Brighter Beginnings Nurse Manager Helps Fight Infant Mortality Rates While Building Community

September 30, 2020

Willie C. Roberts, nurse manager of Brighter Beginnings, began working with the program shortly after it was developed eight years ago with the goal of lowering Jacksonville’s infant mortality rate – which is the highest in the state of Florida. Throughout her time with the program, Roberts has not only improved the curriculum, she has also helped it grow tremendously. Throughout the years, it has flourished, and in 2019 alone, the program served 141 babies and families.

Brighter Beginnings services range from providing education, to advocating for healthy pregnancies and donating baby items to families in need. Both expectant mothers and parents of children up to one year old are invited to attend and participate.

When Roberts first became involved with the program, she saw immense potential in the curriculum and took immediate steps to fortify the structure and resources provided to the families. She recruited the help and expertise of several nurses to not only create the class materials, but also to develop pre and post-tests to determine a baseline of the mothers’ knowledge and gauge the effectiveness of the course after completion.

Roberts’ vision for comprehensive support spans beyond just the course materials – it can also be seen in how she and her team help the expectant parents. They not only advocate for healthy pregnancies, they also approach the wellbeing of mothers from a wholistic standpoint. These lessons include helping parents navigate the healthcare system, build a budget, keep a healthy diet on budget, and assist with education and career exploration.

These resources are especially important as Brighter Beginnings participants vary widely in age (mothers range from ages 16-47) and in diversity, with women of all ethnicities and backgrounds taking part in the class.

One common thread among participants is their economic status – many are living in poverty or close to it. The Brighter Beginnings Program partners with many different affiliate organizations throughout Jacksonville to help women overcome employment and educational challenges. For example, Career Resources, Generation Jacksonville, and Florida State College at Jacksonville provide free job training, GED courses and assistance with college enrollment.

While Roberts certainly garners support from other organizations, she helps build her own community of love and encouragement within the program. It is suggested that when mothers come to class, they should bring their partner or another adult supporter to simply have someone there with them and for another set of ears to hear the information. However, many come in alone and are in need of someone to be by their side. That’s where Roberts and her team step in.

She encourages the mothers to partner up in class and to stay in touch even after they complete Brighter Beginnings. Many women enter the program with similar struggles – so the opportunity for them to spend time around a group of mothers who are truly understanding and empathic often empowers them to push forward towards a better future. 

When asked about which aspect of her role is most fulfilling, Roberts reflects on the positive transformations and how they inspire those who facilitate the program.

“Moms come in wanting and needing, but they leave wanting to give back because of what our program does,” she said. “Hearing the mothers tell us how much they appreciate what we do gives us the energy to push even harder.”

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brighter Beginnings has been offered in a condensed, socially distanced format hosted outside with all attendees required to wear masks. Roberts and her team have found creative ways to deliver resources to families by hosting drive-thru distributions of food, diapers and clothing for babies. They have also mailed out gift cards to mothers who are struggling financially during this difficult time.

For those interested in supporting this program, please visit our Donate page. If you know someone who would benefit from enrolling in Brighter Beginnings, contact Roberts at willie.roberts@ascension.org.

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