Shortly after giving birth to their daughter Rilee, Ashley Nimmo and Andy Gonzalez received a proverbial how-to guide on raising newborns — a blue reusable tote bag.
Inside, the new parents found a curated guide of local resources, toiletries, toys and a children’s book they’ve been reading to their newborn.
“I didn’t know that you were supposed to read to them from Day 1,” Nimmo said.
The couple were some of the first participants in the Welcome Baby program, an effort by the early child development advocates Clatsop Kinder Ready to encourage research-based cognitive development from birth.
Robbie Porter is vice principal of Warrenton Grade School and recently took over as coordinator of the P-3 Early Learning Council, more commonly known as Clatsop Kinder Ready, from former Seaside principal Dan Gaffney, who is focusing on a yearlong feasibility study for universal preschool in Clatsop, Tillamook and possibly Columbia counties.
The group focuses on improving developmental outcomes for children from birth through third grade, a key developmental stage by which kids should be transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn.
The group has mostly focused on kids in preschool through third grade and wanted to start a program focusing on prenatal care and infants, Porter said. In an application for their fourth and final year of funding from the Oregon Community Foundation, the group wrote a grant for the Welcome Baby program.
The group assembled 400 of the tote bags.
“Parents are the first teachers,” said Diane Dieni, an early childhood educator helping oversee the program.
Each bag includes basic newborn supplies such as hats, burp cloths, teething toys and measuring guides. Much of it is donated by local organizations serving children, from libraries to birth companions called doulas. The Welcome Baby educational and resource booklet was curated for the North Coast and printed on a student-owned press at Jewell School in rural Clatsop County.
“I’ve never seen anything so comprehensive or county specific,” Porter said of the guide.
Bags will be given to new parents throughout next year at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, Providence Seaside Hospital and at benefits, breastfeeding and postpartum appointments. Clatsop County’s birth rate has averaged nearly 417 over the past five years.
For parents without a safe place for their child to sleep, Clatsop Kinder Ready has acquired 20 specially designed cardboard boxes with mattresses from The Baby Box Co. The Finnish government has given such sleeping boxes and maternity supples to new families since the 1930s.
The Welcome Baby program costs $10,000, half paid for by Clatsop Kinder Ready and half by the nonprofit Friends of Columbia Community Health. Each bag and set of materials costs less than $20 to compile.
Clatsop Kinder Ready is searching for future grant funding, and donations to help provide the Welcome Baby bags, Porter said.
The group thinks the bags would be a perfect project for the Columbia-Pacific Coordinated Care Organization serving regional Oregon Health Plan members, Dieni said.
“The whole focus on prenatal to 3 years old, this is kind of the direction of interest now,” Dieni said. “If you want to make an impact, you’ve got to catch families as early as possible.”