This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Melinda Wilcoxson and Nichole Watts wanted to find a way to help mothers.
So they created Bellies and Babees, a nonprofit prenatal care coordination and child care agency that helps women in their time of need.
“Yes, we’ll give you baby items if you need it,” Wilcoxson said. “But we also give you lifelong learning lessons and life skills and goals.”
Their main goal is to help women become “self-sufficient because we’re not going to be here all the time,” she said.
The organization, located at 5757 W. Oklahoma Ave., assigns a one-on-one care coordinator for pregnant women and women with infants. The care coordinator can assist mothers with pregnancy planning and help them determine their eligibility for community services.
Bellies and Babees formed in March and employs 15 care coordinators. It has served about 275 families since it started, said Sam Watts, office manager.
Wilcoxson said her organization goes beyond just giving women temporary help.
“What is the reason that you’re not keeping employment?” Wilcoxson asked, for example. “What is the reason that you can’t have housing? We want to dig deep into their issues and problems and help give them resources and tools to meet those types of goals because we can give them baby items all day, but that’s still not going to help them in the long run.”
That’s why Watts said Bellies and Babees helps mothers get a high school education and works to teach them job skills, such as interviewing.
The organization also works with Employ Milwaukee, a workforce development effort in Milwaukee County, on job-training classes to help mothers prepare for employment and to be able to provide for themselves.
‘They need someone to be behind them’
“Honestly, I think the biggest thing is they need someone to be behind them,” Watts said. “Whether it’s finding transportation or figuring out child care for a couple of hours because they can’t bring all of their kids with them to the appointments.”
As a certified doula, Wilcoxson works with women to help determine how they want to deliver the baby and is a constant partner throughout the pregnancy process.
The organization is funded by BadgerCare and also receives donations from agencies and community members.
Bellies and Babees provides services in Spanish, too, with seven care coordinators who are fluent Spanish speakers. Wilcoxson said the organization also in the process of hiring staff to help reach the Hmong population.
Bellies and Babees also operates a clothing bank and hosts special events, such as a coat drive that served 180 families before Thanksgiving.
“We want them to create memories with their kids here, too,” Wilcoxson said. “Things that their kids will remember like: ‘Remember when we went to see Santa Claus?’ even though they may not be able to do that any other time. We want to give them those memories, too.”
For more information
Call 414-539-6492 or visit Bellies and Babees’ Facebook page.
Eligibility for the program depends on a mother’s circumstances. To enroll, a mother must be pregnant or have a child under 2 months old. However, if they receive services from another prenatal care agency, they can enroll if they have a child under 6 months old. Families can also transfer from another agency into Bellies and Babees at any time.
Once a family is enrolled in the program, they can stay with the agency until the child is 7 years old.
In order to use the organization, you must be enrolled in BadgerCare Plus. Those interested can get help enrolling at the site as well as through other services like FoodShare, Women, Infants and Children and Wisconsin Works programs.