‘Open Arms’ assists women in need

Nurturing possibility and potential from the earliest stages of one’s life was the central theme of President and CEO William C. Bell’s keynote address at a fundraiser luncheon for Open Arms Perinatal Services in Seattle. He said that as a community, we must work together to raise all our children to develop their full potential and live up to that potential.

Open Arms is a community-based nonprofit that assists low-income women with pregnancy, birth and early parenting support and coaching.


Good afternoon.

Thank you Dennis for that introduction.

And thank you Sheila and everyone at Open Arms.  Congratulations on your 15 years of service to our community.

I have spent the past 30 years of my life working to improve the life outcomes of vulnerable children and families.  Over the course of that time, I have encountered many individuals and many organizations that reflect, at their core, a spirit of oneness with those in need.

It is the presence of that spirit within Open Arms Perinatal Services that causes me to feel at home in this room today.  There is a kindred relationship between Casey Family Programs and Open Arms.

Even the name of this organization suggests what I believe every vulnerable child and every vulnerable family is seeking most in their inner being……open arms!!!

They are seeking the open arms of a community that says I will be there when you need me.  They are seeking the open arms of a government response system that says I value you as a member of our society and I will do everything that I can to make sure that your children have the same level of hope for the future as my own children have.

Vulnerable children and their families are seeking open arms that say every one of our children matter and we must build the capacity that enables every birth to bring the joy to this world that life demands.

According to the March of Dimes, every week in the state of Washington, more than

  • 1,700 babies are born (88,400 a year),
  • 185 are born pre-term (9,620 a year),
  • 110 are born low birth weight (5,720 a year),
  • and sadly eight of these babies die before they reach their first birthday (416 a year).

And so with this backdrop, I greet you today in the language of the Maasai people of East Africa…..Kasserian ingera……How are the children?

Each day members of this noble community-driven tribe greet each other with this question expecting to hear the response, “Sapati ingera”……”All the children are well!!!”

The greeting and its response send a message to the Maasai that communities around the world need to send to each of their members every day as well.  And that message is that we all have a responsibility to know how our most vulnerable children are doing.

That message is that we all have an opportunity and an obligation to do something to improve their condition, if in fact we conclude that they are not all doing well.

Sapati ingera – All the children are well.

The questions that sapati ingera invoke, if some or any of our children are not doing well, are what are we going to do about it? – the collective response.  And what are you going to do about it? – the individual response.

Through our 2020 Strategy for America’s Children, Casey Family Programs is working to reduce the nation’s foster care population by 50 percent by the year 2020 and to improve the well-being of vulnerable children by strengthening their families and the communities where they live.

Casey Family Programs and Open Arms share the belief that strong, healthy, vibrant communities are necessary to secure the well-being of children and families.

We know that if communities are isolated, under-resourced and suffering, then many families in those communities most likely are not doing well, or only marginally so, and the children in those families suffer the consequences.

Building strong communities that offer families and children a better chance, viable choices and opportunities, has to be part of the solution.  So, when we talk about long-term change for our nation’s children, we have to look at transforming communities.

Open Arms, in fact, lives that belief every day.  Its community-based services and resources are designed to engage parents in an educational and supportive process for creating a better life filled with greater opportunities for their children.

Services that are designed to help families do for themselves rather than be dependent on others to do for them.

Services such as:

  • Doula services
  • Advocacy
  • Community partnerships
  • Scholarships to help more community members learn to become doulas

Where I grew up community members would encircle a mother during her pregnancy, especially during the final trimester and following birth.  My own delivery was at the hands of a midwife in my family’s home – not because it was an elective arrangement, but because in rural Mississippi, the community teachers and community supports are vital to strong, vibrant communities.

In its annual ranking of states by health, the United Health Foundation last year ranked Washington state No 15; down from No. 11 in 2010.

The top three concerns the study noted for our state – all of them having to do with children’s health and well-being – were:

  • Low immunization coverage among infants,
  • Low use of early prenatal care, and a
  • Low high school graduation rate.

Open Arms is uniquely positioned to address these and other challenges facing our children here in King County, to give them a healthy, hopeful start in life.

Open Arms operates under the principled and well-accepted fact that parents receiving perinatal care are more likely to have babies with fewer health problems and challenges and higher survival rates.

Open Arms is committed to building a foundation for families to become stronger, giving children a healthy start in life, and making sure children have the best chance possible from day one, because all children coming into this world deserve a chance to live up to their full potential and become what’s possible.

Every child deserves a community of hope.

As Casey Family Programs has been progressing in its work, we’ve been talking about the need to restore hope to our children, families and communities – building communities of hope – especially for our nation’s vulnerable children and families.

This concept extends beyond foster care.  What might lead someone to abuse or neglect his or her children or put them at risk of doing so; or what may cause a pregnant mother to fail to seek prenatal care or prepare herself for motherhood is usually the result of a variety of challenging conditions and circumstances present in that person’s life.

We cannot attempt to adequately address the needs of children without also addressing the contributing factors that led to those needs in the first place – the challenges confronting their families and the poor conditions of their communities.

Building communities of hope means we have organizations like Open Arms.

Building communities of hope means working with families to prevent the need for children to enter foster care.

Building communities of hope means engaging businesses, nonprofits, philanthropy and faith-based organizations to support children and families.

Building communities of hope means all children grow up with the expectation that they can succeed in life.

Building communities of hope means giving all children a healthy start in life; giving all children an equal opportunity to develop, grow and thrive.

Not too long ago, I watched a news segment about a young mayor – 24 years old – of Ithaca, New York.  Mayor Svante (Suh-von-tay) Myrick, the youngest mayor in the state of New York, the youngest mayor ever in Ithaca and the first black mayor of Ithaca.  At the age of 20, while a junior at Cornell University, he was elected to the Ithaca city council.

He told the story of growing up in a single-parent household, if there is such a thing when you’re homeless.  His father, addicted to drugs, walked away from the family; and they pretty much lost all they had.  He remembers living with his mother and siblings off and on in homeless shelters and in cars until his maternal grandparents from upstate New York sent for them and took them into their home.

Life wasn’t easy.

He is ever grateful to his grandparents for providing them with a stable and loving home at a time when they desperately needed it.

He fondly recalled the high school teacher who saw what he was capable of and pushed him to aspire, to achieve, and to apply to Cornell University.  Living only an hour away from that prestigious university, Mayor Myrick never knew the school was there.

He credits his mother for much of his success.  He says she went above and beyond and saved their lives.  His mother supported the family by working multiple low-paying jobs; and she continues to work such jobs to this day.  He and his siblings had to work various jobs growing up to help keep the family afloat.  He has often said thank you to his mother, but she won’t accept a thank you.  Instead, she apologizes to him for the things she didn’t and couldn’t do for her family.

I tell this story because when the reporter referred to him as being self-made, Mayor Myrick refused to accept such a description, saying his is not the story of a self-made man.  He said his life is the story of a community that conspired together to raise a child.

As mayor, like most mayors across the country, Mayor Myrick is governing in tough times – shrinking budgets, program cuts, hard decisions – but he said he still sees and understands the value of having the kind of government and the kind of caring community that worked for him available to others; a government and a community that provides hope to all of its children.

Every child deserves a community of hope.

I leave you with this story because I want all of us to see Svante Myrick in the eyes of every child we greet with open arms.  We must conspire together to raise all of our children to develop to their full potential and to live up to that potential – to become mayor or whatever else they dream for themselves.

Our community needs you.

Open Arms needs your help.

Our country needs your help.

We have been faced daily with the recent tragic death of a young man in Florida.  But what if I told you that every 24 hours in this nation since Trayvon Martin’s death, we have lost 32 of our youth to violence:

  • Four from child abuse and neglect
  • 16 victims of murder (all boys), and
  • 12 who committed suicide

How will we respond?

Kasserian ingera?  How are the children?

The only acceptable response is, “Sapati ingera.”

What will we do today to make sure all the children are well?  How will we respond?

Thank you and God bless.