U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, recently made a stop in Jackson County to meet Hunter Wart, the teen who raised funds for a Safe Haven Baby Box in Seymour, and get a firsthand look at how the box operates.
Mayor Matt Nicholson, Fire Chief Brad Lucas, firefighters from Station 1 and Station 3, Monica Kelsey, who is the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc., and others also visited with Young on Feb. 14 at Seymour Fire Station 3, 605 Meadowbrook Drive.
The baby box was installed at Station 3 in 2019 and was used for the first time last month. A healthy newborn baby girl was placed inside the box around 1:30 p.m. on the afternoon of Jan. 23, less than a year after the box became operational.
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Since this was the box Wart had donated, he was given the chance to name the child. He chose the name “Baby Mia” because he has always liked that name, but he has no idea what he would’ve named the baby had it been a boy.
“Hunter, you are a community hero, my friend. You raised $10,000 to get this done,” Young said to Wart. “I’m really proud of you. I’m Todd Young, your senator, and I came here to learn more about the baby box.”
The nearly 20-year-old Wart, a 2019 Columbus North High School graduate, said he raised the funds for the box on his own by mowing lawns and scrapping aluminum cans and other metal to purchase the box as part of his senior project.
“I’m trying to raise money for a second baby box, but it’s a lot harder to do now that I’m in college going to Indiana State University,” Wart said. “I don’t have a specific place in mind right now for the second baby box.”
Wart said he is hopeful that one day, Baby Mia will hear the story of how she was safely surrendered in the Safe Haven Baby Box that he donated and will get in touch with him.
“There might not be this beautiful baby that’s going to grow up to be an adult and probably have children of her own someday and grandchildren except for your leadership,” Young said to Wart. “So you did a good job, and thanks for your service. Sometimes, it just takes initiative. It’s remarkable.”
Young asked Wart what he thought about when he looked at the box he had donated, and Wart said he was glad it was there. He learned about Safe Haven Baby Boxes after he heard about “Baby Hope,” Indiana’s first Safe Haven Baby Box baby, when she was placed into the box Nov. 7, 2017, at the Coolspring Township Fire Department in Michigan City.
“Hunter’s act has raised awareness, and people are learning about the Safe Haven Law simply because he raised enough money to put a box in a building and saved the life of a child,” Kelsey said.
Lucas told Wart they are all proud of him and know he didn’t sign up to be a celebrity. He hopes Wart’s actions will inspire other kids and even adults to take similar action.
Young’s tour of the fire station began outside, where Lucas explained how the baby box functions and what happens when a baby is placed into the box.
“All they have to do is walk up to the baby box door, pull the door open and place the baby inside,” Lucas said. “Inside, there’s a little bassinet with blankets, and there’s a very strong magnet that holds that door closed, and then it can’t be opened from the outside.”
Lucas said once a baby is placed inside the box, which is built into the side of the fire station, the door locks. Sixty seconds later, an alarm sounds at the fire station, the alarm company is notified and 911 dispatchers are called.
“Firefighters or paramedics retrieve the baby from the box, evaluate it onsite and then the baby is taken to a hospital for immediate care,” Lucas said. “After that, the Department of Child Services takes custody of the infant.”
Lucas talked about how perfectly the system worked and how quickly the baby was retrieved by the firefighters in the building. The ambulance was on the scene within minutes, and the baby was then transferred to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour in great condition.
Young asked Kelsey and Lucas how people in the community are made aware of the baby box.
“When it went into service, we had a blessing, and we invited press from everywhere,” Lucas said. “That’s the best way to get the word out. Plus, social media and there’s a website.”
Kelsey said a news conference is conducted the day after a baby is surrendered.
“That’s another way to raise awareness so that people will know this works exactly as it was designed,” she said. “Then people come from out of the woodwork to come here, and this story has gone national.”
Kelsey started the nationwide program in 2015 because she was abandoned at birth and later adopted.
“The Safe Haven Law is in all 50 states, although, Indiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Arizona are the only states that implement 100% anonymity, which is the baby boxes,” she said.
Indiana’s law enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution. As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby.
“Women are oftentimes facing very difficult circumstances. They just had a baby in a crisis pregnancy, and this provides one option for those babies,” Young said. “I also learned that Monica Kelsey helped develop this concept, and I am inspired by that.”
Young said the debate about abortion has been going on for decades, and he suspects it will continue to go on.
“Regardless of where one stands on abortion, we should all agree on something that’s foundational,” Young said. “Every baby, every born child should receive the chance for life God gave them, so that’s one thing that’s facilitated by these baby boxes.”
Before arriving in Seymour, Young was scheduled to visit H and R Bakery in Salem to meet with local elected officials and then pick up Valentine’s Day flowers at Aebersold Florist in New Albany.
He described his visit in Seymour as inspiring and educational and looks forward to going out and sharing Wart’s story and his efforts to help the community.