getting off to a healthy start in life, now is the time to sign up.”
SisterFriends will partner with the existing Make Your Date Detroit, an effort established in 2014 between the city and Wayne State University. Make Your Date connects pregnant women in Detroit neighborhoods with healthcare, testing and other resources needed to deliver a full-term, healthy baby.
Since its inception, Make Your Date has served more than 5,800 pregnant Detroiters to reduce the premature birth rate, officials said.
“The moms that have gone through this program have a 30 percent lower rate of preterm birth than those who didn’t,” Duggan said. “But we aren’t reaching enough.”
Under the new partnership, expectant mothers will have access to a SisterFriend as well as resources including health insurance, home visits and prenatal care. They also will be provided with a healthy baby plan to manage medical appointments, birth and educational classes.
Pregnant mothers in the program will also have access to “BabyRide,” a service being provided by Lyft, that covers rides to prenatal appointments.
SisterFriends has received $2 million from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, $100,000 from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and $70,000 from the Kresge Foundation to cover costs.
The program ramps up following a report released last week by the Michigan League for Public Policy that shows fewer babies overall are dying before their first birthday in Detroit and across Michigan, though infant mortality has increased for Hispanics and black infants still die at a rate double that of white babies.
Shonnise Powell, 31, is among the Detroit women enrolled in the SisterFriends pilot. Powell, who gave birth to her daughter, Faith, five weeks ago said she endured a high-risk pregnancy with complications but received daily support from her mentor.
“She was there for me for the appointments, making sure everything was OK,” said Powell, a single mother of four. “She’s still there.”