Grand Rapids "Strong Beginnings" Healthy Start

Contact Information

Contact Person: Peggy Vander Muelen
Contact Info:


In addition to having the highest African American infant mortality rate of any city in Michigan in 2003, Grand Rapids also has a high disparity between African American and white infant death rates. Thus, Strong Beginnings was founded in 2004 to address this problem. Then, in 2011, with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Strong Beginnings had the opportunity to expand beyond Grand Rapids to serve all of Kent County. With this new initiative, the program has expanded to system level work and has developed a fatherhood program for African American males. The primary target population remains African American women in Kent County who are pregnant or have a child under the age of two.

Activities & Objectives

Strong Beginnings works at the community and system levels to improve health care and health outcomes or African American mothers and infants to decrease infant mortality and the incidence of low birth weight babies, to increase breast feeding initiation and duration, to improve child spacing/reduce rapid repeat pregnancies, to improve access to mental health services, to increase the percent of women with adequate prenatal care, medical care, and dental care, and to decrease stress and depression.

Direct Community Action
Strong Beginnings relies on a team of community health workers, nurses, and social workers who recruit and engage high risk mothers to provide home visits that provide social support, education, screenings, assessments, and referrals. Individual counseling is provided for women with depression or bipolar disorder. Classes about pre-conception health and family planning, safe sleep, domestic violence, nutrition, HIV/AIDS and STIs and effective parenting are offered.

System Level Action
An Infant Health Coalition consisting of 65 members from 12 community organizations that focus on system change created taskforces for breastfeeding, responding to racism, inter-conception care, pregnancy prevention, and perinatal mood disorders. Strong Beginnings Healthy Start also collaborates with 5 other Health Start Programs in Michigan and Partners for a Racism Free Community. Peggy Vander Muelen sits on the advisory board of the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) to find ways to increase response rates and to successfully use results to guide planning decisions.