This Detroit Health Department program assigns mentors to moms to be in an effort to decrease the infant and maternal mortality rates, and foster healthy families.
Few times are as overwhelming in a woman’s life as when she’s preparing to birth a new baby. Am I asking my obstetrician the right questions? Is this car seat safe? Should I breastfeed? For how long? The questions are nearly endless, and for many moms to be, it’s not just answers they need – it’s access to resources.
SisterFriends Detroit aims to ease the minds of expectant moms by pairing them with caring mentors who act as emotional and mental support systems that can connect them to crucial resources, like transportation to and from doctor’s appointments. The duo is matched while mom – “little sister” – is pregnant, as early on as possible.
Director of Community Outreach Shirley Gray says mentors are expected to “walk beside” the little sister until the baby is 1 year old. The hard truth is this: A hand to hold during pregnancy and in the months after could mean the difference between life and death. “Our goal is to have full-term, healthy babies, and then keep that baby healthy until the first birthday,” Gray says.
“We realized that many of our mothers face barriers in term of accessing quality prenatal care, social isolation and environmental stressors that affect the outcomes and put them at higher risk” for preterm labor, low birth weight or worse. Since its inception, over 600 expectant moms have been matched to a mentor through SisterFriends Detroit, and no children have been lost.
SisterFriend mentors need only be over age 21, committed, compassionate, nonjudgmental, reliable, honorable and trustworthy. Mentors submit to a background check, and once approved, attend a two-hour orientation to learn about what the program entails. They’ll be introduced to available resources related to infant safety, breastfeeding, housing, health care and more.
Mentors are also required to attend at least four monthly educational sessions, which are filled with fun activities and important resources. Throughout the program, they’re expected to offer one-on-one mentoring and support little sisters, who are also assigned a community health worker to provide additional assistance and guidance.
Social worker and St. Clair Shores resident Beverly Weathington signed up to become a SisterFriends mentor. She was matched with Detroiter Lativa Wilson when Wilson was entering her third trimester of pregnancy. “I could tell just through that first phone conversation that (Wilson) was just so committed to being the best mom possible and that she knew having support could help that happen, and she was very open to support,” Weathington says. “She really, really was excited about the upcoming birth of this baby and she wanted to make sure she was doing everything possible to give her baby just the best advantage.”
After a difficult labor and delivery – one Weathington thinks could’ve turned bad had she not had support – Wilson gave birth to Kaden Jermaine Wilson in January. “By the time she was in labor, she had enough trust in me, and I had total confidence in her,” Weathington says. Wilson agrees, saying, “She just kept talking me through it like, ‘You can do this. You got it.’ I was kind of scared to get a SisterFriend because I thought we wouldn’t connect, but me and Ms. Beverly, we connected.”
SisterFriends Detroit is looking for more mentors. For information, or to sign up to be a mentor or a little sister, call 313-961-BABY or visit sisterfriendsdetroit.com.