When Brownsville resident Tyi Joyner first heard about the massive “community baby shower” former Newark Mayor Corey Booker held in 2010 for hundreds of local moms-to-be, she fell in love with the idea!
As a board member of Mothers Empowered, a Brooklyn-based organization that leverages the power of motherhood to power community transformation, Joyner was a regular witness to mothers struggling to raise their families while missing essential products and tools they needed, including diapers, bottles and even clothing.
A lot of the women had never had a baby shower. And even worse, many of the young mothers were giving birth alone.
“When it’s not your story, you’re unaware what’s going on in other people’s lives,” said Joyner, who is also a certified Doula. “For the birth of my child, I had a huge community of people to support me. But as I get introduced to more expectant mothers, I realized how many of them just have no one. Either their partner is not around, is incarcerated, unavailable or the new mom might have issues at home.”
So Joyner went to a friend that had a team of people working on The Cinderella Project, a program that gives away donated prom dresses to graduating teens, and she asked them if they would like to help facilitate a community baby shower.
“And they were like, ‘No… not so much,’” said Joyner. “So I put [the idea] in my back pocket.”
Finally, in 2014, she applied for and was awarded a partial grant through Brooklyn Community Foundation to host “Shower Me,” a community baby shower in Brownsville. The goals were to help improve birth outcomes, breastfeeding rates and infant health measures in the Brownsville area and to highlight community assets.
Brownsville Multi-Health Service Family Health Center was the first neighborhood organization to partner with the Shower Me event and led outreach efforts to secure guests for the event. Joyner registered 24 expectant women—some from the BMS Health Center’s prenatal programs; others from the By My Side Birth Support Group; and then others, through word of mouth.
On Saturday, May 2, at the Greg Jackson Center, in Brownsville, 24 moms-to-be attended, what was for many of them, their very first baby shower!
The BCF grant paid for the venue, the decorations and much of the product, including baby baskets and baby bags. Items for the baby bags were also donated by friends and family in the community.
“We set the baby bags up with the idea that this is what you should have inside of your bag,” said Joyner. “So there were pampers, wipes, breast wipes, bottles, wash clothes, etc.”
Health First donated the food, which included a variety of sandwiches, a fruit station and a “moms’ craving station,” with special pastries and other sweets. The Isabahlia Ladies of Elegance Community Gardens donated fresh produce and honey from their beehives; one local grandmother baked an assortment of deserts; and the vice-president of the Brownsville Houses Tenant’s Association knitted three baby blankets. Crochet and knitting divas knitted the other 13. Nicole Beaumont and Sheree Sophas, owner of Surreal Serenity Spa provided massages for the moms-to-be. And there was a “beauty station” sponsored by makeup artist Cassandra Blackmon.
“National partner Moms Rising was also tremendously supportive and contributed gift bag items designed to promote healthy eating habits for moms; African-American skincare line Shea Moisture was the chief sponsor of a moms-only gift basket,” said Joyner. “And breastfeeding advocate Kimberly Seals Allers of the Mocha Manual enlisted Plum Organics and Dream Belly Butter to provide neighborhood women with products not typically found in our neighborhood.”
The expectant mothers were glowing, all smiles, including Joyner who buzzed around like an excited auntie awaiting the arrival of 24 nieces and nephews.
Joyner said the community baby shower exceeded her expectations, and she hopes to duplicate it, with more funding support.
“It feels great to be here for these women and have them put their trust in you,” said Joyner. “It’s a lot of heart work, and I love it.”
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