Little Arianna Cason celebrated her first birthday in August with a “smash cake,” a sweet and messy experience that makes great photos and happy memories.

Life didn’t always look so promising.

Her mother, 25-year-old Danielle Moss, couldn’t have imagined this moment 18 months earlier. That’s when she visited the Emergency Room for severe nausea and left with the startling news that she was about three months pregnant.

“When I was first pregnant, everything went wrong,” Moss said. “My sister, her four kids and her dog were living in my one-bedroom apartment. I had just lost my job so I couldn’t pay the rent, and I was planning to move into a homeless shelter.”

While Moss tried to relax over a milkshake at the Choo Choo Grille in her Grand Rapids, Michigan, neighborhood, Arianna looked at a picture book, which was quickly set aside for more intriguing options: nibbling on wafer cookies, emptying the paper napkin holder and examining memorabilia displayed on the window ledge.

Early in her pregnancy, Moss shared, she feared she would need to give up her baby for adoption. Looking back, she credits the Mothers Offering Mothers Support (MOMS) program, for helping her get where she is today.

While in her second trimester, Moss’ obstetrician’s office referred her to MOMS, a Spectrum Health Healthier Communities program that helps Medicaid-eligible women in Kent County have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

For Moss, who lost her mother at a young age, the MOMS staff became like favorite aunts who provided good advice, moral support and help with practical needs such as job leads, arranging transportation, and access to programs offering free diapers and baby clothes.

“It’s just awesome to work with mothers in our community,” said Terri Price, the MOMS community health worker who worked closely with Moss. “I was a single mom myself, raising a son on my own without any guidance or direction. That’s why I have so much passion for empowering clients and showing that I believe in them.”

In addition to a community health worker, each MOMS team includes a registered nurse, registered dietitian and a social worker.

MOMS helps young women become self-sufficient so they can lead healthy and productive lives. The team helps participants enroll in Medicaid, access medical care, learn about healthy pregnancies (what to eat, what not to eat), identify risky behaviors, get educational opportunities and jobs, connect with community resources and even develop a birthing plan and assistance with breastfeeding.

Moss’ story is one of many with a happy ending. She found a job with a good employer who expects her to work hard but pays fairly and helped her avoid living in a shelter. She was just promoted to a warehouse manager position. And she’s co-parenting with Arianna’s father. In fact, they’re hoping to move into a house with a fenced-in yard soon.

“Because we offer our services primarily in people’s homes, it can feel intrusive and even scary,” Program supervisor Susan Henning said. “I want potential clients to know that we genuinely want to assist people, to walk beside them so they can meet their goals in life.”

MOMS is part of a statewide network of Maternal Infant Health Programs aimed at helping reduce the infant mortality rate in Michigan. It’s working. In 2002, there were 8.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in Kent County, but the Mi Dashboard reports that’s improved to 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. The program is supported by Spectrum Health Healthier Communities and receives Medicaid reimbursement for some services.

The MOMS program is celebrating 25 years of service to Kent County residents this fall.

According to Henning, about 1,000 women and babies are part of the program each year. In addition, the Strong Beginnings program offers additional services to eligible African-American and Hispanic women in Grand Rapids until their children reach their second birthday.