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Project Runway aims to improve prospects for pregnant teens, babies

Sarah Obot didn’t know anything about breast-feeding until she came to her first doctor’s appointment in Niagara Falls almost three years ago with her newborn son in her arms. “I’ve learned so much more since then,” said Obot, 31, who grew up and was educated in Belgium before moving to the Falls about eight years ago. Since then, she has surged to the forefront of the community health worker movement in the city, taking a job in May 2013 as coordinator of Project Runway, a Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center program that provides a pathway for drug- and alcohol-free living for girls and women ages 14 to 25.

Obot also will coordinate a new hospital-led effort to help women with family planning, pregnancy, parenting and other needs. Falls Memorial was awarded a four-year, $1.15 million state grant to launch the P3 Center for Teens, Moms and Kids, which will provide case management, education, referral, follow-up and advocacy. It will open Sept. 17 in the Hamilton B. Mizer Primary Care Center, 501 10th St. For help, call 278-4423 or stop into the center after it opens.

The center is designed to address alarming rates of teen pregnancy, premature deliveries, low birth weight and infant mortality in the city – rates generally are twice as high or more than elsewhere in Niagara County. Its services are open to any woman but designed primarily to serve those who are Medicaid eligible.

Q. What are your goals?

To better those rates and increase our rates of breast-feeding. We also want to work preventively. Should someone we serve want a baby, we can work with them to make sure they’re healthy prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy and after pregnancy. Once the baby’s born, we’ll continue to work with the mother on parenting aspects, too. We’ll work on family planning for the mother, but make sure the baby has health insurance, has a pediatrician, that the mom keeps up on well visits and immunizations. When we work with younger teens, those who are pregnant or just delivered can come in once a week for a couple of hours for some peer support.

Q. How big are the challenges and will the four years be enough to make a significant impact?

I’m hoping that it will, that with this new holistic approach – and the fact that we’re not limited to pregnancy – we’re going to be able to tackle the issue much earlier on with family planning, working with the school district, with youth groups in the community, with faith-based organizations. We’ll be able to better educate not just teens but grown women who are still not aware of things pertaining to their own health. Will four years be enough? I hope at least we’ll see better rates.

– Scott Scanlon