Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Julia Means works to fight infant mortality in Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Julia Means is a community health nurse for Ascension Wisconsin, who is committed to giving babies a healthy start to life. She started her organization, Blanket of Love, more than 15 years ago to address infant mortality rates in Milwaukee—which are among the worst in the nation.
We caught up with Means recently as she hosted—what else-- baby shower.
It was billed as a walk-through baby shower. There were rows and rows of gift bags, stacks of baby clothes, and of course, games. Means stood at the front door, greeting guests as they arrived.
“It's a way that we can connect with them and meet new moms,” she explained. “As a registered nurse, I do community nursing, where I work with people, I always say, from the womb to the tomb.”
Nearly 70 expecting or new moms came to the Ebenezer Church of God in Milwaukee for the shower. It’s ‘walk-through,’ because these parents can walk around the entire room and connect with all kinds of resources, and that’s what Means wants.
“I want them to do more than just survive,” she said. “I want them to thrive.”
The shower is a step in that process.
“Our primary goal for this program is to prevent infant mortality,” said social worker Brenda Hoskins. “And to do that, we have to be able to work with them, educate them.”
Hoskins is a social worker with Ascension, who primarily works with the Blanket of Love Sanctuary program.
“It takes a village. That statement is just not a statement. It's a reality,” Hoskins said.
Means and Hoskins work together to tackle infant mortality in the city.
“Milwaukee has the highest rate in the nation right now, unfortunately, for infant mortality,” Hoskins said with a sad shake of her head.
Means said the statistics in Milwaukee are what inspired her to start Blanket of Love in the first place.
“It's worse than a Third World country, and when I found that out, it just really did something to me,” she said.
Means also knows what it’s like to be in the same shoes as the moms she helps.
“I was a young mom, and I'm going to tell you, if it wasn't for the older mothers around me, I don't know how my children would have made it,” she said with a laugh. “You just don't know, and so it's very helpful to have an older woman that's patient and willing to help you.”
Means works with a network of 36 churches and three Ascension hospitals to reach and serve expectant mothers. She said she also finds pregnant women pretty much wherever she goes.
“I go to Wal-Mart, and I see a pregnant woman, I go, Hi!” she said. “In grocery stores, anywhere I am I look for pregnant women.”
Hoskins said she’s seen Means deliver furniture to women living in empty apartments. No task is too big.
“She's so very loving. Giving. She will just exhaust herself,” Hoskins said. “She definitely cannot say no. I've never heard her say no.”
Means and her team also help mothers finish their education and find jobs and housing.
“I told them, it's baby steps. You can't worry about, oh, I don't have my high school diploma. I'm not going to be able to get a job,” Hoskins explained. “Well, then we can work on getting a high school diploma, and then get the job!”
Means said many of the women who come to her are under immense stress.
“Housing in Milwaukee is difficult, jobs -- family raising jobs -- are difficult to get, and education is expensive,” she said of the realities they face.
But Means has done so much to help women overcome these challenges, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett proclaimed October 22, 2020 as “Julia Means Day.”
“That's what I see us as, coaches. To get them from one place to the next, but you know what? This game, if you don't play it right, it can end up in death,” she said.
She has a very important goal—to help moms thrive, so their babies can, too.
“We work real hard to make them successful, and they love coming back and telling me how successful they are,” Means said with a smile.
If you’d like to help Blanket of Love, just visit https://ascension.org/giveAWF.
And if you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.