WILLIAMSTOWN - Over 200 people turned out Saturday morning for the annual March for Babies walk to raise money for March of Dimes.
Beth Criner, community director for the West Virginia Chapter of the March of Dimes, said the March for Babies has been the organization's signature event since it began in 1970, when it was originally known as Walk America.
"It's America's oldest walking fundraiser," she said of the national event.
Funds raised through the walk will benefit life-saving research and educational programs aimed at helping women and babies in communities across the state and throughout the country.
"The overall mission of the March of Dimes is to fund research to find the causes and means of prevention for premature birth and those children who are born prematurely," she said.
In West Virginia, the most direct service provided by the March of Dimes involves counseling services for families, along with educational programs providing information about healthy lifestyles, smoking cessation and other health-related issues involving mothers and babies, Criner said.
Criner estimated over 200 walkers registered to participate in Saturday's walk, which began in Tomlinson Park and followed a mile-long loop past the Williamstown City Building and around Williamstown High School before returning to the park. There was food, games, displays and other activities at Tomlinson Park during and following the walk.
The walkers included several teams made up of family in friends walking in honor of living children, in memory of lost children, or both. The teams spent weeks raising money through pledges and fundraisers, culminating in Saturday's walk in Williamstown.
"It's celebration and a time to remember babies that we've lost and honor babies that we have with us today," Criner said.
This year's West Virginia State Ambassador Family for March of Dimes is from Parkersburg, Brooke and Robert Taylor with their daughter, Hannah. The Taylors had a large team present at Saturday's walk, called Team Hannah and Leah, which was walking in honor of Hannah and in memory of her late twin sister, Leah.
Brooke Taylor said Hannah and Leah were born at 24 weeks, which was 16 weeks early. In the womb, the twins were sharing the same placenta, which meant one was getting all of the nutrients and the other wasn't. Leah passed away when the twins were nine days old and Hannah underwent four surgeries during four months in the hospital but is now an active toddler.
The Taylors stay in touch with all of the Charleston area nurses and doctors involves with their children's care and have also become involved in March of Dimes, which led to them becoming the Ambassador Family, Brooke Taylor said. While Leah was lost, Taylor credits the March of Dimes with saving Hannah's life.
"If it wasn't for the research they've done, then a baby born at 1 pound 5 ounces (Hannah) wouldn't have been able to survive," she said.
Prior to Saturday's walk in Williamstown, the Taylors had recently walked in one other March for Babies in Charleston, but those will not be their last.
"We'll be doing this every year as long as we can," she said.
Criner said 2013 is the 75th anniversary of the March of Dimes. In three-quarters of a century, the organization has worked to reduce the financial costs of hospital infant care on families and prevent premature birth and other infant health problems through research and community outreach.
Funds raised by the March of Dimes help support prenatal wellness programs, research grants, neonatal intensive care units (NICU), family support programs and advocacy efforts for stronger, healthier babies, .
The March of Dimes was founded in January 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A polio sufferer himself, Roosevelt founded the organization to "lead, direct and unify" the fight against polio and it grew and expanded from there.