The Hot Springs Central Fire Station hosted a dedication ceremony for the new Safe Haven Baby Box on Friday, honoring all of the individuals and groups who had a hand in making the project a reality.
District 7 Justice of the Peace Dayton Myers spearheaded the project, which he said has been in the making since 2019. After one was opened in Benton, he thought the idea was "the best thing we've ever heard of before" and started working on bringing one to Hot Springs, he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic "kind of threw a wrench in what we were doing," but the project was picked back up last year, leading to the ribbon-cutting ceremony taking place Friday.
Many other individuals and groups were involved in the process and honored, including the Knights of Columbus Hot Springs Council 6415, which oversaw the installation and maintenance costs, Dr. Mark Larey for funding the baby box, Cory Cangelosi and New Life Church for funding the purchase and Massanelli Construction Inc. for its "generous bid" to complete the installation, a news release from the fire station stated.
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"The reason we thought it was so important, you know, say there's no value that you can place on saving a life," Myers told The Sentinel-Record. "This box may be used multiple times, it may never be used. But, the small cost of this box does not compare to even just the potential that this box might be used. So, it's really just a phenomenal thing for our whole city, whole county, and it's a blessing."
Although Fire Chief Ed Davis said the fire department had a small role in the project, the news release said, he said bringing another option to women in distress was a way the station wanted to serve the city.
"We wanted to give people options, whether it's financial distress or mental distress or both," he told The Sentinel-Record. "It really doesn't matter. We wanna make sure that any child who is born into those situations can be put into the foster system and be done quickly and easily without ramifications or repercussions to the mother."
The box, located on the Olive Street side of the fire station's wall, is always unlocked, Davis said. Once it is opened and a baby is placed inside, the door will lock when it's closed and an alarm will sound to let first responders know it has been opened after about a 30-second delay, to give the mother time to leave without being seen.
The box is also temperature controlled, he said, and first responders will do a wellness check on the baby and take any necessary measures from there before the baby is placed in the foster care system.
Monica Kelsey, the founder and CEO of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, was present for the ceremony, where she spoke to the attendees about the baby box's history and impact. She mentioned the baby box in Benton, where two babies were recently saved in just one month.
"That is saying a lot about Arkansas, and you guys came to work," she said. "Both of those babies are with their forever families, and the adoption process has started."
There are around 150 baby boxes in various parts of the country, which have saved 32 infants in the last five years, Kelsey said.
"Tell you a little bit about myself and why I'm so passionate about Safe Haven Baby Boxes, I literally have to take you back a few years to August of 1972," she said.
"When a young 17-year-old girl was brutally attacked and raped and left along the side of the road. ... And this 17-year-old girl was strong enough to press charges against the man who had raped her, and he was arrested and he was charged. And if that wasn't the worst of it, when her life was finally getting back to normal, she finds out she's pregnant. She was hidden for the remainder of the pregnancy, and then gave birth in April of 1973 and abandoned her child two hours after that child was born, and that child was me," Kelsey said.
"So, I stand on the front lines of this movement as one of these kids that wasn't lovingly, safely, anonymously and legally placed in a Safe Haven Baby Box. And my birth mother had no one to walk alongside her, but today we have changed the narrative."
Starting the baby box movement's purpose was to provide more options to the parent, Kelsey said.
"I'm not gonna tell a parent what they should do," she told the newspaper. "I'm gonna tell them what their options are. Let them make a good choice that they're gonna have to live with for the rest of their life."
She urged anyone facing such a difficult choice to call the number listed on the baby box, 866-99BABY1, a 24-hour hotline parents can call to talk about their options.