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Pregnancy must be clean, sober


As a teacher, Jody Allen Crowe saw day in and day out the effects alcohol has on children and their brains.

Those effects, which are 100 percent preventable, come from mothers who drink while they are pregnant. In 2008, Crowe and a retired business friend decided to take action.

"He and I founded Healthy Brains for Children, and our goal was to have a way of communicating into our communities that drinking during pregnancy is a far greater problem than people realize," Peter Johnson said.

Crowe and Johnson, along with others, will be presenting their information during a Healthy Brains for Children Conference in Detroit Lakes on Feb. 21.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Johnson said, is a diagnosis for 3 or 4 children out of 1,000. But, children who have "measurable deficiencies in their full potential, is actually 1 out of 5 students in school. These kids do not have a chance to keep up."

He added that studies and research shows that many of the children that require special education are because of exposure to alcohol before they were born.

Like the conference in Detroit Lakes next month, Johnson said that he and Crowe go to different communities, different service groups, churches and different conventions (like the school board one he was at Friday) to speak about the effects of alcohol on unborn babies and what needs to be done to stop it. He has also taught classes at Central Lakes College on the topic.

"Jody Allen Crowe spoke at the 2011 Rotary District Conference and some of our members had gone and heard him speak and got interested," Detroit Lakes Breakfast Rotary Club member Susie Felt said.

The two Detroit Lakes Rotary clubs joined together to bring Crowe to Detroit Lakes and have his message presented to both clubs' members. There was enough support that the groups have decided to start a Healthy Brains for Children chapter in Detroit Lakes.

"Rotary does a lot of community outreach, and a big part of our focus is on youth, so we just decided that this was something we could help with and get it started," Felt said.

Though the Rotary clubs are helping start the chapter, Felt said it's for the community to be involved with, not necessarily just run by Rotary.

"If we give a presentation and people say, 'wow, this is shocking, this is devastating,' and then we leave," Johnson said. "But, if we have a chapter, people can continue to put the message out, which is what we've done in Brainerd."

Johnson and Crowe have helped start several chapters around Minnesota including Brainerd, Grand Rapids and soon Detroit Lakes, Bemidji and Rochester, and they've had inquiries from Waseca.

"We go out and pound the pavement," he said. "We try to go out and start chapters so they can continue to get the message out."

The organization is not affiliated with any religion, anything political or anything anti-alcohol. It's simply to get the message out and stop drinking during pregnancy.

"I'm not opposed to drinking. I support responsible drinking," Johnson said. "We just want families to be healthy."

Healthy Brains for Children is an organization that is 100 percent dedicated to not drinking while pregnant and ending fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related issues in children's brains.

And it's not just about women. By planning ahead and being supportive, men can do their part by helping to keep an alcohol-free home while the mother is pregnant.

"We are called upstream, before children are born," Johnson said. "Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome's (MOFAS) primary efforts is on helping kids who already have problems, what they can do to help these families.

"They are a very great group in their own respect, but we're devoted primarily to upstream rather than downstream. If we were 100 percent effective, there would be no MOFAS."

Sara Messelt, executive director of MOFAS, will also be speaking at the Feb. 21 conference in Detroit Lakes.

"MOFAS spends an awful lot of time trying to help families that already need help. That need is unfillable and takes more effort than you can believe. This prevention message that we're doing is more than we can handle. We've both got huge Herculean tasks to tackle."

The Healthy Brains for Children Conference is Tuesday, Feb. 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Minnesota Community and Technical College conference room in Detroit Lakes.

It is free to attend; registration deadline is Feb. 13 and can be done at Lunch is $5, payable at the conference.

For more information, contact Susie Felt at 847-8572 or Kelly Krapu at 847-0827.

"Part of it is just education and open people's eyes to it, and part of it is to start this chapter," Felt said of the conference.