Author Archives: karenbarr

MISS Foundation’s Mother’s Day Kindness Walk

Photo from last year’s event by Jimmy Carrauthers.

In its continuing efforts to support bereaved parents, the MISS Foundation is sponsoring “The Kindness Walk—We Walk for Them” in Phoenix this month.

The event is an international memorial walk to remember all children who have died too soon, and to honor those relationships on Mother’s Day, the most sacred of days for families. The walk stresses the idea that “death is not bigger than a family’s love,” says Kathy Sandler, executive director of MISS. “Even in their absence [the lost children] continue to walk with us, as we walk for them.”

Registration for The Kindness Walk begins at 6:45am on Sunday, May 13, at the Phoenix Zoo, and the walk starts at 7:30am. At the conclusion of the walk, a Kindness Project – “Beautiful Soles” – will take place as a legacy to the children. Participants can donate new or gently used shoes that include a message in honor of the children. MISS will donate the shoes to Valley organizations serving needy children.

The MISS Foundation is a non-profit organization serving the needs of families that have lost children of any age, from any cause. Register for the walk online or contact Nadia Stadnycki at 610-644-6221 or—Mary Ann Bashaw

2012 Mother’s Day Cover Mom Contest winners

1st place: What I learned from my mother about being a great mom

By Mary Weisse • Photos by Daniel Friedman

My mom played with her kids. I don’t just mean in the normal ways every mom plays with her kids. She got down on the floor and played with us. I know a lot of moms who never do this and they are still great moms, but to me this was something that made my mom special.

Our house was where all the other kids wanted to come play. She once let my best friend and me turn our entire living room into a fort that literally used every couch cushion in our house. To top it off, she let us keep it up for a week. I knew that was pretty awesome at the time, but it really sinks in when you stop to contemplate this situation in your own home.

My 4-year-old son Jimmy and I are pretty frequent fort builders, and when he begs me to let him leave them up for “just one more day,” I can’t help but give in. Thank goodness living in an immaculate house would be unnatural for me. I would much rather live in a messy one where kids are having fun.

I would hardly put myself on par with my own mother’s patience and kindness (I still work on those quite a bit), but I like to think her playfulness rubbed off on me. In my house we make massive pretend-play setups of everything from LEGOs and Little People to cardboard boxes turned into airports. Currently, an entire room of my house is dedicated to a Playmobil Swiss Family Robinson island. I am confident my mother would be proud.

We were never spoiled because we never had enough money to be, but my mom had a talent for finding ways to make things special. We would wake up on birthdays or holidays to find decorations and treats. She would let us play hooky from school to go to a spring training game. She managed to plan creative birthday parties and take us on amazing vacations. She knew that family time should come above all else. We never had a beautiful house or nice clothes or fancy meals. As a kid sometimes I was embarrassed about that, but now I can’t thank her enough for giving us wonderful and happy memories instead of lots of “things.”

I wish I could talk to her now and ask her how she did it all, but I can’t. She passed away more than six years ago. My greatest sadness is that she will never get to meet my two boys, Jimmy and Gus. I think the only way that they will ever get to know even a piece of her is through me. When they grow up I want them to be able to brag to their friends about how awesome their mom was in the same way I still brag about mine.

Mary Weisse, of Phoenix, is the mother of Jimmy (4) and Gus (18 months).

About our contest
This is the fourth year Raising Arizona Kids has conducted an essay contest to select a Mother’s Day Cover Mom. For her winning essay, Mary Weisse of Phoenix and her family will enjoy a LEGOLAND California adventure, including four two-day Resort Hopper Tickets (valued at $400) and a three day/two night stay at the The Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa.

Our runners up
Margaret Caldwell of Gilbert and Bonnie Chowaniec of Phoenix, will receive valuable gift certificates from promotional partners Desert Ridge Marketplace and Westgate City Center.

RUNNER UP: bonnie chowaniec of PhoeniX

The treasures my mom entrusted into my safekeeping have taken a lifetime to unpack and to polish, and I know there are even more left to discover. Some of the most important riches she offered were simply invisible until I had children of my own. Others were bright and shiny, like the best new toys. And still others, the ones that would become my most prized, looked for the longest time like big old, misshapen rocks that I figured to be stuck lugging around for the rest of my life.

Bonnie Chowaniec with her two sons. Photo courtesy of the family.

One of my mom’s most fundamental teachings, which has become visible through the years, is that it takes great, enduring effort to build a beautiful life. Daily, she demonstrates that if you fix your sights on that beautiful life and stay optimistic about your chances of building it, then there’s nothing that can stop you; that time is wasted on complaining — whatever obstacles and disappointments may arise – and better served through responsibility and determination. The brightest and shiniest gift was the one she wanted so much for herself but believed her early experiences had placed out of reach. She would point it out to me though, over and again through the years, saying, “Take this one! Take this one and fly!” What was that tantalizing gem, the one that seemed beyond reach until recently? Passionate independence: The ability and self-confidence required to follow our highest and best dreams. Neither of us could figure out how to grab hold of that one and still maintain the intimate families we also fiercely desired. But, look mom! I’m finding my way, at last. I’ve learned that to be the best mom I can be, I have to be my whole self.

I thought those big old misshapen rocks were the one legacy from my mom that I could definitely live without. Heavy, awkward, none too pretty, they always seemed to be getting in my way. Of course, she had unknowingly hurt me in the ways she herself had been hurt. I spent longer than I care to admit convinced I always would be held back, chained to these damn rocks. To get free of them, I finally started chiseling away and, to my astonishment, I found they were diamonds, rubies, emeralds. I had to put in the work to reveal their deep and lasting value. And now, of course, I have even more treasures to pass on to my sons.

Claiming the treasures of our hearts is hard work. It requires a sort of invisible sweat, an abundant number of tears and other difficult feelings, and above all else, a commitment to love. It’s the last bit that makes all the rest of it possible. And the commitment to love is my most cherished treasure from mom. No matter what pain we’ve inflicted on one another, what’s always mattered most to her, and to me, is that the bond of our love remains healthy and strong. That’ll get you through anything.

RUNNER UP: Margaret Caldwell of Gilbert

When I was four years old, my father died from a sudden heart attack. My 33-year old mother was a housewife, taking part-time nursing classes. As the youngest of four siblings, I don’t remember much about my dad. I have lots of implanted memories my mother has kept alive by telling vivid stories, although she sometimes confuses which kid the story was about. But when I look back on my childhood, I don’t feel cheated; I only have warm memories and immense feelings of love.

Margaret Caldwell with Cameron (2) and Callum (7). Photo courtesy of the family.

When my father passed away, my mother began working to make ends meet while going to school full time. She worked nights and went to nursing school during the day so she could be with us when we got home from school. I still don’t know when she slept. She made every school game, performance and recital. I’m sure she would rather have been sleeping, but to her kids, she never complained. My mother graduated Summa Cum Laude with her Masters in psychiatric nursing, teaching us what you can achieve with hard work and determination.

When my grandmother became too ill to live alone, my mother took her in. She cared for her ailing mother for several very difficult years. The stress of working, four children and elder care must have exhausted her, but I rarely saw it.
My mother has faced hardship and knows how to appreciate life and family. Over the years she’s shared her experiences in speeches to grieving widows, stressed parents and burdened caregivers. In a recent speech about parenting stress she said “Children don’t know about your stressful day, and shouldn’t, they only know that they want you and need you now.” I guess that is why I only have loving memories of my childhood because she worked so hard to make that the reality.
My mother recently retired and has become a full time grandma. Visiting each child and grandchild, she’s careful to spread herself evenly. As a mother and grandmother she continues to show me how love can keep a family together and make it flourish.

My mother’s wisdom enters my life daily. I learned to treasure my children and see things from their perspective. I learned to take care of those you love. I learned laughter can be the best medicine. I learned to be a good role model and forgive the driver who cuts you off; they could be having a really bad day. I learned to celebrate life’s little victories. I learned that life happens, people die, so say “I love you” often. And most importantly I learned that a mother’s love can comfort, heal and strengthen.

Now that I have my own children I find her shoes awfully tough to fill. As amother of two, I yell, tire and feel frustrated. I try to handle situations with all the skills my mother taught me. But if I don’t know exactly what to do, she is just a phone call away.

Real flowering craft: Make a Mother’s Day corsage

Craft and photo by Bettijo B. Hirschi & Aimee Lowry

A Mother’s Day corsage might be traditional, but this easy-to-make bloom is anything but stuffy. Simple enough for little fingers to create, and all you need are cupcake liners, a pipe cleaner and a safety pin.

8 solid-colored cupcake liners (we used yellow)
1 mini cupcake liner, white (optional)
1 pipe cleaner (we used green to simulate leaves but any coordinating color will do)
1 small safety pin

On a hard surface, flatten each of the cupcake liners and then stack together with the inside facing up. Using the pin, poke a hole through the entire stack. If using a mini cupcake liner, flatten and poke a hole through that as well.

Take your pipe cleaner and begin threading (from outside of liner in) through the center hole you just created in the cupcake liners. End by placing on the mini cupcake liner.

Roll the end of your pipe cleaner into a little knot to secure liners into place, then slide all  the liners so they’re snug against the knot.

Working from the mini liner out, scrunch each cupcake liner closed around the pipe cleaner knot. The liners closer to the middle will fold in tighter and as you work your way out the liners will naturally stay more open, like a real blossom. Gently scrunch and/or twist liners until you’re happy with your flower’s shape.

Trim pipe cleaner so you have about a six-inch tail. Carefully wrap the extra pipe cleaner tail around the non-pinning side of the safety pin. We wrapped it around three times and then formed a leaf-like shape with the remaining pipe cleaner. If you’re not using a green liner you might just want to cut the excess off.

TIPS: If you’re having difficulty getting your flower to hang correctly while wearing, be sure you’ve twisted it nice and tight so the blossom is held firmly against the pin. If you continue to have trouble you can use a glue gun to get it to hold firmly.

Monthly “Real Crafts” are created just for RAK by Bettijo B. Hirschi & Aimée Lowry, the Arizona moms behind family-style blog Paging Supermom.

real earth-friendly craft: making accessories from recycled tees

Photo courtesy of Bettijo B. Hirschi & Aimee Lowry.

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, reuse outgrown or even stained T-shirts to create colorful recycled necklaces, bracelets, headbands and more. In just minutes you and your kids can transform old tees into colorful and fun accessories—recycling has never been this stylish! Most T-shirts are made from stretchy knit fabric that does not fray, which makes it perfect for cutting up.

SUPPLIES: old T-shirts, scissors

INSTRUCTIONS: Gather a handful of old tees, particularly ones in bright colors.

Spread your T-shirt on a flat surface, and find the longest area of your shirt. (For most shirts this will be from the shoulder line to the waistline.)

Using sharp scissors, cut strips of fabric (about 1/2” to 1” wide) down the longest length of your shirt. This will create ribbon-like strips. Your cuts do not need to be perfectly straight, as braided jewelry is very forgiving. If you’re using small shirts, you may wish to cut along the bottom waistline, through both the front and back of the shirt at the same time. When you’re finished you’ll have a fabric loop that can be used as is or cut at the seam to make a flat strip.

Take three strips and knot together on one end, then braid through the length. It works best if you pull tightly, stretching out the fabric as you braid.

Once braiding is complete, cut to your desired length. Tie ends together to create a braided circle. Wear as desired.

You can also use these knit strips unbraided to make bracelets and headbands or to tie on a gift-wrapped package instead of ribbon.

Monthly “Real Crafts” are created just for RAK by Bettijo B. Hirschi & Aimée Lowry, the Arizona moms behind the family-style blog Paging Supermom. For more ideas visit

Bike helmets: Thinking past the driveway

Photo by Daniel Friedman.

By Vicki Louk Balint

Sixth grader Cathy Horning, 12, of Mesa, rides her bike to Ida Redbird Elementary School in Mesa, and home again, every day. She wears a helmet that fits her perfectly.

But she says she’s one of only two kids at her elementary school who does.

“The kids make fun of me like crazy,” she explains. “They say they’re too popular to wear helmets.”

Every three days a child in the United States is killed while riding a bicycle, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. Every single day, 100 children are treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related head injuries.

Pediatric Trauma Coordinator Jim Boise, R.N., CFRN, of Maricopa Medical Center, says that bicycle accidents and/or bicycle accidents involving an automobile account for roughly 10 percent of pediatric trauma cases at MMC. According to the Maricopa County Safe Kids Coalition, head injury is the leading cause of death in bicycle crashes and is the most important determinant of death and permanent disability. Proper helmet use reduces the risk of brain injury by about 90 percent.

Priscilla Horning, Cathy’s mom, can’t figure out why kids would tease her daughter for making the decision to protect her brain. But they do.

Priscilla says her family has a particularly heightened awareness of brain injuries. In the days before helmets were available, an older sibling of Cathy’s fell from a bike and hit her head, breaking her arm and two front teeth and sustaining a concussion. And because Priscilla’s brother survived brain cancer and now runs support groups for victims of brain injury, he’s inundated with information on what happens when kids get hurt.

“He deals with hundreds of people who have survived a bike, motorcycle or car accident, not just those with brain cancer,” says Priscilla. “It’s amazing what you learn.”

For the Hornings, bike helmet use as a health behavior is a given. But for other families, experts say, the tension of making a fashion statement or being “cool” often overrides the safety factor, especially among older kids. Parents who participated in the C.S. Mott poll say that the other barriers to helmet use include the cost, along with the fact that their kids “simply don’t like wearing one.”

David I. Rosenberg, M.D., has spent 25 years on the front lines, taking care of young patients soon after injuries first occur. As a pediatric critical care physician at the Arizona Children’s Center at MMC, Rosenberg sees the outcome of bicycle, all-terrain and other wheeled recreational vehicle accidents when young patients are admitted to the emergency department.

“Generally speaking, the ones who have the worst injuries weren’t using the proper safety devices,” he says. “Being on this end, to see children who come in dead, or with bad neurological injuries who will never be the same…it’s very frustrating as a pediatrician to have kids suffer life-altering trauma that could have been prevented.”

Although the most serious bicycle accidents often involve an automobile, children can sustain critical or even fatal head injuries simply by falling off a bike and hitting a vulnerable area of the skull—just over the ear or just above the spinal cord, for example. “It can be a minor fall,” says Rosenberg, “but a very serious injury.”

Bike helmets protect the head with a strong Styrofoam lining and an outer coating of polycarbon that absorbs a significant portion of the impact so that it is not transmitted to the brain.

Estimates from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that if all kids between the ages of 4 and 15 used a helmet whenever they rode a bike, 40,000 head injuries and about 50,000 scalp and facial injuries could be prevented every year. Helmet use is higher in states where helmet laws exist, according to the C.S. Mott poll; yet only 21 states have them. Arizona does not.

A helmet law would certainly reduce the number of children who are hurt or killed, says injury prevention specialist Tracey Fejt, R.N., but it shouldn’t take a law. “Parents should know that kids can die,” she says. “It’s head injuries we’re talking about. When we’re talking about bikes, scooters, skateboards, roller blades and roller skates, head injury is the number one injury. And we can’t fix your brain. Once it’s injured, it’s injured.”

Fejt organizes outreach programs through her work at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, visiting classrooms monthly to educate children on safety issues and prevention. As part of a partnership that incorporates this safety information into the curriculum, schools agree to call themselves “helmet-required schools” and Cardon Children’s provides all students with helmets—free of charge.

Does it work?

When Fejt began working with schools in 2008 with assistance from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program, the percentage of kids using helmets was very low. “I had maybe a one percent rate of kids wearing helmets. And now we’re at 70. Am I going to reach everyone? Probably not. You’re going to always have those kids who think they’re 10 feet tall and bullet proof and don’t need helmets. But a lot of kids there wouldn’t have been in helmets if I hadn’t been here.”

Cathy Horning has been brainstorming ways to increase the number of kids at her school who wear bike helmets. Among her ideas: working with the student council to do a fundraiser to buy and decorate helmets, talking to her principal about a helmet rule for the school, maybe convincing just one or two popular kids to wear helmets in hopes they’d start a trend. “It’s really important to the school and to Arizona,” she says. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Priscilla is proud of her youngest daughter; she only wishes that parents would see the issue with the same clarity and concern as Cathy does. “People really don’t think past the driveway,” she says. “It is fun to have the wind blow in your hair—but it’s not worth it. If you hit a crack or dip in the road or try to avoid a car and you fall and hit your head on the curb, it could be the last thing you ever do.”

Homemade chocolate Easter bunnies

Photo courtesy of Lin Sue Cooney.

By Lin Sue Cooney

When I was a child, I could always count on my mom to put a chocolate bunny in my Easter basket. I couldn’t wait to bite off an ear to see if it was solid or hollow inside. The poor guy never lasted very long. He was devoured before breakfast with a mug of hot cocoa. Even back then I was addicted to chocolate! Though he was made of a rather bland milk chocolate, I thought it was a fancy treat.

Now that I’ve developed a taste for dark chocolate, those drug store bunnies just don’t cut it anymore. So I’ve learned to make my own.

All you need is a bag of candy melts that you can buy at Michaels. For a dollar more, I recommend the gourmet brand name Guittard, available at ABC Cake Decorating at 28th Street and Indian School in Phoenix. They come in dark chocolate, white chocolate, strawberry, lemon or mint (which smells and tastes just like a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie).

Fill a squeeze bottle with chocolate pieces and zap in a microwave 30 seconds at first, and then 10 seconds at time until the chocolate melts. Be sure to stir each time with a chopstick so it melts evenly. Then put the lid on the bottle and gently squeeze the chocolate into plastic bunny molds you can buy at Michaels, ABC or online. There are literally dozens to choose from, so you can have a cute bunny, an elegant one, big, medium or tiny.

Use a toothpick to gently push the chocolate to the edges of the impression. Lay completely flat in the freezer for five minutes, then invert onto a soft, clean dishtowel, tapping the edge of the mold lightly. The chocolate bunnies will drop right out. You can even find molds that hold a lollipop stick if you want a bunny sucker.

Make him extra fabulous by tying a thin ribbon around his neck. Then just wrap that darling bunny in a cellophane bag, tuck him into an Easter basket, and watch your kids hippity hop around the house with excitement.

Lin Sue Cooney is the evening news anchor at 12News and the mother of Taylor (26), Zach (23), Seamus (10) and Wen (9). She and her business partner, Cindy Leech, run Sweet-Stops, where they make specialty confections and host cooking classes.

real earth friendly craft: Fun and colorful jewelry from recycled tees

Photo courtesy of Bettijo B. Hirschi & Aimee Lowry

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, reuse outgrown or even stained T-shirts to create colorful recycled necklaces, bracelets, headbands and more. In just minutes you and your kids can transform old tees into colorful and fun accessories—recycling has never been this stylish! Most T-shirts are made from stretchy knit fabric that does not fray, which makes it perfect for cutting up.

SUPPLIES: old T-shirts, scissors
INSTRUCTIONS:Gather a handful of old tees, particularly ones in bright colors. Spread your T-shirt on a flat surface, and find the longest area of your shirt. (For most shirts this will be from the shoulder line to the waistline.)
Using sharp scissors, cut strips of fabric (about 1/2” to 1” wide) down the longest length of your shirt. This will create ribbon-like strips. Your cuts do not need to be perfectly straight, as braided jewelry is very forgiving. If you’re using small shirts, you may wish to cut along the bottom waistline, through both the front and back of the shirt at the same time. When you’re finished you’ll have a fabric loop that can be used as is or cut at the seam to make a flat strip.
Take three strips and knot together on one end, then braid through the length. It works best if you pull tightly, stretching out the fabric as you braid.
Once braiding is complete, cut to your desired length. Tie ends together to create a braided circle. Wear as desired.
You can also use these knit strips unbraided to make bracelets and headbands or to tie on a gift-wrapped package instead of ribbon.

—Monthly “Real Crafts” are created just for RAK by Bettijo B. Hirschi & Aimée Lowry, the Arizona moms behind the family-style blog Paging Supermom. For more ideas visit

The history of Little League in Arizona

Tommy Bullington pitches during tryouts at Arcadia Little League. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

By Mary L. Holden

Thanks to a man named Bill Vallely, Little League has been played for 62 of the 100 years that Arizona has been a state.

Born in Albuquerque in 1927, Vallely lied about his age so he could be drafted during World War II. While in the Navy he met a fellow sailor who told him about Little League, which had its beginnings in Williamsport, Pa. in 1938. After the war, Vallely moved to Prescott with the dream of starting Little League teams in Arizona.

He chartered the first official league in 1950 and volunteered thousands of hours to the organization. He coached his kids and grandkids for 42 years and helped a few players who fulfilled their early promise by going on to careers in professional baseball. In all, he started 17 Little League organizations. Before he died in 2004, he attended a dedication ceremony for the Prescott ball fields that were named for him in 1998.

This photo originally was published in Prescott's The Daily Courier. The caption reads: "On April 14, 2002, Bill Vallely attended opening ceremonies for that year's Prescott Little League season. It was a tradition he started--and kept--from 1950 through 2003."

Vallely was an icon. He was known to be intimidating as a coach but underneath a leathery exterior his heart was bigger than center field. His philosophy was that every child should have a chance to play and participate in the game: to swing a bat, field a ball and experience success and failure individually and as a team. Every member of the team got a chance to get in the game—Vallely was blind to talent. He believed in every child who wanted to hit, catch, run and throw, even if their only strength was desire.

Vallely’s son Bill, of Prescott Valley, remembers being on a team his dad coached. “He was a great coach and a big inspiration to the kids, but I found out about it years later, when people told me stories of things he did behind the scenes to help them. Several told me about how my dad bought them their first glove or arranged for them to get the right shoes or a uniform. His passion was teaching kids about teamwork and about life.”

Generations of kids have filed through the ranks of Little League every spring and summer in Arizona. In the early days it was for boys only, starting with Tee Ball as early as age 4 and ending in the Senior League before age 16. Little League softball for girls was officially added in 1974, which was also the first year that girls were allowed to play on boys’ Little League baseball teams.

Since Arizona achieved statehood in 1912, a total of 89 Arizona natives have had careers in professional baseball. Thirteen of them were born before Little League existed. That means that 76 Arizona-born major leaguers benefitted from the option of playing Little League baseball.

One of Coach Vallely’s players became well known. Prescott native John Denny played on Vallely’s teams starting in 1960. In 1983, as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, he won the Cy Young award.

A plaque at Bill Vallely Fields in Prescott reads: “Play hard and play to win, but never win at a child’s expense.”

Jason Himelstein shows Ruben Drotzmann (13) of Phoenix how to correctly hold a baseball. Photo by Daniel Friedman. Location: Madison Meadows field.

Vallely’s philosophy is shared by Jason K. Himelstein of Phoenix, who recalls playing Little League at Madison Meadows School from 1960 to 1966. At that time, he says, it was still possible to spend the season on the bench if a coach only cared about winning.

“It wasn’t right, but back then, Little League was the hub of our social world. Everyone went to the ballpark every night. I remember that we would play baseball all day then go home, eat dinner and put on our uniforms. On nights when we weren’t playing we were watching our buddies play. The fields were manicured, the grass was green and even the dirt smelled good. The whole thing was like being in heaven.”

Himelstein went on to play baseball at Phoenix College and the University of Hawaii, then spent two years in the rookie leagues before working as a hitting instructor in the major leagues. He coached Little League in the late 1970s and from 1980 to 1992 with the Madison leagues.

“The definition of winning,” he says, “is when you can get all 12 kids to play as hard as they can for the six innings and then not care about the final score. The first obligation of a coach is safety; the second is to be fair. Little League should be fun for them!”

Himelstein recently spent half an hour in an inpromptu coaching session with Ruben Drotzmann, 13, of Phoenix, who was playing catch with his dad before practice on a Madison Meadows field. Himelstein, who was there for a photo shoot, noticed Ruben holding the ball incorrectly, so he showed the teenager how to align his fingers properly with the seam of the ball. Then he offered some tips on swing and grounder techniques, all the while regaling Ruben and his dad, Tom, about his time playing ball in college, the rookie leagues and coaching in the majors.

At one point, he showed Ruben the way major leaguers fold their caps so they retain their shape—even after being shoved into a glove or a back pocket.

Himelstein chatted up several other kids and parents who were meandering in to various practices and games before sharing a note from the parents of a player he had coached. They said how grateful they were that Himelstein had been a coach and role model for their son, who was later murdered.

That kind of connection—the ability to influence a young life—is what Himelstein sought when he began coaching. It’s something he didn’t get in his own family, but he got it from Little League. And for that, he can thank Bill Vallely.

Mary L. Holden, of Phoenix, is the mother of two grown children, John and Annie. Daniel Friedman contributed to this article.


For more information on Little League, visit

For more information about finding a Little League team in Arizona, visit

Making hand washing a habit

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How Arizona is helping new moms meet breastfeeding goals

Moms at the breastfeeding support group at Cardon Children's Medical Center listen to advice and instruction about feeding schedules and issues surrounding breastfeeding.

In Michaela Zach’s imagination, breastfeeding her newborn son for the first time would be no less than glorious. “I felt like the heavens were going to open and the angels would sing and it would be this wonderful thing.”
But that wasn’t how it went at all.

Getting her baby to “latch” correctly took patience and time; that threw her a learning curve she hadn’t expected. “It was a few weeks of ‘I hate this, why am I doing this?’” says Zach. “But I was committed. Once he got it—and I got it—it became second nature.”

The entire birth experience changed her life. She ultimately became a certified lactation educator as well as a Lamaze childbirth educator and certified labor doula, practicing with Southwest Perinatal Education Services.

Whether or not a new mother and her baby “get it” depends on a few factors. One key predictor of long-term success for breastfeeding is what happens in those precious hours after birth, says Anne Whitmire, IBCLC, RLC, who is breastfeeding coordinator for the Arizona Department of Health Services. “Breastfeeding has a short window. If moms don’t take advantage of that while their milk is available…if they go to formula too soon, they lose out.”

Meeting personal breastfeeding goals hinges on a number of factors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many women, there are barriers along the way. Though 75 percent of U.S. babies start out breastfeeding, the CDC says only 13 percent are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months. The rates are particularly low among African-American infants.

Catherine Warren, RN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant for Paradise Valley Hospital, says those first days can be daunting. Breastfeeding knowledge isn’t always passed from mother to daughter as it was in past generations; some new mothers may never have seen anyone breastfeed. “They worry about starving their babies,” says Warren. “Without education, they don’t have the confidence.”

Whitmire, who has worked as a lactation consultant for six years and in public health for 20 years, examined evidence-based predictors of what works best when helping new mothers meet their breastfeeding goals. She and her team then built a set of policy guidelines for hospitals and birthing centers to make sure that new moms had all the support they needed to be successful.

“What drew me in,” she says, “was the number of women who mourned losing their breastfeeding experience.”

The result was Arizona Baby Steps to Breastfeeding Success, a roadmap for hospitals and birthing centers. Funded in part by the CDC, the voluntary program was offered to hospitals in Arizona and implemented early in the summer of 2010.

“We found the evidence, we did the training, we helped with policies and provided resources to get this done efficiently,” says Whitmire, who did the grant writing for the project.

Baby Steps is based on the Baby-Friendly Hospital criteria established by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The “Baby-Friendly” credential requires a hospital to meet additional goals over and above what the Baby Steps program requires.

There are more than 125 Baby-Friendly Hospital sites throughout the United States, but none yet in Arizona. Whitmire hopes that hospitals and birthing centers around the state that embrace the Baby Steps requirements will continue to work toward becoming Baby-Friendly facilities.

Meeting the Baby Steps requirements takes a commitment of resources from hospitals, says Whitmire. It’s not easy. Training must be provided for all staff members who work with moms and babies to make sure everyone is on the same page. Breastfeeding must be initiated within one hour of birth, no pacifiers or other artificial nipples can be used and “rooming in” for moms and babies is highly encouraged so moms will begin to notice an infant’s hunger cues early in the relationship.

Because Baby Steps requirements change the way formula is to be used—only when medically necessary—many hospitals that buy in to the program have shifted their relationships with the baby formula industry, ending a long-time practice of distributing industry-sponsored free formula in the traditional new-parent discharge bags. “It is more about using formula as a medicine,” says Whitmire, “rather than a marketing tool.”

The Baby Steps program creates an opportunity for nurses to have conversations with new mothers about the many evidence-based benefits of breastfeeding so they will be able to make an informed choice about how to feed their babies.

“I love interacting at the bedside, especially for new moms,” says Debi Hill, RNC, IBCLC, RLC, a lactation consultant for Banner Ironwood Medical Center in the San Tan Valley, which is participating in the program. “They are so hungry to learn what is best for their baby.”

Whitmire says no one is pushing breastfeeding on anyone; the best feeding decision is what works for a woman and her family. But the evidence is clear—breastfeeding offers many health benefits when compared to alternatives.

“It’s not like formula is to breast milk as Coke is to Pepsi,” she says. Experts agree that breastfeeding protects against illnesses like diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are less likely to become obese, develop asthma or die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The list goes on. In fact, breastfeeding as a long-term benefit continues to be studied and likely provides benefits yet to be discovered.

Women stand to gain health benefits, too. Research shows a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers among mothers who breastfeed.

“The gold standard is breast milk for babies,” says Hill. “They’ve nourished their baby for nine months, it just makes sense that they would continue to nourish their babies with their bodies. It is not to stop when the baby is born. We’re not saying that formula is horrible, but babies are hardwired to breastfeed. When they come out, they are expecting a breast. That is in their makeup.”

And there’s a public health advantage. A recent study estimated that the United States would save $13 billion per year in health care and other costs if 90 percent of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months. Because of new evidence that shows these kinds of advantages to society, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced a “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.” That report identifies ways that families, communities, employers and health care professionals can improve breastfeeding rates and increase support for breastfeeding.

As of December 2011, 25 Arizona hospitals have agreed to participate in the Baby Steps program, which has far exceeded Whitmire’s expectations. “We presented this idea to the hospitals, but the hospitals have really taken off with it. We are astounded every day at how they have taken it above and beyond.”

The experience that Michaela Zach had with her firstborn, now a freshman in college, inspired her to support new mothers in her role as an educator, no matter what their choice might be. “However you choose to feed your baby can be a challenge,” she says. “But a woman should be educated and that information should come from reliable sources.”

Baby-Friendly requirements

To achieve the Baby-Friendly Designation, facilities must register with Baby-Friendly USA, complete the all of the requirements and ultimately demonstrate during an on-site assessment that they have correctly integrated all of the “Ten Steps To Successful Breastfeeding” [as outlined by UNICEF/WHO] into their practice for healthy newborns.

1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
2. Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
5. Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
7. Practice “rooming in”—allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
9. Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic

Source: Baby Friendly USA, Inc. (


Lactation consultants are certified by The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). Other certifications (such as CBC, CLE and CLC) are not regulated by any governing body.

Registered Lactation Consultant (RLC) is the official “title” of a consultant who has passed the IBCLE exam.

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is a health care professional who specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. IBCLCs are certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, Inc. IBCLCs work in a wide variety of health care settings, including hospitals, pediatric offices, public health clinics and private practice. They can assess clinical conditions such as mastitis, thrush or nipple inversion.

RNC is a registered nurse who is certified in a particular area.

CLE is a certified lactation educator who can teach and consult on breastfeeding/lactation issues but does not diagnose a physical condition.

Doula: From the Greek, meaning “a woman who serves.” According to DONA International (, a doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.