This story is reprinted from Fresno State Campus News, as written by April Schulthies. Originally published January 17, 2017.

When a baby is born prematurely, its chances of survival go down steeply, and that’s why Sandra R. Flores is passionate about giving babies a solid start in life.

In Fresno County, one of every nine babies is born prematurely, with more than 1,500 premature babies born in Fresno County alone. Flores wants to reverse this trend and increase the number of full-term births.

She’s working to reduce the preterm birth rate as the program director of Fresno County Preterm Birth Collective Impact Initiative, which is part of a Preterm Birth Initiative led by University of California, San Francisco.

Sandra gives opening remarks at the Fresno County World Prematurity Day Walk. November 17, 2016.

Fresno State serves as the backbone organization for the Fresno initiative and President Joseph I. Castro is a member of the steering committee. The comprehensive effort is funded by philanthropists Lynne and Marc Benioff and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Central California Center for Health and Human Services, under the umbrella of the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State, serves as a major force behind the initiative. The center brings together University resources and community professionals, organizations and agencies to improve the health and welfare of communities in the Central Valley.

“I feel like I’m on the cutting edge of turning possibilities into real change,” Flores said. “I like having that feeling the most. I get to show off and highlight how incredibly resilient, brave and beautiful our families are.”

Currently, her efforts include assisting the Fresno County Office of Education and school districts as they implement the Healthy Youth Act, working with First 5 of Fresno County, doctors, pregnant moms and other partners to launch and implement Expect With Me, a new model of group prenatal care.

The Preterm Birth Initiative includes Fresno County, San Francisco, Oakland, Nairobi, Uganda and Rwanda.

Sandra in Nairobi, Kenya. September 2016.

Recently, Flores’ work has taken her to Nairobi, Kenya, where she participated in the first Preterm Birth Symposium.

“We learned what each community was doing,” Flores said. “For example, one of the East Africa sites focused on developing a model of Kangaroo Mother Care, which had not included the community in any of their planning and development.”

However, after the Fresno County presentation from Flores and her colleague Emilia Reyes, preterm birth workers in East Africa decided to invite their community into the work that was being led by doctors, nurses and leaders.

Similarities between the communities in East Africa, Fresno County and the Central Valley include cultural strengths, high teen pregnancy rates and educating the whole family about healthy or risky birth outcomes. Sharing initiatives with East Africa was a learning experience.

“It provided a deeper sense of shared futures more than anything,” Flores said. “And it did give me a greater understanding of the urgency of this issue internationally. Preterm birth has become an increased priority for the United Nations’ World Health Organization.”

As program director, Flores focuses on meeting the need of families impacted by preterm births and providing opportunities for community engagement and community participation, with partnerships such as the one with Fresno State and First 5 Fresno County.

“I am so grateful to President Castro for supporting us and giving us the opportunity to share about the work in Fresno County,” she said.

Focusing on family comes naturally to Flores. She met her husband, Peter, at Fresno High School when she was 15, and they will be celebrating their 30th anniversary this coming April. They have three children and five “perfect” grandchildren, who are an important reminder of why she works to give families a fighting chance.

A native of Fresno, Flores attended Fresno City College and received her bachelor’s degree in history from Oklahoma City University. For many years, she was in community service through faith-based organizations and nonprofit organizations.

She previously worked as the senior program officer for Central Valley Community Foundation (formerly Fresno Regional Foundation) until starting with the Fresno County Preterm Birth Collective Impact Initiative in July.

Follow the Fresno County Preterm Birth Initiative online for the latest news and updates.

The Fresno County Preterm Birth Collective Impact Initiative is comprised of community partners and organizations.