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Connellsville Area Community Ministries layette program provides special gifts for local newborns

| Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 5:48 p.m.

Since February 1985, the layette program of Connellsville Area Community Ministries has provided 3,700 layettes for area newborns.

Volunteers have devoted themselves to this ministry knowing that every newborn is a special gift from God.

Sandy Smith, a longtime volunteer with the program, recalls how a conversation in the 1980s with former ministries director the Rev. Gerald Witt got the ball rolling on forming the program.

“In the beginning we were sewing most of the items, but material is more costly now, and it is more economical to buy the things we need at Wal-Mart or other retailers, and most of our things are donated now, so we don't have to buy too many,” said Smith, who has been with the program since its beginning almost 29 years ago.

Smith said volunteers used to meet on a weekly basis; now they meet once a month.

More layettes were given out when the program was young, but more agencies are helping now.

Smith notes there is still a need, and this group helps fill it.

Each layette includes one quilt or blanket, one receiving blanket, 12 disposable diapers, two undershirts or onesies, one hat, one bib, one pair of socks or booties and two sleepers or gowns.

The items are donated by churches and organizations. Some groups collect layette donations by holding a birthday party or a baby shower for Jesus.

Often Christmas Cradle is held in local churches, where an empty cradle stands at the altar and members carry layette items to the front to place in the cradle. Summer vacation Bible schools also like to teach children what a layette is and how it helps those less fortunate.

“Over the years people have been wonderful, very generous. We've been so pleased,” said Daria Morris, who has also volunteered with the program since its start.

The layettes are pink, blue or neutral, often pastel green or yellow. Many items are handmade by volunteers who enjoy crocheting. They make blankets, booties and hats.

”Most every layette has a handmade item in it, so new parents are the recipient of something special, handmade for their newborn. We have a lot of dedicated people. Sometimes they put a personal note in for the recipient,” said Morris.

Examples of notes include: “God's love and blessings to you and your family, Amen” or “Dear God, we see your love in this child, thank you for the glimpse of Your glory, Amen.”

When the layette program is in need of a certain item, Shelly Auer, assistant director at the ministries, will let the churches know, and the needed items arrive.

When Smith was in the hospital for the birth of her second baby, the lady in the room with her received a layette.

“Of course I didn't mention being involved with the program, but it was nice to see it in action,” said Smith.

Each layette includes a messages: “I, the newborn baby, am a special gift from God. Please treasure me as God intended, holding me accountable for my actions, giving guidance to live by, and disciplining me in a loving manner.”

It then quotes Ephesians 6:4 of The Living Bible: “Don't keep scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and Godly advise.” It then notes that layette items are made or donated by volunteer Christian friends.

The volunteers are members of the Connellsville Church of God. Morris said church pastor the Rev. Nelson Confer is supportive of the program, speaking about it at church often.

Albright United Methodist Church also donates items on a regular basis to the program.

Morris said any church who wants to support the program is welcome.

When the volunteers started the program, it was for those who were eligible through the Women, Infant and Children program. Now the layettes are given out to babies delivered in Uniontown Hospital. The staff there sees the need. Alternatives Yes, Pregnancy Support Center in Connellsville and CACM also distribute layettes.

The Layette Ministry has met at various churches over the years but now has a permanent area at the new Community Ministries location where remodeling will create shelving and storage.

“The birth of children into families who live in poverty is similar to the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary were poor and homeless when they arrived in Bethlehem. Jesus was born in a borrowed stable and used a manger because he had no bed. The Bible tells us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes. The Greek word translated swaddling indicates that these clothes were pieces of old castoff clothing which were cut up into strips, and wrapped around a baby. This surely was not the kind of clothing that a baby of rich parents would be wrapped in. Jesus was wrapped in rags. The layettes provided to families today allow them to place their newborn in new clothing, a blessing, thanks to these dedicated volunteers,” said Chip Rowan, executive director of CACM.

Mary Lou Basinger is also a regular volunteer with the layette program. “We are always open to anyone else who would like to help by volunteering,” she said.

The ladies of the layette program have patterns for anyone who may want to sew gowns for the babies, and crocheted items are always welcome.

For more information or to donate to the program, call 724-626-1120.

Nancy Henry is a contributing writer.

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