CelebrateOne Community Health Workers. Vanitia Turner is pictured third from left.
Vanitia knows all too well the critical public health issues facing mothers and babies within her community. A mother to six children and grandmother to 16 grandchildren, Vanitia was forced to confront the painful reality of losing a child too soon. In 2011, Kendalyn Rose Gore, Vanitia’s granddaughter, passed away from SIDS while asleep at home.
The devastating loss of her granddaughter inspired Vanitia to pursue a new career as a Community Health Worker (CHW) with CelebrateOne’s Community Connector Corps. In her role, Vanitia is helping reduce infant mortality in Columbus by engaging, educating, and empowering new and expectant mothers. Her efforts are grounded in her passion to ensure other families don’t have to go through what she and her family experienced. “I don’t think any parent or grandparent should go through the death of a child when it’s preventable,” says Vanitia. “We want to see babies thrive in their first year and thereafter.”
Vanitia plays an important role in her community by connecting Columbus area mothers to essential health and social services, including prenatal care and education, easy-to-use cribs, transportation, and emergency food and housing. From providing diapers to mothers in need, delivering meals to hungry children, and cutting the umbilical cord as one of her clients gave birth, Vanitia has covered the full spectrum of care for a baby’s first year.
While working with a client who recently relocated to the Columbus area without family nearby, Vanitia helped connect her to needed programs and services, including housing assistance when finances were tight. Their close relationship and constant communication gave her client a trusted confidant to rely on during her pregnancy. And, when her client went into labor, Vanitia was there in the hospital to provide support, encouragement and assistance.
To ensure babies are on the best path to a healthy and safe first year of life, CHWs educate families - parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles — on best practices by providing them with critical information and resources. Changing habits and raising awareness about misconceptions on safe sleeping practices is one challenge Vanitia faces on a regular basis. To address this need, she teaches families the ABCs of safe sleep, ensuring all caretakers understand that babies are safest when they sleep alone, on their backs, and in an empty crib.
Vanitia says families have to work to develop healthy routines. “I had to break my own habits, it’s a process, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Vanitia’s work within the community extends well beyond normal work hours. No matter where she goes — out to dinner with her husband or attending church on Sunday — Vanitia is constantly seeking out new and expectant mothers to ensure they have the tools and resources they need for a healthy and happy first year with their babies. “When I see expecting moms, I just start talking,” noted Vanitia.
What began as a way to honor the loss of her granddaughter has turned into a passionate appeal to her community — an appeal to educate families, promote healthy outcomes and celebrate every birthday along the way.