Teens want to bring baby box to county

An example of a Safe Haven Baby Box

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Isabella Harmon and Tori Hemmerlein, 13, are two best friends on a mission of life.

The Jasper Middle School students want to bring a Safe Haven Baby Box to Dubois County. Installed in an exterior wall of a 24-hour fire station or hospital, a Safe Haven Baby Box offers mothers in crisis a safe, anonymous place to surrender their baby. The program also offers communities support and education about the Safe Haven Law, which allows a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution as long as there are no signs of abuse to the infant.

“This is an opportunity for parents to give their baby a chance at a good life,” Isabella said.

The two got to work on the idea after Isabella’s mom learned about the boxes at Precious Blood Catholic Church. The two friends latched on to the idea because Tori was abandoned as an infant before the Hemmerleins adopted her.

“I wanted there to be some place for [biological] moms to have a safe place to surrender babies,” Tori said.

The girls have been working on the project since September, researching Safe Haven Baby Boxes and meeting with various community groups to come up with a potential location for a box and garner support for their idea. So far, they said, everyone they have spoken with has been supportive.

“It’s a big topic for young girls,” said Toby Harmon, Isabella’s father. “But because of how they were raised in the church and their stories, they took it on.”

Once a location is finalized, the girls will be tasked with raising about $10,000 to install the box. The boxes are installed on exterior walls. Once a baby is placed inside, the exterior door locks and a silent alarm sounds within the building to alert emergency staff on duty that a baby has been placed in the box. Once babies are surrendered, they are given medical care and eventually put up for adoption.

Safe Haven Baby Boxes founder Monica Kelsey — who has spoken with Isabella and Tori about their efforts — started the program after learning she was abandoned as a baby. The first baby box was installed in 2016, and so far 23 locations have been established in Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas and Arizona. Indiana has 16 baby boxes, with the closest one to Dubois County located in Mount Vernon. Addresses for the baby boxes, as well as the National Safe Haven Hotline phone number can be found here.

As for establishing a baby box in Dubois County, Tori and Isabella know they have a lot of work ahead of them, but they’re optimistic. In the last few months, they’ve done a lot of work spreading the word about what a baby box is and how one would help Dubois County. They’ve also heard a lot of support for their idea. They’re looking forward to continuing to work with community groups to make their idea a reality.

“We need lots of people to work together,” Isabella said. “It’s important and we can’t just leave it on the sidelines.”




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