To combat high rates of infant and maternal mortality, especially among women and babies of color, South Jersey organizations are looking to train doulas to work with Atlantic City mothers.

The Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative is recruiting people interested in becoming doulas to work with Atlantic City mothers in a state-funded pilot program aimed at reducing infant deaths.

“It’s a beautiful program. It will get the word doula on the tips of people’s tongues,” said Ronsha Dickerson, community doula and doula mentor. “It will be amazing to see that talked about in communities of color.”

Though the overall infant mortality rate in New Jersey is lower than the national average, the disparity between white and black infant deaths is significant. Infant mortality for black babies, at 9.7 per 1,000 live births, is more than three times the rate among white babies, state data show.

In some areas of the state, like Atlantic City, that rate is even higher at about 20 black infant deaths per 1,000 live births during the most recent five-year period.

The New Jersey Department of Health awarded $4.7 million in July to six state community-based organizations to develop initiatives and programs to improve health outcomes among black infants.

The state also devoted $450,000 to start a doula pilot program in cities with some of the highest black infant mortality rates. The state has designated two doula positions for the Atlantic City area, while other positions will be based in Newark, Trenton and Camden.

The perinatal cooperative, which has offices in Pleasantville, Pennsauken and Camden, received more than $1 million of the funding to provide specific services in Atlantic, Cape May, Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, Burlington and Camden counties with a focus on Atlantic City and Camden.

Dickerson, Helen Banks, community doula, and members of the perinatal cooperative are currently looking for women of color who are at least 18 years old and live in or near the Atlantic City area to apply for a spot in the state’s pilot program.

Training, finding clients and getting final certification can be expensive and take time, Dickerson said, but this is an opportunity for women to begin a career by getting free training and a streamlined connection to expectant mothers through partnerships with local South Jersey hospitals.

“It’s a tragic reality that race determines health outcomes for some New Jersey mothers and babies,” Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement. “Everyone, regardless of skin color, should be given an equal chance at a healthy, productive life.”

Interested women must attend an information session on Oct. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the cooperative’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies office at 605 W. California Avenue, Pleasantville.

Women who are selected for the doula positions and required training can come from any background—they do not have to have previous doula experience.

They have to be reliable, be willing to live an on-call lifestyle and must be available for extensive training from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day Sun., Oct. 21 through Sun., Oct. 28

For more information about the introductory and interview sessions, contact Dickerson at 856-409-0614 or Ronshadoula@gmail.com, or Banks at 856-236-3239 or zionshouse2014@gmail.com

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Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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