Community Outreach

How the Church of Jesus Christ and the NAACP Are Helping Young and Expectant Mothers in Memphis

Classes starting November 29 will help women be healthier and happier and better care for their babies

Two organizations are working together in Memphis, Tennessee, to help mothers and their babies thrive in an area that has one of the United States’ highest infant mortality rates.

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered Saturday, November 19, 2022, in Memphis’s 38126 ZIP code to announce the launch of MyBaby4Me — a program with classes to help new and expectant mothers.

“This partnership is God ordained and God inspired,” said NAACP Memphis Branch President Van Turner. “I’m just so happy that it’s happening at such a critical time in our city. We’re dealing with public safety, we’re dealing with homelessness, we’re dealing with poverty. [It’s critical to address] the origin of humanity, when these young people are in the womb, and try to make sure they get the proper care while in the womb [and then] come out and survive and be healthy. Once that happens, they have a great start in life. That solves and resolves those other issues. So, I’m so happy to be partnered with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and all our other partners because this is really a great endeavor.”

This is the second humanitarian collaboration between the NAACP and the Church of Jesus Christ since Prophet and President Russell M. Nelson in 2021 pledged US$2 million a year for three years to fund these projects. The inaugural undertaking last month focused on improving a community farm in San Francisco.

“We’re going to teach mothers how to nurture their babies and how to become a mother,” said Vickie Terry, executive director of the NAACP Memphis Branch. “We’re going to teach them how to feed a baby and how to even put a baby in a car seat — just the basic things that need to be done in order to take care of a baby.”

Classes for women will begin November 29, 2022, at the Memphis NAACP. The NAACP is receiving assistance from the Vance Avenue Youth Development Center just down the street. The center is donating its kitchen to help feed young mothers and their families.

“We see a lot of young mothers. We feed a lot of young mothers,” said Barbara Nesbit, director of the youth center. “The NAACP is taking a little burden away from us as far as helping these mothers or these parents with infant mortality. … We don’t have much to give, but what we have is love here. We have a lot of love for this community.”

The other partners in the project are Baptist Memorial Health Care, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, the Shelby County Health Department and Cooper Hotels.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Ann Marie Wallace, a senior community outreach coordinator with Baptist Memorial Health Care. “I’m all about partnering with the community. It’s all about a healthier community. … We Baptists want to have a relationship with to-be moms before they come into our facility so when they come into our facility they have a better outcome.”

Volunteers spent Saturday afternoon distributing MyBaby4Me pamphlets throughout the 38126 ZIP code.

“We had the opportunity to knock on the door of a woman that is pregnant right now,” said Marc Allan Dudley, who passed out pamphlets with his wife, Sonya, and two of their daughters. “Her eyes kind of lit up and she was thankful for the program. … People are happy that somebody notices that there’s an issue and that there’s somebody doing something about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some of these individuals actually become part of the movement because they know someone is doing something about it in the area.”

Infant mortality is close to the Dudleys’ heart. The parents of eight lost a son who was a year old.

“We love family,” Sonya said. “And that’s the big thing. If you’re gonna have a family, you’re gonna need to know how to take care of them. And it starts from the beginning. … I’m really thankful for the NAACP for understanding that everybody doesn’t understand how to take care of children and [that they are] giving that education.”

This project for mothers and babies grew out of a conversation earlier this year between Terry and Elder Matthew S. Holland of the Church’s North America Southeast Area Presidency.

“When I met the faith leaders from the North America Southeast Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was not sure what to expect,” Terry said. “We were having a pleasant meeting when Elder Mathew Holland asked, ‘Vickie, what keeps you up at night?’ I told the visitors that it bothers me that today our headquarters resides in a ZIP code with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.”

Elder Holland brought Terry’s comments on infant mortality into an Area Presidency meeting.

“We got excited about what we could do to change that,” said Area President Elder Vern P. Stanfill. “We found a model created by an Ohio State University scholar. We’re following that model to create an environment where education and nutrition and sociality will help women in Shelby County care for their infants and be prepared to go into labor. Our vision in the southeastern United States is that we can go into communities like this and make a difference by partnering with others.”

The Church of Jesus Christ’s North America Southeast Area comprises Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, southwestern Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee.

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