Editor's note: This is the 13th in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.



Jillian Conte and her 5-month old daughter, Annamarie, are regulars at St. Catherine Hospital's free breastfeeding clinic.

"It has actually been really, really helpful," Conte said. "We're from out of town, and we're out here for my husband's work, and it has been such a great resource, being all by myself and not having family around or anything to kind of help with, to continue to exclusively breast-feed."

Conte, who has had some small issues come up during her time breast-feeding, has found the clinic and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Janet Colson to be a friendly, knowledgeable resource with whom she can candidly have personal conversations.

"Usually, I'm right up in their business," Colson said with a laugh as she helped Conte feed Annamarie.

The Lactation Program at St. Catherine is a new United Way agency. According to St. Catherine Hospital's Beth Koksal, the $10,000 the program is set to receive from United Way in 2014 will go toward Colson's salary.

"There is a huge demand for her job, so this just allows her the option to work more hours to fill that demand," Koksal said. "The United Way providing these funds for us allows us to allocate those funds that we were using before to cover the cost of her salary to bring in new equipment (and) start new programs helping patients that would help with their care. So every dollar we get, regardless of what program it is allocated toward, helps the hospital in general."

The lactation program's services are provided free to mothers whether their child was born at St. Catherine or elsewhere.

"The human thing, the natural thing is to breast-feed, but we kind of have feelings about that, and we're not sure what we're going to do," Colson said. "In the United States, we have choices, and so a lot of times, when I visit with people prenatally, they are just really not sure. They need more information. 'How does it work? Does it hurt? Am I going to make enough milk?' Those are really the top three big issues that moms are going to have, so prenatally, we can talk, we can visit. I can give you information, and then once you come to the hospital to deliver, you can ask for me directly. I encourage that."

In addition to prenatal visits, the lactation program is a hub for information and services to help new mothers with everything from feeding problems to understanding how to use a pump when going back to work.

Walking into the breast-feeding clinic feels the opposite of clinical. The room features comfortable recliners, toys for older siblings to play with while mom is busy, bilingual materials and access to translations to break any language barrier. Colson even uses air fresheners to make the space smell less like a hospital and more like home.

Skylean Dawes is a clinic regular with her 14-month-old daughter, Aurora Cole.

"I come here about once a month," Dawes said. "She (Colson) has helped me get a lot of support for breastfeeding because I haven't had a lot of support. She's given me information about breast-feeding toddlers, which I've given to family members to help them understand that it's not bad to nurse her at this age. Also, I've had mastitis, and she has helped me to not hurt from it. It's very important, especially since in today's society, it's not normal to breast-feed, and she helps tell people that it is."

Colson just sees herself as a resource for parents looking for answers about how to feed the new additions to their family.

"I answer all of those questions that you aren't sure you even wanted to ask," she said. "It is so important to have support as a parent. This is a job. There is no orientation. You are thrown into it. We all need to provide that support. If we give every infant and every parent the support to meet their feeding goals, we can lower rates of childhood obesity. We can affect change in our community by having a healthier community so we have lower rates of diabetes and heart disease, even cancer."

The local United Way's annual campaign goal is $560,000, which is $10,000 more than last year.

The 25 partner agencies for the 2014 United Way campaign include:

Miles of Smiles; Real Men, Real Leaders; Russell Child Development Center; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts of America; Seeds of Hope Jail Ministry; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; Building Blocks Project through Russell Child Development Center; Spirit of the Plains CASA, Inc.; St. Catherine Hospital Lactation Program; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; The Salvation Army; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Garden City Recreation Commission Playground Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties; Catholic Social Service; Circles of Hope; Community Day Care Center, Inc.; Family Crisis Services, Inc.; Finney County Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Garden City Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Garden City Family YMCA; Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland; Habitat for Humanity; Kansas Children's Service League; Meals on Wheels.