Welcome Baby goal ‘to serve whole family’

By Hayley Paytes
UNC Co-Editor
the Durham VOICE

Evenflo convertible carseats are stacked three boxes high, and rainbow rows of baby clothes line the walls. Baby food is served up on a swivelling rack and Huggies are rubber banded in packs of six.

At Welcome Baby, everything is baby – but it’s the “welcome” in the name that resonates when one visits its offices at 721 Foster St. in Durham.

The organization, which is funded in part by N.C. Cooperative Extension and by Durham County, offers a variety of services designed to address families’ needs – and all are welcomed there.

Welcome Baby Program Director Melva Henry said she has always considered herself a public servant. She took over for Pat Harris nine months ago and said her favorite part of the job is to see “how freely people give.” (Photo by Hayley Paytes)

Welcome Baby provides families with both basic supplies, such as clothing, toys and blankets with its Giving Closet, and abstract skills, with classes, to ensure all of a family’s needs are met.

Whether one is a first-time mom or a grandparent raising a child for the second time around, Welcome Baby teaches guardians to know what to expect as the child develops, said Melva Henry, program director.

“Every child is different,” Henry said. “Even if you have seven kids, you have seven different experiences.”

Anyone with a Durham County address can shop for free in the Giving Closet, and classes are free. Transportation and child care are available to those who need it. Welcome Baby also offers programs in Spanish to reach as many people within the community as possible.

Welcome Baby has become a community institution, and it is thanks to the people within it, Henry said.

“We give but we receive a lot in return,” she said. “It’s in someone coming back and telling you how the children are doing. Or it’s having A Welcome Baby baby come back and volunteer. … We are extremely grateful. “

“Welcome Baby wants to thank members of the community who give so freely,” she said. “We truly experience the gift of giving here.”

Shannon Adams, a freshman at Duke who volunteers at Welcome Baby, said she decided to pitch in as a babysitter there because she wanted to give back to the Durham community.

“I feel like it is more impactful to do something that is a part of the community – somewhere where I am going to be living for the next four years,” she said. “I want to be a pediatrician, and I knew I wanted to get involved and wanted to do something with kids. Everyone said, ‘You should check out Welcome Baby,’ so I did, and I love it.”

The most rewarding part of working at Welcome Baby, Henry said, is to see a new mother walk into the Giving Closet and to see her relax when she sees that her baby will be able to have somewhere safe to sleep, to have clothes to wear.

The Giving Closet accepts clothing for children from 0-8 years of age. To donate, drop off your items Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Photo by Hayley Paytes)

“They walk in with the baby in the arms and they are able to push their baby out in a nice, gently used stroller,” she said.

In its 24th year, Welcome Baby’s role in Durham County is now more important than ever before. Sixteen percent of residents live below the poverty line, last year 13 percent more people used the Giving Closet, said Deborah Waterman, who has worked at Welcome Baby for more than 15 years.

As the organization evolves, Waterman said its structure has changed to reflect families’ needs.

“All the tools we have are to help the children,” Henry said. “We typically say here that this is the hardest job in the world and it doesn’t come with OJT (On the job training).

“Hearing what the families need, we try to provide those services,” she said. “Some of the services we provide are evidence- based. Being totally engaged with the families helps us to address all pertinent needs. … There are high-income residents and residents with income challenges. “I see it as a continuum; there is so much that goes on here. We serve expectant mothers all the way up to grandparents. We want to make sure we serve the whole family.”