Blessed Babies

Blessed Babies is a faith based pre-natal education program developed by the Worcester Healthy Baby Collaborative sponsored by the March of Dimes. The purpose of the program is to give pregnant African and Hispanic women medical and lifestyle information important for a healthy pregnancy and birth. The goal is to promote and support the adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviors during pregnancy and childbirth, to meet the specific needs of Worcester immigrants by customizing a successful program developed by the March of Dimes in Texas, and to encourage faith organizations to become involved in maternal and child health issues. 

Nhyira Ba

The Nhyira Ba program was a WHBC that was conducted in 2014. Information from that project is included below.

Nhyira Ba Profiles

Grace Williams

Grace is a Ghanaian advocate who joined Nhyira Ba in 2013 after nearly 15 years of working voluntarily for non-profit organizations that seek to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity among immigrants in the communities (in the United Kingdom and in the United States.) She is currently Chair of Nhyira Ba and a Registered Nurse by profession. She is also pursuing her Masters degree in Community/Public Health Nursing and works as a Graduate Assistant to the Dean of Graduate Nursing School at the Worcester State University. Grace also hosts a health education program on a Ghanaian radio station in Worcester (Word 102.9fm or She was a nominee of the March of Dimes 2013 Nurse of the year award for outstanding Community Health Nurse. The most important aspects of her life are her faith and family – she is a professional gospel singer, married to another professional gospel singer/business intelligent analyst. She has two children (a son and a daughter) and one on the way.

Marianne Sarkis, Ph.D.

 Marianne is an assistant professor of international development and social change at Clark University in the Department of International Development, Community and Environment. She is a member of the Worcester Health Baby Cooperative and coordinates research initiatives at Nhyira-Ba. Dr. Sarkis is an applied medical anthropologist and health researcher who focuses on African women’s reproductive health and experiences, structural inequalities, and lack of access to medical services. Her current community-based health research uses storytelling for health education and trust building. With the help of her students at Clark, she is currently gathering birth stories of African women in Worcester. She is a board member of Akwaaba Free Clinic, and is a president of the board of UHAI for Health, Inc.  a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the lives of the marginalized African population both in Worcester and in Kenya through health education and promotion, research, screening and referral.

Patty Kady

Patty is the Sr. Community Director for the March of Dimes, Central MA Division. She has been with the organization for 8 and ½ years. For the past 6 years, she has been a member of the Worcester Healthy Babies Collaborative and acted as Secretary from 2010 until 2013. Patty is also a member of Women in Development, the Worcester Chapter for 10 years and she has been Chair of the Scholarship Committee since 2010.

Jennifer Jo Averill Moffitt, RN, CNM, MSN

Jen joined Family Health Center of Worcester as the Perinatal Services Manager in 2010, started as UMass Faculty in 2011, and has served on the Reengineering Team at the health center.  Her previous experiences include a Fulbright at Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica.  Jennifer taught 8th grade in Mississippi before getting her 2nd career Nurse-Midwifery degree at UCSF in 2003.  She has attended over a thousand births in hospitals, homes, and a free-standing birth center, and is particularly interested in issues of health disparities, PTSD, and mindfulness in the perinatal period and beyond.  In December 2011, Jennifer was awarded the Massachusetts March of Dimes Advanced Practice Nurse of the Year for 2011.  She recently helped to start the Baby Cafe, a breastfeeding group at Family Health Center, which provides breastfeeding support to new families in four+ languages.  Jen was the former Chair of Nhyira Ba, and now serves as OB Provider Liaison.

Shelly Yarnie, MPH Regional Director, Office of Local and Regional Health MA Department of Public Health

Shelly serves as the Regional Director of the MA Dept. of Public Health (MDPH), Central MA Regional Health Office located in West Boylston MA and coordinates agency activities in partnership with Boards of Health and health departments, municipal offices, community based organizations and other partners. Her goal is to mobilize and support community partnerships to address a variety of health issues in Central MA while promoting MDPH top strategic priorities through consultation, training, technical assistance, organizing, outreach, information sharing, resource identification, and collaborative program and policy development. Shelly is very passionate in Maternal and Child Health issues and leads a Population Health Clerkship at UMass Medical School for 2nd year medical students focused on African Woman’s Health and Disparities in Infant Mortality: An Assessment of the Ghanaian Population in Worcester. During the clerkship the students have the opportunity to learn more about the Ghanaian culture /traditions and the impact social determinants of health has on overall health.

Anne M. Tisdell, RNC, MSN, Certified Women's Health NP

Anne's career in nursing has spanned over 40 years, starting as a Staff RN in Labor & Delivery, Postpartum, Newborn Nursery, Special Care Nursery and Gyn.  She also taught Prepared Childbirth classes for expectant parents as well as staff.  Anne taught at Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing in Boston for a year before doing Graduate Studies at Boston College in Maternal-Child Nursing.  Then she became certified as a Women’s Health NP.  Anne has worked in many areas of Women’s Health:  Teaching at Simmons College, Perinatology, Reproductive Endocrinology, Menopause, Premenstrual Syndrome Program, Ambulatory Ob/Gyn, Family Planning, Mother/Baby Home care visits, Neonatal Care in a level II Special Care Nursery, Prenatal Clinic at St. Vincent’s Hospital and now in a private Ob/Gyn Practice in Lincoln, RI.  Her involvement in the WIMRTF, now the Worcester Health Baby Collaborative, began in December 2007.  Anne has been committed to prevention of prematurity and Infant mortality.  She captained a group for the March for Babies in 2010 and 2011 for St Vincent Hospital and she was one of the top walkers in fundraising.  In 2011, she was a finalist for the Nurse of the Year award from the March of Dimes.  Anne has continued her involvement with the Worcester Healthy Baby Collaborative after being let go from St Vincent Hospital due to budget cuts.  She finds the all volunteer group inspiring to be with and truly committed to eliminating infant mortality and improving care for all mothers and babies. Anne's other interests involve dancing: Ballroom, Irish Ceili Folk Dancing, Scandinavian Folk Dance, Contra Dancing.  She enjoys long distance bike trips with her husband.  Anne draws pastel illustrations and paint.  Last, but by no means least, music has been an integral part of Anne's life as a musician, singer, and choral member. She sang at her own wedding on 10-18-13!  One of her biggest thrills was being a member of the chorus that represented the United States at the dedication of “The Battle of Normandy Museum” in 1988.  Her Dad, a veteran of that battle of WWII, accompanied her and added so much to that trip.

Sussana Bio-Nyarko

Sussana is married to Pastor John Bio Asante of the new creation Baptist Church Millbury, Ma. (first lady of the church). They have been living in the USA since 2001 with their two sons. She currently works at family Health Center as a Perinatal Case Manager/Advocate. She has also been trained to give tools to support pregnant women with post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD), Seeking Safety.     Sussana has been a Nurse Midwife back in Ghana for over twenty years. Ghanaian born, with her background as a nurse midwife, she gives perinatal advice to women in and out of work.  Her drive is to ensure the safety and well being of pregnant women and their babies, especially those from Africa, and to reduce Morbidity and Mortality Rates.

Alexis Travis, Ph.D.

Alexis is the State Director of Program Services at the March of Dimes Massachusetts Chapter. She specializes in program planning, design, implementation and evaluation.  In her current position she helps lead many of the State’s Maternal and Child Health Initiatives, oversees community grants and the State’s only chapter-managed NICU family support program at Tufts Medical Center.  Alexis is member of the Birth Defects advisory committee for Massachusetts Department of Public Health and is also the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Perinatal Quality Collaborative, a group that encompasses representatives from the 47 birthing hospitals in Massachusetts. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, she attained a Master of Pharmacy with Honors from the University of Bradford in 2006 and subsequently moved the United States. After becoming a mother, Alexis completed a PhD in Public Health with Walden University, specializing in community health education and promotion. Since then she obtained certification as a Health Education Specialist.  She is passionate about health disparities and women’s health and works on research in this area. Alexis has served many years as a volunteer in various child-health related non-profit organizations in the UK and the US. Becoming a mom and experiencing two high-risk pregnancies led Alexis to pursue her passion of improving the health of babies at the March of Dimes.

Mercy Amo

Mercy graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2005 with a bachelor in Nursing and Psychology. She currently works as a program manager for a non profit organization called Fairbridge Project international, Inc., in Worcester .  Their goal is "eliminating disparities and connecting Sub Sahara Africans to health,education, and economic opportunities."  Mercy considers the most rewarding aspect of her job, "knowing that I am making a difference in my community." She organizes free community health screenings throughout the year with a goal to break down the myths and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in the African Community.  By doing so Mercy hopes to increase the number of men, women and youth getting screened for preventable disease, accessing care services when needed, and avoiding at risk behaviors. Mercy writes:  "They say finding your purpose in life will bring one freedom and happiness and I believe I am on the right path."

Sara G. Shields, M.D., M.S.

Sara is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts and the Family Health Center of Worcester. Her interest in women’s health and maternity care began during her undergraduate time at Harvard thanks to a course in Biology and Women’s Issues and the experience of providing labor support at her sister’s home birth in rural Kentucky with a lay midwife. After completing her A.B. in English and pre-medical studies, Sara attended medical school at the University of California at San Francisco, where she found her niche working in urban underserved multicultural communities with young families. She combined all these interests in her family medicine residency at the University of Rochester, based in a community health center (CHC) setting, and then a fellowship in maternal and child health at Brown University, where she did clinical work in a CHC and received a master’s degree in community health with research on continuity of care in labor. Since 1995, Sara has provided and taught maternity care at UMass, with her clinical practice based at FHCW. Her special interests are in teaching woman-centered maternity care including group prenatal care, labor support, and breastfeeding support; teaching about emergency obstetrics through the Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics program, and integrating frontline clinical work with public health efforts to reduce infant mortality and increase healthy equity particularly for immigrant and underserved families. She has been a member of the national Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality since 2011 and co-chair of the Worcester Healthy Baby Collaborative since 2012. Outside of medicine, her interests are her family (engineer husband, a college-age daughter and a teen son, two rambunctious dogs), outdoor activities during any season (biking, running, skiing, snowshoeing), reading novels, knitting, and dragonflies.

Robin Toft Klar, DNSc, RN

Dr. Robin Toft Klar is an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester. She has created and led health promotion efforts both locally and globally at the university and community levels. She teaches courses at pre-licensure, graduate, and doctoral levels at both the nursing and medical schools. Her research examines the environmental and individual influences on access to healthcare in vulnerable communities. She has worked extensively to identify and compare the barriers and enabling factors to entering the health care system in both Ghana and Worcester, MA. Her clinical work focuses on the development of community-based and community oriented care for vulnerable populations. 

A nurse since 1975, Dr. Klar has been an educator at Curry College, Fitchburg State College and the University of Massachusetts, Worcester. Additionally, she has been involved in community efforts to address health disparities. She is a member of the Center of Public Health Practice: Academic Health Department, the Barbershop Health Network, Community Immunity, and the Worcester Public Health Task Force.

Elizabeth Spellman

Elizabeth graduated from Boston University in 2007 with a dual degree in History and Classical Civilizations.  After graduation, she served as Health Extension Agent in the Republic of Zambia with the United States Peace Corps. In 2013, she completed the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program at Tufts University. She is currently the Program Services Intern at the March of Dimes as well as a Medical Advocate with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

Bob Hersh    

Bob directs the Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The Center faculty and student teams have worked on a diverse set of community based projects, such as designing appropriate technologies to assist small scale local food producers, improving access to healthy food in low income and minority neighborhoods in central Massachusetts and creating closer links among food system activities (production, processing, distribution, consumption, waste disposal). At WPI, Bob also conducts applied research on development strategies in connection to sanitation, housing, and food access in the shantytowns in southern Africa. Before becoming an academic, Bob was trained in film production and worked as a documentary filmmaker in the US and abroad.

Cathy Violette NP, MSN, AWHC-RNC, WHNP-BC

Cathy is a Diploma graduate of The Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, BSN graduate of Worcester State College, and Master of Science / Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner graduate of University of Cincinnati. She is dual certified as an Ambulatory Health Care Nurse since 1995 and as Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner since 2009. She holds a UMASS Medical School faculty position as a Clinical Instructor of OB/GYN. Cathy, a volunteer member of Healthy Baby Collaborative, has enjoyed many years of maternal child health nursing at UMASSMemorial Medical Center. Her interest in high risk
pregnancy care has deepened while working at Community Women’s Care (CWC) for more than 30 years. Cathy has participated in women’s health research, worked with sub committees surrounding prevention of mortality, joined the Worcester Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force in 2002 and continues to be interested in the care of African women. She currently participates in the care of patients attending Maternal Fetal Medicine practice at the Women’s Center and for patients of the High Risk OB Clinic of CWC. Cathy received the UMASSMemorial 2013 Champion of Excellence- Individual Award for Integrated care and Work recognizing her role as coordinator of care for the Fetal Specialty Clinic of the Women’s Center.

Student Partners

Loan Chau    

Loan Chau is a psychology student at WPI. She enjoys volunteering with her school. She also volunteers as a big sister with the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program. Considering that she is interested in a future career in healthcare, she feels that she was naturally drawn to this project. Loan looks forward to helping make a positive impact in the healthcare system and hopes for a more prosperous community!

Atieh Sadraei    

Atieh is currently a junior at Worcester Polytechnic Institute studying Biomedical Engineering. As a part of her junior qualifying project she is collaborating with three other students "and we have been given the wonderful opportunity to work with Nhyira Ba. We are very thankful for this experience and hope to be able to contribute in some way to the efforts aimed at reducing the infant mortality rate in Worcester." Atieh is from Nashua, NH and she enjoys reading, traveling, and meeting new people.

Allegra Marra

Allegra is currently a senior at Clark University studying International Development and Social Change. She was born and raised in Rhode Island and now calls Worcester her second home. Within International Development she has a specific interest in global health issues and is excited to learn about public health problems in the Worcester community. During her last semester at Clark, Allegra studied abroad in Namibia and South Africa where she learned about the history, politics, and development of the region while working at a women's health organization in the capital city of Windhoek. She will continue her education and receive her masters degree in Community Development and Planning in her next year at Clark.

Melanie Cantwell

Melanie is a WPI junior studying Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Biomechanics. She is especially interested in this project because she is a native of Worcester, and went to high school at South High. There, a few of her friends had children had a young age and were struggling to raise their infants. "I feel that this project is allowing me to return to my community and give back by helping mothers that also may struggle." Melanie is a member of the WPI festival chorus and enjoys volunteering at Mustardseed, a local soup kitchen.

Farhat Kohistani

Farhat Kohistani is originally from Afghanistan. She has been living in the United States for about 11 years. Farhat is currently a junior majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She really enjoys working with children and volunteering. Farhat used to work for an after school program where she helped kids with reading, writing, and math skills, and reports enjoying every minute of it. She is currently part of a program called "Big
Brother Big Sister" and visits her little sister at Wawecus Road school once a week. Farhat is from Worcester and states, "I am very excited to be working on such an important project that makes a difference in our own community."


The latest data on infant mortality trends in the United States has recently been released by the CDC. It can be found at:



A recent article in The Nation's Health, from the American Public Health Association, discusses the increasing focus on addressing the social determinants of health in regards to public health concerns and infant mortality in particular:


Shift toward social determinants transforming public health work: Targeting causes of health disparities