Strong Beginnings Community Collaborative Helps Reduce Infant Mortality and Improve Birth Outcomes

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Grants $4.5 million to Support Expanded Program

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has committed a $4.5 million grant to Strong Beginnings to continue reducing infant mortality and low birth weight among African Americans. Funding will also help address structural racism in the community which is thought to be a leading factor in health disparities among African-Americans.

Strong Beginnings is a federally-funded Healthy Start program that provides outreach, case management, education and mental health services that have successfully improved birth outcomes for women and babies. It is designed to improve the overall system of care by addressing underlying factors that contribute to poor health. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant will enable up to 800 women to be served annually and will expand efforts to engage the community by addressing racial equity. 

Recent data show low birth weight among program participants has dropped from nearly 17 percent to less than 7 percent. In addition, infant mortality among African-Americans in Grand Rapids has decreased by 23 percent in the past six years.

“Strong Beginnings is an example of what can happen when our community rallies around an important health issue,” said John Mosley, executive vice president and chief strategy officer, Spectrum Health. “Each partner provides different expertise as we work to reduce infant mortality and improve health outcomes of a vulnerable population. The positive change is a result of the collaborative efforts.”

Spectrum Health is the fiduciary for Strong Beginnings. Other partner organizations include:

  • Arbor Circle
  • Cherry Street Health Services
  • Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
  • Healthy Kent 2020
  • Kent County Health Department
  • Metro Health
  • Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
  • Saint Mary’s Health Care
  • The Salvation Army Booth Clinic

“We are grateful to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its commitment to reducing infant mortality,” said Shannon Wilson, interim executive director, Grand Rapids African American Health Institute. “The grant will enable us to nearly double the number of women we serve. We will hire an additional six community health workers, a mental health counselor and a fatherhood coordinator. The fatherhood coordinator will serve as a mentor and educator, help men connect to needed resources, and increase community awareness of the critical role fathers play in a child’s life.” 

Additional elements of the expanded program include promotion of breastfeeding, safe sleep practices and parenting skills.  Participants receive services from pregnancy until two years after the baby is born.  Services include:

  • Support services, including home visits by community health workers, nurses and social workers
  • Assistance accessing resources such as transportation, food, baby supplies and medical care
  • Parenting classes and education about ways to improve the health of mothers and babies
  • Counseling and support groups for those struggling with mental health issues

“Strong Beginnings works to ensure that Kent County’s most vulnerable babies and families have access to the services that ensure healthy child development,” said Nadia Brigham, program officer, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “Improving birth outcomes is one of the first and most critical steps to changing the future for kids in our communities.”

Women interested in joining the Strong Beginnings program should call 616.331.5838.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, established in 1930, supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.