While America's fast-diminishing middle class struggles to adjust to the myriad inconveniences of a shifting economic reality, low-income families continue to wage their own long-fought battle: that of providing their newborn children with basic medical care.
Forced to contend with both the economic downturn as well as a failing health care system in the midst of transition, our poorest citizens are often unable to provide even the most basic needs for their infant children. Consisting overwhelmingly of single mothers who must choose between working full-time or providing at-home care, these parents are engaging in an impossible balancing act.
Room to Grow, a New York-based philanthropic organization aimed at providing a support network for low-income parents and their infant children, is trying to change all that. Conceived 11 years ago by Julie Burns, a social worker and entrepreneur, Room to Grow was founded on a simple premise: to provide medical coverage and parental assistance for "babies born in to poverty throughout the critical first three years of their life."
Armed with an expert staff of social workers as well as volunteers, Room to Grow employs a holistic approach that tackles the emotional, financial, and medical needs of low-income parents and their babies.
I was able to catch up with Julie at a Room to Grow fundraising event at Christie's Auction House. She explained how the concept for Room to Grow came to her while working as a psychotherapist in the child and adolescent division of the Karen Horney Clinic in New York.
"I was working as a social worker, and started thinking about those in our society who are most underserved -- and recognized a need for parenting and material support for struggling parents."
What sets Room to Grow apart is its unique model of direct assistance and one-on-one support. "Room to Grow is very much a holistic project. We strive to offer the best information and counseling possible, in addition to financial support."
The organization's expansive support network constitutes a dynamic community of social workers and health care professionals dedicated to addressing a multiplicity of needs through personalized face-to-face meetings. Tired of the poor facilities and impersonal care that most low-income parents receive from bureaucratic social programs, Julie felt compelled to create a safe, comfortable space for struggling parents to find refuge and solace from the travails of an exceedingly difficult, and often lonely existence.
It's the intimacy of these exchanges that makes Room to Grow effective. "Since the organization began we have served over 300 families," Julie told me, "each of whom have stayed at our program. Every three months we get close to 1,200 visits for two hour sessions providing emotional support and information."
If you would like to donate to or volunteer for Room to Grow, please visit their website for more information.