As the early morning Georgia temperature climbed into the 90s, eleven hundred moms, dads and grandparents with strollers in tow, stood in a long line, which snaked its way around to the end of Fort Stewart's Club Stewart parking lot. Many in line were eager to see what prizes lay in store for them inside the 7th Annual Winn Army Community Hospital Baby Expo Aug. 12.
More than 50 vendors and six sponsors participated in this year's event. Winn's Army Public Health Nursing staff along with the Fort Stewart Fire Department conducted care seat checks. Many other resources from Winn, such as Tricare, contraception education, a Daddy Panel and vital records were also on hand to teach first-time, and experienced parents the importance of readiness as they add a new member to their Family.
U.S. Army Medical Department Activity --Fort Stewart Event Coordinator, 1st Lt. Athanasia Ashley, a registered nurse in the Maternal Child Health and Postpartum department, expressed the importance of heading up such a huge undertaking--organizing this growing event.
"I've seen on an average 70 to 80 babies that's born each month," Ashley said. "We come in and we see parents who don't know about the available resources that we have."
Ashley said she is grateful for all of the volunteers who put forth countless hours of their own time to set up and tear down the expo, but most importantly overjoyed for the Family participation.
"First and foremost we say thank you … thank you … thank you …," Ashley said. "Ultimately we are grateful that you are entrusting Winn Army Community Hospital to take a part in your Family's life in whatever aspect that maybe. We hope that we provide you with a wealth of knowledge, resources that you may have not known about, or even if you know about it, we hope that we further that education in regards to what all that resource can provide for you. We're glad that you took time out of your day. We're glad that you brought your Family, your friends, your loved ones and your children. We hope that this experience will be the first of many as we continue to do this baby expo every year."
For the first time in Baby Expo history, Winn partnered with Fort Stewart's Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Commercial Sponsorship team to give new parents a great experience.
Ashley said FMWR's Carly Michael and Michelle Cowart's help with lining up sponsorship and marketing was "phenomenal" this year, which enabled Winn to use more of the Club for areas like The Lactation Lounge, Teddy Bear Clinic, stroller parking and Baby Olympics.
"We were able to bring in some grand prizes that we weren't able to necessarily pass out last year," Ashley said. "So they [FMWR] enabled us to expand our giveaways even far and beyond what we can ever imagine. We are hoping, and definitely looking forward to working with them in the future baby expos."
There were many firsts for the Baby Expo this year. A Teddy Bear clinic, headed up by MEDDAC registered nurses, Lisa Tyler and Janice Palmer, was located in the Marne Room. This specially outfitted "hospital" offered children 12-years-old and younger the opportunity to experience a visit to the various clinics through the eyes of their stuffed animal. Bears were bandaged, given I.V. drips and went through the CT scanner.
A friendly competition was held at Winn between the various departments to see who could create the best baby basket to be given away at the expo. Family Member Sarah Brownfield, who is due to have their first child in December, said she and her husband came to see the various baskets and hopefully win something. Although, for the Brownfields the expo meant more than just getting give-a-ways, it meant connection.
"I feel like it brings people together," Brownfield said, "and you get to meet new friends, because being in the military life it's kind of hard to meet new people and so you bring people together like this and they have something in common, and you meet new people."
Winn Commander, Col. Christopher Warner stressed the importance of readiness and strengthening Soldiers and their Families.
"This event helps contribute to our Families," Warner said. "It not only is a great community gathering and event. It's about connecting the resources, but it's also about empowering them with education, so that they can continue to grow and develop as parents and make sure that their children are growing and developing. So when our Soldiers deploy they know that their Families are well taken care of and well resourced."
Overall the Baby Expo was touted a great accomplishment. Warner said the community support and involvement was key to the success of this growing event. He said he looks forward to seeing how the Baby Expo can be even better next year.