Healthy Birth Initiative celebrates parents' efforts to make difference in their babies' lives

August 17, 2012

Naomi Perkins was pregnant with her second daughter when the young Portland mother dropped out of cosmetology school, overwhelmed by the demands of school and family.

But with the support of Multnomah County’s Healthy Birth Initiative (HBI) staff, Perkins delivered her daughter and returned to Beaumont College Cosmetology where she graduated. Now, Perkins is studying to take her licensing exam.

On Wednesday, Aug. 15, more than 180 community members and county staff gathered at Peninsula Park in North Portland to celebrate the strides that Perkins and other young mothers and fathers are taking to raise healthy children.

The Healthy Birth Initiative is Multnomah County’s effort to improve the health and job opportunities for African-American mothers, fathers and young children through home visits, health education and support groups. The Multnomah County Health Department launched the Initiative in 1996. African-American babies were dying of SIDS and other complications at nearly twice the rate of children in other racial groups.

At a festive gathering, Commissioner Loretta Smith presented 18 awards to current and former participants for their work benefiting families and the community.

Commissioner Smith recalled her own challenges when, as a single mother, she had worked for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and volunteered at the Oregon Food Bank and Head Start, all while raising her son, Jordan. Today, her son is in college. He and his mother are close, and she knows first-hand that the road for young parents remains difficult.

“I know how much effort it takes to raise a child and balance all the demands of life, and I want to commend you all for your participation in Healthy Birth Initiative,’’ Smith said. “You all should feel so proud of yourselves for completing HBI; setting and accomplishing your goals; and investing in the health of your babies and families.”

“Look at all these healthy beautiful children,’’ Smith said. “It is a blessing to say that in the past 10 years all babies in the HBI program have seen their first birthday.”
Smith was introduced by Ellie Myrick, a Healthy Birth information specialist, who has been working with families since the beginning. Myrick grew up in North Portland and she said when the program started, few people trusted the county. When Myrick would pull up to the house in a county car, people assumed she was from child protective services and there to take their children. Instead, she was there to help them develop self-esteem, recognize their skills and get their education, while keeping their children and themselves as healthy as possible.

“I just tried to meet the families where they are at, to give them hope and build a relationship that will truly support them,’’ Myrick said.

As children ran and played games on Aug. 15, Perkins shared a luncheon prepared by staff of the Hope Kitchen alongside daughters KaDijah, 2, and Mariam, 19 months. Marta Guembes, her former caseworker, arrived to take photographs and dote on the girls.

Perkins received an award for her work on the Healthy Birth Initiative Consortium, a group of people who set the direction of the program and recruit other participants. More than a dozen other moms and dads were lauded as peer support members who volunteer time helping other young parents and planning program events.

“Thank you,’’ said LaCarla Brown, “for believing in me.’’

To learn more, visit the Early Childhood Services website or call 503-988-3387.