Nothing on earth is more innocent and promising than a newborn infant. But not every baby is lucky enough to be welcomed into a safe environment. “Parts of St. Louis have infant mortality rates equal to or worse than Third World countries,” says Melinda Ohlemiller, CEO of Nurses for Newborns (NFN). “Some infants are born with medical problems but lack access to health care; others are born to unprepared teen moms or moms who are mentally or physically challenged; still others are born into domestic violence and addiction, or to well-intentioned families who can’t afford food, diapers or a crib.”

Nurses for Newborns works to prevent infant mortality, abuse and neglect by providing at-risk families with free, in-home visits from experienced registered nurses. “We encourage and educate families during the critical time before and after they bring a new life into the world, and assist parents to nurture and protect their babies at the most vulnerable time in their lives,” Ohlemiller explains. “We act as a safety net by offering services such as child and maternal health assessments, developmental monitoring, preventive care, and parenting skills and home safety training to families who don’t have adequate medical care and other necessities.” Clients have access to a 24/7 nurse on call and donated emergency supplies such as formula, baby clothes and portable cribs. “We also can connect them to our community partners if they need safe housing, assistance with utilities, employment services and other resources,” she adds.

Established in 1991, NFN now serves more than 3,000 infants annually in 20 Missouri counties. Demand for services keeps climbing. “We couldn’t function without generous community support,” Ohlemiller says. NFN’s annual dinner auction, A Night for Newborns, takes place April 19 at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac. This year’s event honors supporters Thelma Steward, who will receive the Champion for Families Award, and David Kodner, who will receive the McGraw Milhaven Award. Barbara Druhe, Fran Marks and Gloria Wind serve as co-chairs; World Wide Technology is presenting sponsor.

“Evidence shows reduced abuse or neglect, increased immunizations, and reduced injuries, hospitalizations and ER visits when NFN is in the picture,” Ohlemiller says. “We know from these outcomes that we’re saving babies’ lives, giving them a chance to grow, and empowering our clients to be good parents.”

But numbers tell just part of the story. “We got a phone call not long ago from a former client who endured a long period of unemployment and emotional problems,” Ohlemiller says. “She thanked our nurse for helping her get back on her feet. Another mom thanked us for teaching her CPR, because it enabled her to save her baby’s life. We get these calls all the time. That’s how we know we’re making a real difference in the lives of the families we serve. Every baby deserves to be safe and healthy. But that happens only when families are strong and confident in their care.

[A Night for Newborns, a dinner auction benefiting Nurses for Newborns, takes place April 19 at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac. Tickets are $140. Tables and sponsorships are still available. For more information, call 314.544.3433 or visit]

Photos: Nurses for Newborns