Made in Chicagoland: Infant Welfare Society

October 31, 2011 (CHICAGO)

In the planning stages, we realized the products could help actually makeover a room in your house or your business. So, we thought why not take all these products and help a local non-profit makeover a much needed room?

That's where we start Monday by featuring one-of-a-kind clinic that's been helping Chicago area residents for 100 years.

To the little patients at the clinic in Logan Square, it feels probably like any doctor's office. What they don't realize, is they are part of Chicago history.

"I am amazed the mission of producing quality care and innovation focused on women and children to provide foundation for a productive live is the same we had 100 years ago," said Dr. John Wilhelm, the executive director of the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago.

The clinic is a health care center unlike any other in the state, and perhaps the country. It's a private, non-profit offering comprehensive care from pediatrics to dental to child development, dedicated solely to women and children in Chicago's underserved communities.

"I think we make a huge difference in providing support to them to help them understand what they should be looking for," said Milagros Fernandez, director of family and support services fpr Infant Welfare Society.

And that mission hasn't changed in a decade. Back in 1911, when volunteers formed the Infant Welfare Society, they ran milk stations in the poorest areas of Chicago. A lack of safe milk contributed to an alarming infant mortality rate. One in every 10 children died before their first birthday.

"These milk stations were providing clean milk for families. Everyday families would come to pick up milk and came back next day with the empty bottles and get their next clean bottle of milk," said Wilhelm.

Soon, medical support for the young new mothers, became part of that milk station visit.

"In addition to picking up milk, they would come for conferences where our doctors and nurses teach them about caring for children," Wilhelm said.

In the years that followed, well baby care was added, and a prenatal program was established --all considered cutting edge at the time.

Today, the clinic sits in the heart of Logan Square, a 40,000 square-foot facility funded by donations and grants and serving more than 2,000 patients per month.

Giovannna Ruiz says without infant welfare, she wouldn't know where to take her 3-year-old twins.

"They each me how to take care of them, how to understand their behavior, everything," Ruiz said.

"Everyday through one person or another, we see that something we have done has made a difference in the lives of families," said Fernandez.

And the need is still great. More than 60 percent of the clinic's patients live at or below the poverty line.

"Now in this economy, we see patients who have nowhere else to go. Dental schools are overwhelmed. They're are not many dental clinics take public aid, or All Kids. Even if they do, they don't have a pediatric dentist," said Sheila Hall, dental director, Infant Welfare Society.

So 100 years later, Infant Welfare Society of Chicago remains true to its mission of making quality health care accessible to those who needed it most.

When they built their new facility, there was one area they just didn't have a chance to finish. It's a room that is used everyday, a waiting room for children who are undergoing counseling. The staff would love to see it brighter and happier. So throughout this week, you will meet some of Chicago companies who will be donating everything to help makeover that room.

You'll also meet the interior designer who's pitching in to help with designing our makeover.

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