Originally created 11/18/99

Growing Into Life program tapped for national attention



AIKEN -- Even without funding, Growing Into Life has gotten national attention for successfully reducing infant mortality rates in Aiken County.

Program officials announced Wednesday that the child health advocacy group was one of 19 chosen to participate in an initiative to document and disseminate what works to build stronger communities. The initiative is called "Wanted: Solutions for America."

"It's wonderful to be showcased on a national level," said Growing Into Life coordinator Karen Papouchado. "We have worked together so long to improve the lives of our littlest citizens."

The organization was founded in 1989 to address the county's high rate of infant deaths. The efforts have paid off.

From 1985 through 1987, the county's infant mortality rate was 15.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. From 1995-1997, the rate dropped by almost half, to 7.9 per 1,000 births.

"Solutions for America" tracks five areas crucial to community success: healthy children and families; thriving neighborhoods; work wages; viable economies; and collaborative leadership.

During the next two years, it will partner with researchers to monitor strategies to reduce infant mortality. In doing so, it will spend $20,000 in each city, including Aiken.

"There is no need to reinvent the wheel," said Suzanne W. Morse, executive director of the Pew Partnership, which is funding the research initiative. "Everyday communities across the country are meeting tough challenges with innovation and boldness."

Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend, Aiken Regional Medical Centers, the Aiken Department of Public Safety and the Aiken County Health Department have played key roles in helping reduce the infant mortality rate, Mrs. Papouchado said.

"They (Pew Partnership officials) took great interest in the cooperation that the community put together when we realized the extent of the infant mortality problem," she said.

Barbara Strack, who helps Mrs. Papouchado run Growing Into Life, said Aiken will benefit from ideas about what works from the 18 other sites involved in the project.

"It's amazing something a small group can do can make such a huge difference," she said.

The group, which was funded for nine years by grants from outside the community, was unable to find funding this year, Mrs. Papouchado said.

Mrs. Strack and Mrs. Papouchado -- who once were paid to run Growing Into Life -- have been volunteers for the group since it lost its funding in July.

The women said their group ran out of money partly because United Way declined to recognize them as an agency.

"Hopefully, this recognition will help us find a way to become funded again," Mrs. Papouchado said.

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.