‘Best Babies Zone’ Reaches Community Members in Wilkinsburg, PA

The Mayors Innovation Project, partnered with Healthy Babies Bright Futures, provided grants to cities across the country to work towards better health outcomes for children. We are excited to share the story of one of our grant recipients, Wilkinsburg, PA. Learn more and apply for year 2 funding here (deadline May 3, 2021).

By Demia Horsley, Best Babies Zone Program Manager

Wilkinsburg, a borough just shy of 16,000 residents in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, is a community known for the wonderful spirit of its residents. But Wilkinsburg also has one of the highest infant mortality rates in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, with a striking difference in mortality rates for Black (14.1%) and white (11.3%) babies. And, 6.1% of children under the age of 6 had a confirmed elevated blood lead level over 5 micrograms per deciliter from 2015-2019.  

More than 80% of Wilkinsburg homes were built before 1978, when lead was removed from residential paint, which is one contributing factor. To address this issue, the borough and community partners began working across sectors to ensure that every baby is born into a healthy community that enables them to thrive and reach their full potential using an evidence-based model called the Best Babies Zone.

Healthy Babies Zone

The Best Babies Zone engages the Wilkinsburg community across multiple sectors that align with the social determinants of health, streamlining collaboration of local health-service providers and community support services with the goal of serving as a catalyst for community-wide change. We’ve named our version “Healthy Babies Zone Wilkinsburg.” 

Bright Cities and the Mayors Innovation Project provided funding to expand this work. We linked our Fresh Market – a market that provides free, fresh produce to community members – to a digital public education campaign called the “Hello Fresh Market” (both are parts of the Healthy Babies Zone).

This allowed us to leverage the reach of the Fresh Market, connecting families with resources and education to prevent neurotoxic exposures, and to provide healthy home cleaning kits to families with children under the age of 5.

The program is working, both to keep babies safe and to educate parents. While shopping at the Fresh Market, one Wilkinsburg resident said:

“I didn’t know any of this! I’m so happy that I now know how to protect my baby from lead poisoning.” 

We hope that our Healthy Babies Zone work will help to create long term health improvements and increased civic engagement. But this won’t happen overnight. In the short term, we expect that this project will engage nearly 500 community members. Of these, we expect at least 30% will have more knowledge about simple and cost-effective means to protect their babies’ brain development.

Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett said:

“Let’s get real about actually doing the work, and work together to get it done to make our communities more equitable and healthy.”

Healthy Babies Zone Wilkinsburg is just one way we are doing that.

Interested in learning more about this project? Contact Demia Horsley, Best Babies Zone Program Manager, Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, at dhorsley@hsipgh.org.

Is your City interested in being part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Bright Cities program? To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at knaumoff@hbbf.org.