Tiny infants in bulky incubators resembling miniature spaceships fill the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia. The families provide a customized blanket to cover each “spaceship” in hopes of making these foreign objects a little less intimidating. It is impossible not to feel emotional seeing these premature babies fight for their lives. Each one is so small, yet so strong, as the babies receive constant care from the nurses, doctors, and families.

November is Prematurity Awareness Month. The women who work at the March of Dimes Columbia office visit the hospital during this time to speak with families and nurses. Each state receives a report card on the rate of premature birth. This year, South Carolina’s preterm birth rate is a high 11.2% and the state receives a “D” on the report card.

March of Dimes is a national nonprofit organization fighting for healthy moms and strong babies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt originally started the organization to combat infantile paralysis. The organization now funds research and leads the fight against health threats to moms and babies.

The event for March of Dimes this fall is the Signature Chefs Auction. Doctors, sponsors, and those affected by the March of Dimes come together at the Marriot in downtown Columbia to fund the mission of the organization. This year, the auction fell on the first day of Prematurity Awareness Month, making everyone in the room feel all the more sentiment to donate to a great cause.

“The energy in the room is electric. Everyone is opening up their hearts and their wallets for an incredibly selfless and inspiring organization,” said Victoria Pippen, a volunteer. Pippen volunteers with the March of Dimes occasionally. The Signature Chefs Auction is by far her favorite event to attend because it is a night for people to dress up and have fun while still raising money and awareness for those infants fighting for their lives.

The women behind the events are so passionate about the work they do. Each one feels close to the mission of the March of Dimes based on their years working with the organization. Jacki Garbinsky and Ashley Wendt are just two of the four women working in the Columbia office. Garbinsky is the director of communications and Wendt is the director of maternal and child health and government affairs.

Having a premature baby can be unsettling, but while visiting the hospital they try to be a support system for the families. “Although it sounds like an obvious answer, my favorite part about working for the March of Dimes is getting to visit the families in the hospital to let them know that we are doing everything we can to help them, it just puts it all into perspective,” said Wendt.

Perspective is important for the women at the March of Dimes. Working for a nonprofit can be difficult, but seeing the work hit so close to home makes it all worthwhile. At one of her first events in Columbia, Garbinsky sat with the ambassador family and their 5-year-old daughter. Her prematurity left her blind, and as a way to familiarize herself with Garbinsky, she touched her face. The sweet nature of the girl left a mark on Garbinsky and made her grateful to work for such an inspiring organization.

After that night, she kept in touch with the family, but a few years later learned that the child passed away after some other complications. “That was the first time that I seriously felt the effects of premature birth, but I was also able to understand the importance of the work March of Dimes does,” said Garbinsky.

This year’s ambassador family is Kelly and Brian Glynn. In 2017, Glynn developed pre-eclampsia and gave birth at only 28 weeks of her pregnancy. Her daughter, Willow, weighed just 1 pound and her son, Liam, weighed 2 pounds and 9 ounces. Their twins spent 71 days in intensive care, but they are now thriving.

Glynn heard of the March of Dimes through her jazzercise group, but never volunteered until her twins were born prematurely. With March for Babies approaching, she created a team in honor of her twins. She received a solicitation call from the Columbia office and ended up telling her own story. “It was serendipity because this all just fell into my lap. I did not reach out to them, but here we are as the 2018 ambassador family,” said Glynn.

Although no one specifically came to her to speak on behalf of the March of Dimes, she now realizes that the research and implementation provided by the organization helped her babies while they fought for their lives. “This is personal now, it has become my mission as well,” says Glynn who owns Village Idiot Pizza, “We were always working with different philanthropies, but this one really hits home.”

Although South Carolina’s preterm birth rate is considered high, the March of Dimes continues to fundraise and fight for moms and babies.