COLUMBIA CITY — A white house sits on the corner of Jefferson Street and Main Street in Columbia City, but to a passing motorist, it appears to be just another house.
What is inside is a resource for Whitley County families and children.
When its doors opened in 2001, The Beds & Britches, Etc., (B.A.B.E.) program existed as a coupon incentive program for pregnant women and families to try to deter the high incidence of low-birth weight babies that were being born in Whitley County.
According to Shawn Ellis, who is in charge of the oganization, B.A.B.E has grown to be much more.
Now, families can utilize the program for a variety of services including health screenings for children, baby and toddler items as well as family support.
Ellis has been with B.A.B.E. for more than four years.
Not only has she seen the list of services grow, the location has grown, too.
B.A.B.E. moved from a 540 square foot location to over 2,000 square feet in its current location on Main Street.
But within two years, the nonprofit is already experiencing a shortage in space.
“We felt the biggest pinch for space around July of last year partly because we launched a used clothing store,” said Ellis. “We’re storing stuff in a pole barn.”
Although the walls seem to be closing in, Ellis is glad to see the program grow.
“When I took over, our shelves were empty. I had to sned a letter to families to tell them we had to cut down on the diapers we could give out. Thankfully, we only had to do it for a month,” said Ellis.
“B.A.B.E. was declining and now we’ve turned it around. Actually, I think we are beyond a turn around phase. We are actually growing at a steady pace.”
The success and growth of B.A.B.E. is due in part because of the support system Ellis has.
“I tell people that I have the best board in Whitley County. They are active, they serve actively and contribute fantastic ideas,” Ellis said.
“It is by the grace of God that we have what we have. The community has wrapped their arms around B.A.B.E. They recognize its about families. The county is very family oriented and they have embaraced this organization and are the ones that help bring in what we need.”
The unique quality of the B.A.B.E. program is it is not income based, a trait that Ellis said keeps the group open to all families with children as old as five.
She said, “Just because you’re making a significant amount of money or considered middle class, doesn’t mean we don’t have services for you. There are multiple services that are avialable for all families in the county and that is the reason why we aren’t income based. We want to target all children. We want to help move them from birth through Kindergarten.”
One of the new programs B.A.B.E. is offering will begin is September. Ellis said the plan is to have a different organization be at B.A.B.E.’s location each Wednesday so that parents can come in and meet with them.
In turn, parents can earn coupons to use on new items at B.A.B.E.
Some of the opportinites will be parenting classes as well as family nutrition classes.
B.A.B.E. is one of two ways parents can receive baby and toddler items as well as family services.
With B.A.B.E., parents earn coupons through participating in a variety of family and child services that they can then bring to B.A.B.E. in exchange for new items.
“We’re not a hand out,” Ellis said. “Clients earn coupons through different ways such as groups that provide services like early childhood alliance, healthy families, etc. It is our way of saying ‘thank you for investing in your child’s life.’”
The second and newest way parents can benefit from the organization is through Stages, a used clothing store located inside B.A.B.E.’s house.
Used clothing store launched July 2011 and was funded by Dekko.
The store allows parents to purchase clothes for all ages of kids size zero through juniors as well at maternity clothes.
Ellis said, “This is out sustainability model. The goal is to have Stages make up 25 percent of our budgeted income. So we don’t have to rely on grants as much.”
She said the best part about Stages is that anyone can shop there. It is cash based and does not require coupons to be earned like B.A.B.E.
Families that want to give back to the program do so when they shop. That money goes to help fund the new, free items that parents receive by using their coupons.
But fundraising is still a big concern for Ellis.
“If I look at my fundraising numebrs, there is a decline in fundraising, but we have increased in other areas. When the dollars lessen, the donations increase,” said Ellis.
An event that will take place in August is helping bring in the dollars but also encourage community involvement.
The First Annual B.A.B.E. Open will be held Aug. 30 at Paiges Crossing. Different from traditional golf outings, this event will be held on a miniture golf course with a smaller price tag of just $100 a team.
Ellis said she felt that golf outings are sometimes difficult because it takes so much time out of business professional’s day and usually run about a $100 per person.
“This is a chance to do the normal golf outing, just on a miniture level,” she said.
The actual tournament will be during the day, but the event doesn’t stop there.
A Family Fun Night will take place later that day from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Local Christian radio station, Star 88.3 will be on hand for a live remote all day as well as different area caterers.
Ellis said, “At night it is a regular Paiges Crossing night. You don’t have to have a team. Since we serve families, we want to offer something for families to come and do.”
On top of the various fundraising events, Ellis said that the nonprofit has earned a few grants.
One of them being from The United Way of Whitley County for $10,000.
“We also got a grant from the Lutheran Foundation of $10,000 and a $10,000 matching grant. The matching grant is something we are really excited about. We hope it will encourage new funders to come forward and support us in that match,” said Ellis.
Another way the community can contribute to B.A.B.E. and Stages is in donated items. Ellis said she encourages people to look what their family needs or what their children need and those are the items B.A.B.E. and Stages need.
Donors should know that the items given stay in Whitley County and go to Whitley County families.
Ellis said, “This organization is Whitley County born, we purchase in this county, we employee county residents and we serve Whitley County families. While other groups may collect things and redistribute them all over, our donations stay here.”
For Ellis, this isn’t just a job. She said it is a ministy and she has first hand experince with the struggles family face.
“I am a product of generational childhood poverty. I am someone who survived generational poverty. I know what it is like to be in need. I remember being the family that churches adopted at Christmas and going to the store with food stamps. I know what it was like for our family to fight to have what little we had,” said Ellis.
“No family should feel like they are less than simply because they are struggling. B.A.B.E. is that place to help that family get through.”
For more information on the programs and services offered by B.A.B.E. or to participate in the upcoming golf outing, call 244-2820 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . Find B.A.B.E. online at www.babewc.com .