Shawn Ellis has been there, done that, and if she has her way about it, she hopes to be able to keep others from experiencing the start in life like she had.
Ellis, who is the executive director for Beds and Britches, Etc., better known as B.A.B.E., grew up as a child of poverty.
“I remember seeing my parents constantly struggle. There were many times when they had to choose between going to the doctor or putting food on the table,” Ellis said.
It is from that rocky start in life that Ellis draws her passion to make the road a little easier for others.
B.A.B.E. is a coupon-based program that helps provide a healthier start for children from the time they are in the womb to age five.
Parents can earn coupons for participating in a variety of health or education-related programs provided by local agencies.
They can then redeem the coupons at B.A.B.E. for any number of baby-related items, from furniture to diapers and clothes, to sippy cups and lotion.
B.A.B.E. has been helping families give their children a good start for the last nine years, but it is the future that has Ellis most excited.
A recent move to a house at the corner of Jefferson and Main streets, a house owned by the Whitley County Historical Museum, has tripled the space for B.A.B.E.
The organization originally crammed all its merchandise and offices into a 540 square-foot building that made it difficult for more than a couple of people at a time to look through the items.
Now, Ellis says, the room will hold five or six people, and there is room on the floor for kids to play while parents shop. There is also storage space and space for a planned educational component of the program that includes seminars and workshops.
In addition to the increased space, the biggest draw to B.A.B.E.’s new home is the visibility and additional parking available.
“We’re very exposed here,” Ellis said, “and even though we’re working on signage, we have seen an increase in foot traffic. Finding us is a lot easier.”
B.A.B.E. served 3,500 people in 2009 and redeemed 11,000 coupons. They are supported by United Way of Whitley County, the Whitley County Community Foundation, Parkview Whitley Hospital, the Lutheran Foundation and a large base of individual donors.
The B.A.B.E. program builds on itself, Ellis said. Participants come in looking for one item and want to know how they can get coupons for more items. Ellis directs them to any of the 40-plus vendors who supply coupons in return for participation in health- or education-related programs. At the end of the process, the parents become champions of B.A.B.E.
“It’s win-win for everybody,” Ellis said.
B.A.B.E. doesn’t limit who can use the program.
“You could be the wealthiest parent and still not understand the importance of prenatal care or early childhood reading,” Ellis said. “It’s got nothing to do with who you are or what you do. It’s all about the baby.”
Ellis’ goal and the goal of B.A.B.E. is to start at the beginning; to give every child a good start in life.
“The little ones. They’re the ones we need to invest in,” she said.
Ellis was once one of those little ones. She broke out of the cycle of multi-generational poverty, and now her focus is to help others.
“I want to serve people. I want to help them move forward in life; to become healthier parents.”