By Randy Gammage
Sharonda Avant has three precious reasons for believing in the power of the Moms2B Ohio State outreach program. Several months before giving birth to triplets in June 2013 in the Wexner Medical Center, she registered in the program and learned to maintain a healthy pregnancy through proper nutrition and health care.
“Without Moms2B, I probably would not have made it this far with the triplets,” she said. After they were born, she learned about parenting and planning nutritious meals on a budget. The program changed her way of thinking about cooking and shopping.
“I used to go into the grocery store and grab whatever was convenient,” she said. “Now I take time to look for healthy foods, to even visit the organic food section, and to plan ahead for meals.”
Pat Gabbe, clinical professor of pediatrics at Ohio State and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, is founder and director of Moms2B. She created the program in September 2010 with infant mental health specialist Twinkle French Schottke to address an alarmingly high infant mortality rate in Ohio by eliminating health disparities. Moms2B is here to help women at high risk for infant mortality learn tools that will enable them to make more healthful choices and deliver healthy, full-term infants.
Initial funding came from an Ohio State grant for an OSU-NCH research project, titled “The OSU International Poverty Collaborative.” It started in the basement of Grace Memorial Baptist Church in the Weinland Park District, where OSU Extension already had a foothold. The group meets every Wednesday morning for counseling, meetings, camaraderie and a nutritious lunch.
Avant continues with career development training through Moms2B. She dreams of one day owning a restaurant and is nurturing that dream by serving as a prep cook for the program under the guidance of chef Ed Hoon, who retired in 2008 as assistant director of nutrition services at the Wexner Medical Center. He teaches moms about food prep, food safety and proper handling of food. He also teaches them to stretch their food budgets so they don’t have to sacrifice nutrition.
“To me, it’s very gratifying,” Hoon said. “The moms come up after lunch and tell me how much they enjoyed the meal,” which on one recent Wednesday featured chicken fajitas, black beans and rice, a fruit bowl and blueberry cobbler with yogurt.
Volunteering with Moms2B helps him feed his passions for cooking and volunteering while maintaining a connection with the university. “You walk out of here feeling like you’ve done something good, and that’s very uplifting,” Hoon said.
In addition to the weekly sessions, program components include:
- Nutrition assessment and social support for food, housing, reproductive health, mental health, medical care and breastfeeding
- Hospital visits and postpartum nurse home visits
- Coordination with medical providers
- Connection to training, jobs, childcare and laundry day
- Teaching health professionals
Moms2B adds many personal touches along the way. Volunteers visit the moms in the hospital toting a care package of sorts, and then follow that up with a home-cooked meal delivered to their home. “We realized that we have to do something after they have their babies, so we follow them for a year after delivery,” Gabbe said.
Since its inception, the program has served more than 350 moms. Ohio State nursing, medical, social work, child development and medical dietetic students gain valuable community service experience through the program.
Moms2B has since branched out. It is establishing programs in Columbus neighborhoods and targets zip code areas that have high infant mortality rates. And the influence has been felt far beyond the Columbus community it serves. Gabbe partnered with Harvard and the GRIEF Foundation to develop an international program launched in Haiti to improve infant and child health.
“We realized Moms2B is a model that could be used in other countries because we know that women in other countries also have poor nutrition habits,” Gabbe said. Her expertise has been called upon on numerous occasions. She testified recently during hearings as the State Senate considered and adopted new legislation to help reduce infant mortality.
Gabbe said funding for Moms2B is provided by a variety of sources, including an Engagement Impact grant from the Office of Outreach and Engagement,the Columbus Foundation, the governor’s office, United Way and Kroger. The Red Cross provides transportation for laundry day every Thursday — one of the more popular activities considering there are no washers or dryers in the public housing the moms live in.
The Moms2B central office is located in Ohio State’s Schoenbaum Family Center in Weinland Park.
For more information on the program, visit moms2bohio.com.