×

Working toward the next milestone

  • Kelsey Kingsbury, of Claremont, N.H., shows her new wedding ring to Baby Steps Family Assistance Program Executive Director Robin Wittermann, right, in Claremont, N.H., on Thursday, Aug.8, 2019. Kingsbury, who is due to give birth in September, left with a Baby Blessing Basket which contains supplies for newborns. "For some people, this is the baby shower," said Wittemann of the baskets. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Baby Steps employee Margaret Kogut sorts donated clothing at Baby Steps in Claremont, N.H., on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. The program helps people who need clothing for employment. "Imagine if we weren't here?" said Executive Director Robin Wittemann, "We fill in a big gap." She said they give men about 15 pieces of clothing and women 25 pieces to dress for work. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Amber Miller, of Claremont, N.H., left, gets help picking out clothing from Baby Steps employee Amanda Salls, center, while Chase Miller, Amber's brother, stands ready to carry items to the car, in Claremont, N.H., on Aug. 8, 2019. While driving home from the hospital with her newborn baby in July her car was struck in an accident. Her baby wasn't hurt but the crash added one more thing for the new mother to worry about. (Rick Russell photograph)



Valley News Correspondent
Monday, August 12, 2019

It began in 2012 with a single request. After a group of 4-H kids finished a project collecting winter clothing for the needy, a woman contacted the group asking if it had any leftover items.

“She was a young mother and needed not only clothing but a bed for her 4-month old, who was sleeping in a car seat,” said Robin Wittemann, who directed that 4-H project. “That was how we got established, basically helping struggling families, and she was our first family.”

That request was the beginning of Baby Steps Family Assistance Program and today the nonprofit serves hundreds of families in and around the Claremont area with clothing, fresh food and other services from its offices at 169 Main St., where it moved a few years ago after beginning in the basement of the Trinity Episcopal Church on Broad Street.

Working with a few dozen Upper Valley social services agencies along with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Baby Steps connects families and others to help meet their needs.

“We really are a neighbor helping neighbor organization,” said Wittemann, Baby Steps’ Executive Director one day last week in her office, surrounded by racks of clothing in all sizes and styles.

The numbers speak for themselves: In the past year, Baby Steps provided 256 children in grades K-12 in the SAU 6 school district (Claremont and Unity) with clothing; distributed 12,000 pounds of fresh produce provided by Willing Hands in Norwich and others; and handed out 1,000 bags with a week’s worth of clothing to needy households.

That doesn’t include the “Struggle Free Baby Blessing Basket” full of diapers and other items new mothers need and the “survival” bags of basic toiletries, socks and other items for the homeless.

“We try to fill in the niches or cracks for those who are struggling. We want new mothers not to have to struggle to find diapers, bottles and other things. I want them to spend time with their new baby.”

The baskets also come lined with locally made quilts that are donated.

Wittemann said several times last week that none of this assistance would be possible were it not for the seemingly boundless generosity of those more fortunate.

“This community is awesome,” Wittemann said. “Everything we have is donated.”

Lindsey Miller, of Claremont, has received assistance from Baby Steps and also serves as a volunteer. When she was expecting her second child, who is now seven months, Baby Steps provided her with a Blessing Baby Basket and on occasion she will stop in to pick up diapers or other items.

Miller said she knows a number of mothers in the Lebanon area in need of assistance and has referred them to Wittemann or in some cases, has picked up the items in Claremont and delivered them because the family has no transportation.

“They bend over backwards to help people, and if they don’t have what is needed, they are more than willing to help find it,” Miller said about Wittemann and her volunteers. “They are literally a lifesaver to a lot of people.”

An incident last week highlights the organization mission of “making community connections” to help others.

“We had a single mother with a son who had left the (homeless) shelter and now had an apartment but nothing to furnish it,” Wittemann said.

She went on to say that very same day a person contacted Baby Steps looking to get rid of some household furniture following the death of a family member.

“These sorts of things happen all the time,” Wittemann said. “We are not just clothing; we also help in a crisis.”

Baby Steps not only provides the necessities but where possible, helps people get back on their feet. The clothing rack includes pants and shirts with colors often required to work in retail or restaurants at many of the businesses on Washington Street.

Baby Steps is also a host site for two employment programs through the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security.

In one program, Wittemann teaches back-to-work skills for younger people and another program helping those 55 and older learn new skills to re-enter the workforce.

The entire organization is volunteer-based with a core group that arrives to sort clothing and complete other task to keep a neat and orderly appearance. “I just have so many great volunteers.”

Still, there are costs, including rent, utilities and other expenses, totaling about $10,000 year, half of which will come from the county government later this year.

Wittemann said right now they are looking at a shortfall of around $3,500 and she is hoping for financial contributions to close the gap.

Wittemann and the Baby Steps volunteers say their work is not only about providing the basics to families and individuals living on the mar gins but also to support them in their efforts to improve their lives.

“We give out a lot of hope and love when people come here and hope and love can go a long way,” Wittemann said.

Anyone wishing to donate can send a contribution to Baby Steps Family Assistance Program, P.O. Box 1607, Claremont, N.H. 03743

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.