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West Akron Home Is Latest Tool in Effort to Reduce Infant Mortality

a photo of the bedroom in the Zalika House
The bedroom in the Zalika House includes a crib and a pack-n-play where new mothers can learn safe sleeping positions for infants.

An effort in Akron to reduce the high infant mortality rate is expanding to include a house where new moms can go for respite. 

Crystal Jones describes the bedroom in a small, city-owned house on Akron’s westside. "We’re going to do safe sleep demonstrations over there, pack-n-plays, a little reading nook.” 

a photo of Zalika House
Zalika House is located on S. Frank Blvd. on Akron's west side.

The home had been used by people who needed a place to stay while their own houses were being cleared of lead paint. Project Ujima, the community organization Jones co-founded, received a Community Development Block Grant to turn it into the Zalika Gathering House. The name Zalika comes from Swahili and means well-born child.  

“Women can come and maybe learn about some of the techniques in terms of safe sleep and safe environment that they may not want people coming into their homes," Jones said. She explains that some women lack trust in traditional health care providers and their methods and motives.  

Jones says Ujima is working with the city’s Full Term First Birthday initiative which began following a 2016 report about high infant mortality rates. She says it showed black babies were dying at a rate nearly two and a half times that of white infants. The city reports a 9% decrease in infant deaths since the program started.  

a photo of workers and volunteers from Project Ujima at Zalika House
Project Ujima founder Crystal Jones (2nd from left) and executive director Lakesh Hayes sit in a circle similar to the centering circles they facilitate with pregnant women. Certified doula and lactation consultant Tonya King is on the far left. Project Ujima program coordinator Taba Aleem is second from right and volunteer Pearlie Whitfield is on the right. The backyard of Zalika House has space where they plan to plant a garden to grow fresh vegetables and help teach good nutrition.

The idea for the house grew out of the centering circles Project Ujima organizes, where pregnant mothers gather to share and learn. “We try to have the curriculum be driven by the needs of the women. What is it that you need in order to make yourself healthy and make sure that you’re meeting the needs of your baby.”

The Zalika House is located on S. Frank Boulevard in Akron. It is in a residential neighborhood and Jones says to maintain the residential character they have agreed not to put up a sign. The house will be open 20 hours a week beginning next week. 

A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.