- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Gail Etzkorn remembers a story she was told about a young woman on the reservation. She had just had a baby and the infant, six months old, was sleeping soundly on the bed. Every 20 minutes or so, she would check on the baby.

During one check, the baby wasn’t there. The little girl wasn’t on the floor, either.

The mother finally found her between the bed and the wall.

“Her baby was lifeless and had passed away,” Etzkorn said.

The baby died because the mother didn’t have a safe place for the baby to sleep. That shook Etzkorn because she had three places - a cradle, a bassinet and a crib.

“And the crib was full of supplies from the baby shower that my coworkers put on for me here at Avera. And I just kept thinking of that baby every morning I woke up. I would wake up and he was sleeping peaceful in his cradle.”

Etzkorn was surrounded by several months’ worth of infant supplies - still stacked high in a crib she wasn’t using. So she knew she had to do something. She talked with her father and found two ladies who could use the bassinet and cradle.

But that wasn’t enough. She is from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and she had seen statistics that showed that infant mortality is extremely high among the Cheyenne River and the Rosebud Sioux tribes.

She called a friend in North Carolina - whom she hadn’t spoken with for 10 years - and discovered that she was already feeling the same way. They both wanted to reach out to expectant mothers in Cheyenne River.

The answer was simple: A baby shower for expectant mothers.

So, in November of 2015, she created Shower My Bebela, with “bebela” being the Lakota word for “baby.” In December, it became a nonprofit organization, the Capital Journal (http://bit.ly/28YExmx ) reported.

“We started with throwing a baby shower, and bringing a crib along, and inviting her family and friends. And they’re able to come and shower her with gifts and food,” Etzkorn said.

Then, over a shared meal, everyone prays for the woman and her baby. The message helps give her hope and lets her know that she has people to care for her and the baby, she said.

That message of hope is crucial for women on the reservation.

“They are often raising their child on their own, without a father or family to help. A majority of women on the Indian reservation also face homelessness and are often jobless, unable to afford a crib for the baby to sleep,” she said.

So far, she’s done nine baby showers.

Etzkorn has received a grant from Tribal Ventures, on the Cheyenne River reservation, and has the support of Avera St. Mary’s Hospital, where she works. She noted that Avera recently started a similar project. In this case, if the family doesn’t already have a crib, Avera gives away Pack ‘n Play portable cribs as the mother leaves the hospital.

Ellen Lee, vice president of the Avera St. Mary’s Foundation, said she admires the work Etzkorn is doing.

“We’re awfully proud of Gail following her dreams,” she said. “We think it’s a great idea; we’re proud of it. And so we’re supporting her in her efforts, and just really wish her the best.”

Etzkorn added that a possible future project is meth awareness, for babies born addicted. Information is available at Etzkorn’s site,

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, http://www.capjournal.com

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