William & Mary Healthy Beginnings Program receives March of Dimes grant

The William & Mary Healthy Beginnings Program received a $10,000 grant from the March of Dimes as part of an effort to help incarcerated women receive vital prenatal care. Since the start of the program in 2012, more than 380 pregnant women in Virginia correctional facilities have been helped.

Through the Healthy Beginnings Program, William & Mary staff work with local jail and prison facilities to provide nutritional support, prenatal vitamins and other essential health care resources to pregnant women entering those facilities. The program also helps incarcerated and newly released parents transition to caring for an infant in the first year after pregnancy.

“The majority of pregnancies have resulted in positive outcomes, thanks to the Healthy Beginnings Program and the support of our partners, including the March of Dimes,” said William & Mary Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences and Director of Graduate Studies Danielle Dallaire. “Participants in the program have demonstrated better birth outcomes, including higher birth weights and longer gestation periods.”

According to Dallaire, if Healthy Beginnings is able to reduce the preterm birth rate of just 10 incarcerated women, it is estimate to save the state $500,000 in infant medical care related expenses.

Healthy Beginnings was founded in 2012 by Dallaire and Associate Professor of Psychology Catherine Forestell, and is the first program of its kind in the U.S. It is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of professionals, educators, medical personnel and students who are committed to supporting healthy pregnancies and babies through promoting healthy behaviors, education, awareness and empowerment.

The March of Dimes funding follows similar grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Anthem Foundation for the program.

Alyssa Eversmeyer ’18 is one of the five students currently involved with the program. Students enter data, help with research and assist in community outreach. She says Healthy Beginnings is not just something that helps women get through pregnancy, but provides support every step of the way.

“There is a variety of important social services we provide like helping them get a car seat, substance abuse help, diapers and housing,” Eversmeyer says.

The Healthy Beginnings diaper bank is another great resource for mothers in the program. It also provides diapers for mothers throughout the Williamsburg area.

“The diaper bank helps me contribute to the community in a way that classes don’t,” Eversmeyer says. “Through the diaper bank, we give diapers to the incarcerated women we work with, but also to local families in the community who are struggling financially. This diaper bank was created because there wasn’t one in the community and there was a need for it. It is something that the community needs that we can do.”

Health education is also an important part of Healthy Beginning's mission. The program’s research shows that improved nutrition knowledge leads to longer pregnancies and healthier babies.

Angela Boland, a licensed clinical psychologist and program coordinator, visits the incarcerated women enrolled in Healthy Beginnings.

“We provide information on a variety of different aspects of pregnancy that allow the women to educate themselves about how to handle pregnancy,” Boland says. “Being able to work with the women directly and educate them is extremely important.”

“It is amazing to see the work we do come to life.”