Church Group Walks For Life

Church Group Walks For Life

By Tanya Drobness – The Montclair Times
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

They’re too aware.

Too familiar with the reality of giving birth – hoping for a healthy weight, for two eyes, a button-nose, and all their fingers and toes.

Young families, growing in number at the First Congregational Church, are not blind to the risks involved in pregnancy.

They pray. They wait.

Some children come out healthy.

Some parents deal with premature birth, and possible complications.

So a local church group is making a trek this weekend to help decrease the number of premature births.

This Sunday, about 12 parishioners from First Congregational Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, will walk together for the March of Dimes WalkAmerica event in Brookdale Park, aiming to eventually make the issue of premature birth a non-issue.

“[This is] close to the heart for many congregants. A lot of families [at First Congregational] are pregnant with their second or third child, and they are very much aware of the risks involved. And it’s an issue they care very deeply about,” said Ann Ralosky, First Congregational’s coordinator for mission and outreach.

Drawing hundreds of walkers and volunteers every year since 1970, the walk will take place on April 29 throughout 18 locations across New Jersey, including in the beautiful park located in Montclair and Bloomfield, where nearly 1,000 people are expected to participate, said March of Dimes Communications Manager Stacy Galasso.

The Montclair Times is a local media sponsor of WalkAmerica.

“I think we’re well on our way to a situation of reducing risk factors for women,” Galasso said.

The rate of premature births every year nationwide stands at about 12 percent. Since 1981, premature births have increased by 30 percent. The overall goal of the March of Dimes, Galasso said, is to reduce premature births to 7.6 percent by 2010.

But the spike during the last 30 years is attributed to women’s stressful lifestyles and an increase in multiple birth rates which can cause premature births, according to research data, Galasso said.

“Saving lives is great, but prevention is better,” Galasso said. “Seeing our history, we have an excellent track record of life-saving research. There’s no reason to think that we can’t be successful in this.”

WalkAmerica organizers in New Jersey aim to raise $4.4 million at this year’s events throughout the state.

“This is an organization devoted to healing and finding cures and to preventing premature births, and that certainly is right in line with what we believe is part of reaching out to help others in the community,” Ralosky said.

The group of parishioners also participated in the walk last year as part of the church’s mission outreach program, “Jesus has left the building … And we Followed.”

Ralosky and Senior Pastor Scott Howell developed the program last year, striving to combine Sunday morning worship with social action.

“A lot of what motivates us in our worship is putting our faith into action. We have a very strong social justice ethos here. And that’s really what gave birth to this ‘Jesus has left the building project,'” Ralosky said. “Our faith in God shows that we serve one another … It really has to be demonstrated in the way we work within the community.”

Four times a year, the Sunday church congregation is divided into about five groups, who offer help in Montclair and neighboring towns where extra hands, and compassionate ears, are needed. Their community outreach includes serving at the soup kitchen at the First Seventh Day Adventist Church of Montclair, the Newark-based Broadway House for Continuing Care AIDS facility, and God’s Love We Deliver, a Manhattan-based organization that delivers meals to people with AIDS.

The church members also take their worship services to the ears of local senior citizens at the First Montclair House on Walnut Street.

As parishioners signed up to walk for the March of Dimes, several will volunteer, setting up registration booths and offering to clean up. “This is a great opportunity for families to contribute … and it’s a cause dear to their hearts. It’s about issues that can arise during pregnancy and the first few months of life,” Ralosky said.

The event spurred not only the return of First Congregational members, but also a young aspiring singer.

Chanise Renae will belt out the National Anthem during the 8:45 a.m. opening ceremony in Brookdale Park – a performance she gave last year that she described as “meaningful.”

“When you’re invited back somewhere, it makes you feel good. It just brought a smile to my heart, that I was helpful and useful to the society. It’s just a wonderful cause,” Renae said.

She said her passion for singing propels her underlying initiative to “make a difference in people’s lives,” and that the March of Dimes is, like that of the church congregation, a cause close to her heart. During the last five years, the Clifton resident has worked with children in churches in Montclair.

Since she graduated from Wayne-based William Paterson University with a bachelor of arts degree in communication, nearly all of her 50 local performances have been for charity, including the American Cancer Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the Coalition for Brain Injury Research.

“I’m happy that my talent can be used in a positive way,” Renae said. “Whenever I sing the National Anthem at the event, it brings the event to another level, because the words for our anthem are very strong, about freedom and hope, and that’s what I hope to be giving to people.”

To join First Congregational’s walk team this Sunday, call Ann Ralosky at 973-744-4856.