AK: Baby Boost

As in many small towns in Alaska, there are no babies delivered in Wrangell’s hospital. Expectant mothers have to leave town to give birth. When they return, there aren’t many services to help them adjust to life with a new baby.

Hannah’s Place is a non-profit that provides free courses for expecting couples and new parents. In exchange for taking these classes, parents have access to a “free” store that has nearly everything an infant needs. KSTK’s Shady Grove Oliver has the story.

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I walk across a neat lawn bordered with flowers to get to the small yellow and white house that’s called Hannah’s Place.

Nedra Shoultz is the director of Hannah’s Place and the matron of this house. When I arrive, she invites me into a cozy living room.

“One of the first things I do, I sort of go through, open everything up,” Shoultz said. “I like to turn the lights on and usually light a candle, get the doors open and things, just so it will seem homey and welcoming. Turn on a little background music.”

It doesn’t feel like a business; it feels like a home.

Hannah’s Place is a non-profit that started about two years ago to help new moms adjust to life with a baby. While anyone is welcome—dads, too—many of the women who come here are struggling a bit, either financially or as a single parent.

It’s volunteers like Shoultz that keep the place running and it’s stocked with donated maternity and baby supplies.

Schoultz says a new mom could, in theory, get everything she needs from a first pregnancy test through the birth of a child and all the way until the kid is a toddler without spending a dime.

ak-baby-boostIn the living room there’s a baby sitting on the rug, playing with one of the many toys strewn around the room.

“This is one of our client’s little ones,” Shoultz said. “Most of them do bring their little ones with them which is fun because then we get to see them and watch them grow. He’s actually a little serious right now isn’t he? Whatcha thinkin’ little buddy?”

His mom is one of the many young women that frequent Hannah’s Place.

“I’m Nika Mork and this is Jonah Hirst. And he is almost eight months old now. I’ve been coming here for three or four months now. Twice a week we come here and get to visit. Oh are you gonna say something bubba?”

Mork says she’s taken several of the video-based classes Hannah’s Place offers. They range from workshops on quick and healthy meal preparation to finding a cheap used car and affordable insurance.

She says one of the videos told her Jonah would start sleeping through the night, eventually. But they’re still working on that.

When parents take the classes they earn mommy bucks. And that brings us upstairs, to the mommy store.

The second-floor bedrooms are set up like a children’s boutique. Parents can redeem their bucks for anything inside.

Shoultz says this system of earning bucks for learning life skills gives these moms a sense of pride.

That’s why she says it’s important that all of the donated items look new and are not outdated.

“We have nothing that has a spot on it – nothing at all,”  Shoultz  said. “We put those completely away.”

“If someone were to come and ask me and say I want to look at those, I would let them just have those, but I don’t put out anything that has a spot.”

Along with access to the store, every mom in town with a newborn gets what Shoultz calls a ‘Celebrate Life’ basket. She delivers them to new parents as soon as possible after the birth.

Marlo Ellsworth is a 27-year-old mother of three. Days before the birth of her second boy, her daughter was badly injured. Her husband flew to Seattle with their daughter for emergency care, which ultimately took over a month and cost him his job.

After giving birth, Ellsworth and the two boys returned to Wrangell. She couldn’t afford baby supplies and didn’t know what to do.

“We had zero money at that point. When we got back, I stressed because my husband was out of work, I was out of work, and even with help, it’s rough,” Ellsworth said. “And there was a knock at my door; I thought, ‘Oh , no, I wasn’t ready for visitors yet.’”

She found a Hannah’s Place volunteer with one of those baskets outside.

It was stuffed with diapers, burp rags, and bottles.

“It didn’t feel like, ‘oh, she’s poor let’s give her a basket of stuff.’ It was very friendly. I felt like they’re there for everyone who could use the stuff,” Ellsworth said. “And everyone can, because no matter how much money you have babies are expensive. It was so awesome”

And director Nedra Shoultz says that’s what it’s all about, helping people when they need it the most.