Newest baby box ready in Paoli
“It never gets old hearing from a fire chief saying ‘we got our first baby,’” said Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes. Kelsey attended the dedication celebration on Nov. 22 for the newest baby box, which is located at the Paoli Fire Station.
Four years ago the first baby box was installed in Indiana. Now it is in six states. The program has also helped 114 women safely surrender their baby through its crisis line and 13 babies have been placed in baby boxes. Most importantly, Kelsey said there has not been any dead infants found abandoned in places like dumpsters since Safe Haven Baby Boxes was founded.
Tessa and Keegan Higgs were instrumental in getting a baby box in Paoli. They learned about the program after they were blessed with being able to adopt Nola, a Safe Haven baby. Tessa Higgs said God brought everything together.
Tessa Higgs explained how she and her husband were pursuing adoption through Indiana Department of Child Services. They would end up taking care of a two-year-old Jax and became his biggest advocate. When his status with the state when from adoption to reunification, Tessa Higgs said she and her husband were heartbroken.
Then they were notified they were selected to potentially adopt Nola. Tessa Higgs explained it was unexpected because they had never submitted an application to adopt Nola. They went to the interview and thought it went well, Tessa Higgs recalls that Nola had an uncanny resemblance to her niece. The next day, they were notified they were selected.
“Thank God for miracles,” said Tessa Higgs.
Tessa Higgs would learn that 400 home studies submitted by those looking to adopt Nola. Their home study was submitted by their regional adoption specialist who Tessa Higgs had spoken with briefly and talked about their story at a conference.
They never would have been able to adopt Nola if Jax’s status had not changed to reunification. Another blessing was yet to come. The Higgs later got a call from Jax’s birth mother asking if they would taken guardianship of him.
Tessa Higgs said they had to go through all of this to get Nola. She stated you have to wait with patience and accept God’s timing. He still provides miracles.
Tessa Higgs said after Nola, they wanted to get behind the Safe Haven Baby Box program. They knew Nola was loved by her birth mom. It was evident in her care. She was a healthy weight and there were no drugs in her system. She was wrapped in a towel and had been breastfed before being handed over. Tessa Higgs said they are thankful of Nola’s birth mother. Kelsey said Nola’s mother is a hero and was selfless.
Keegan Higgs said it has been truly amazing how the community has stepped up. They raised money to fund the baby box and its maintenance and were able to collect $30,000. Keegan Higgs said he is proud to be from Paoli and Orange County.
The Orange County Community Foundation also stepped in and gave $15,000 to help pay for the box and the maintenance fees for its first 10 years. The Murat Shriners Lo-Or-Ma gave $1,600, the Paoli Meridian Lions Club donated $1,500 and Springs Valley Bank & Trust Company gave $1,000.
“It shows how much love there is in this community,” said Keegan Higgs.
Orange County Community Foundation Executive Director Imojean Dedrick said it was a momentous day. Dedrick added she always knew Tessa Higgs would be a wonderful mom. When the Higgs said they wanted to start a fund for the baby box, Dedrick said they did not need a fund. The Orange County Community Foundation would help. Dedrick had heard of baby boxes and said that baby placed in a box could grow up to be somebody like a judge, a fire chief or a police officer.
Keegan Higgs said several things also had to fall into place for the baby box and they did so perfectly. Paoli Fire Chief Mark Jones pointed out one of the strange things that fell into place was the location of the baby box. When the fire station was built in 2014, there was a place where the electric conduit made an upside down U between two boxes instead of going straight. There is certain criteria a baby box needs for where it can be placed, and that spot was the perfect fit as if it was “meant to be there.”
The Paoli Safe Haven Baby Box is the 90th in the country and the first in the country in a volunteer fire station. Kelsey said it would not have been possible without the cooperation of Jones. Jones said all he had to do was just stand aside.
Jones stated that there were so many people involved in the project that it happened quickly and seamlessly. This was in part due to the support of the Paoli Town Council and local businesses and organizations helping including Orange County REMC who prioritized running the necessary fiber optic internet line to the baby box; Knies for blacktopping; Paoli Town Employees for the site work; and the many people who donated their time and effort. Jones described the Safe Haven Baby Box as something positive for the community to be excited about.
Jones said Keegan Higgs called him in May and told him about baby boxes. It was an easy decision for the department to make. Paoli Town Council President Danny Hickman said the same when Tessa and Keegan Higgs approached the council about installing the baby box. Hickman said they had to wait for Tessa Higgs to finish her presentation so they could say yes.
Jones introduced State Senator Erin Houchin and said she was instrumental in getting the legislation she co-sponsored passed to allow baby boxes in volunteer fire stations. Houchin said it was her State Representative colleagues that helped get it done including Stephen Bartels and the late Steve Davisson.
Houchin said the Paoli Fire Department immediately came to mind when she was working on the legislation and used it as an example during testimony. The bill was wildly supported and Houchin said she is so grateful she got it done.
U.S. Senator Mike Braun also attended the dedication and said he was lucky to be able to make it since the Senate was in recess. Jones said that U.S. Senator Todd Young also wanted to be there and sent his regards. Young also promised to send a letter to Tessa and Keegan Higgs.
Braun said when he decided to run, it was for things like the Safe Haven Baby Box where everybody works together.
“When there is a will, there is a way,” said Braun.
Braun described getting the Safe Haven Baby Box in Paoli a “wonderful journey.” Braun said he has been outspoken about the sanctity of life, even if it draws fire. There are those who excuse a system that allows newborns to put into jeopardy, but those lives can pay big dividends on what they can do.
“Keegan and Tessa, thank the good Lord you did what you did,” said Braun.
This article originally appeared on The Times-Mail: Safe Haven Baby Box installed in Paoli Fire Station