Volunteers marching

The end of April is designated March of Dimes WalkAmerica time. The original fund-raiser shaped in the form of a walking event, WalkAmerica was launched in 1970 and has raised more than $1.5 billion for programs and research related to premature birth, birth defects and other health risks to babies.

WalkAmerica arrived in Kitsap County more than 20 years ago, organizers say. Last year, the local walk raised $82,100 thanks to 260 participants.

The walk Saturday, April 29, will be hosted for the second year in a row at Ridgetop Junior High School.

The 6-mile walk from the school down Ridgetop Boulevard and Myhre Road loops around Kitsap Mall. Local businesses and organizations sponsor the walkers and each participant is encouraged to raise at least $25, a team goal is set at $500. But there are no firm requirements to take part in the WalkAmerica Saturday.

“Anything that anybody can do is just great,” said Linda Jadwin of the South Sound Division of March of Dimes.

The funds collected are pooled together and re-distributed to communities for outreach or educational programs and research projects aimed at preventing premature births.

One example of a local program funded by March of Dimes is The Family Center in Bremerton, on the corner of Warren Avenue and 5th Street. The center opened in August 2001 thanks to a $20,000 grant the Kitsap County Health District received.

“They were so able to use their money wisely that they stretched the project to two years,” said Susan McAbee, director of the South Sound Division of March of Dimes.

In fact, the Health District stretched the project further still and with supplemental funding from the county and partnerships with various community organizations, it has increased its hours of operation to two days from the original three-hour per week. The center also has added to its repertoire of services, offering information and referral — for medical, educational, social and career opportunities — to Latino families.

Without the original grant from March of Dimes, however, The Family Center would not exist.

“Thanks to them we were able to start the program and at that time we were providing prenatal vitamins for the mothers,” said health educator Johanna Hanssen-Keller. “The big focus was the pregnant women and the healthy kids.”

The Health District continues to provide prenatal care and vitamins for Latina mothers-to-be at the center. Public health nurses visit pregnant women there and educate them on ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Jadwin said local community grants like the one that helped launch The Family Center are among the March of Dimes’ priorities.

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