On a recent Friday afternoon, Tim Jaccard saved another baby -- a 5-pound, 13-ounce girl, born to a woman from upstate in her 20s who had been raped and didn't want to raise the infant.
Two weeks earlier, the woman had called the Bellmore crisis center Jaccard established years ago. Because she was 36 weeks pregnant and close to delivery, the call was transferred to Jaccard, 65, a retired Nassau police ambulance medical technician, who founded AMT Children of Hope to save newborns from being abandoned.
"She said, 'I cannot parent this child,' " Jaccard recalled. "She started crying and I calmed her down." And he gave her two options: Stay home and have the baby in a nearby hospital using the name "Jane Doe Hope," or wait until she was 38 weeks along and then come to the safe house next door to Jaccard's home in Wantagh to deliver the baby.
She chose the safe house, and when she went into labor, a doctor was there to help. Jaccard, who has delivered many babies as an AMT, said the woman signed papers relinquishing the infant and wanted to leave immediately after the birth. When Jaccard was sure she was medically stable, he drove her home. The baby was taken to South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside before Child Protective Services took custody and will be placed with a foster couple who want to adopt.
The newborn is among more than 3,000 infants saved nationwide since Jaccard founded AMT Children of Hope in 1998. All have been adopted. Since he began his mission, the organization has opened crisis center hotlines in Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, California, Indiana and Bellmore to field calls across the country. Last year, the Bellmore office received more than 2,000 calls.
Children of Hope was started 17 years ago after Jaccard responded to an emergency call in Hempstead where a newborn was found dead, facedown in a toilet. "I was crying in the courthouse," Jaccard recalled. "It was very emotional to find a child had been lost and murdered." Within the next few weeks, there were three more infanticides.
At first, Jaccard's goal was to give a proper burial to each infant in Nassau who had met the same fate. He became their legal guardian and named them before they were buried in a large plot he purchased at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury. When emergency workers in nearby jurisdictions -- Suffolk, Manhattan and the Bronx, among others -- heard about Jaccard's work, they began calling and asking him to bury the abandoned newborns found dead in their communities.
The burials are a kindness he continues today. For each child, there is a church service and a baptism. "It's sad, but yes, at the same time in my heart I know that this child is now part of our family and will stay in our family," Jaccard said. All of the grave markers carry the same last name -- Hope. To date, more than 120 infants have been buried at Holy Rood.
In the spring of 1999, Jaccard established a crisis center at Nassau County police headquarters and a year later opened the Long Island Crisis Center and hotline in Bellmore. That same year, Jaccard crafted the first safe haven law that was passed in Texas, allowing a woman to go to a hospital or other designated safe haven and give up her baby anonymously. The following year, the Infant Abandonment Protection Act was enacted by the New York State Legislature, allowing mothers to surrender newborns without prosecution. Jaccard's persistent lobbying efforts resulted in getting a safe haven law passed in all 50 states.
Over the years, Children of Hope (amtchildrenofhope.com) has broadened its goals, educating students and coaxing hospitals and fire departments to help women who don't intend to keep their newborns, to have safe births anonymously. The nonprofit organization has fundraising events to help support its work.
Although it was born of tragedy, Children of Hope has gained awareness of and support for its mission from various sectors, Jaccard said. "It's becoming a lot easier now" for women to give birth anonymously and relinquish their newborn, he said. The organization's latest goal is to expand the number of safe havens by enlisting yet another resource. "We're trying to get all of the urgent care centers throughout the state and train them as safe haven centers," Jaccard said. Urgent care centers have become prevalent in many communities, are often open 24/7 and would be ideal facilities for new births, he said.
Safe havens have set guidelines. When a mother-to-be makes contact through the hotline, arrangements are made for her to give birth at a hospital using the name "Jane Doe Hope," Jaccard said. If she doesn't want to keep the child, she is given three options: relinquish the infant with no further contact; a closed or open adoption, with varying degrees of contact, if any, and information exchanged. Jaccard encourages adoption because, "It empowers the birth mother to make plans for her and her baby."
If she chooses adoption, the agency shows the mother pictures and profiles of couples who are waiting to adopt, and she has a say in who will become the parents of her baby, Jaccard said.
"There are not many opportunities in life to make a life-or-death difference," said Dawn Geras, 68, who serves with Jaccard on the board of the National Safe Haven Alliance, which promotes baby safe haven laws nationally. "And in this case, it's for the youngest, the most vulnerable of all: a newborn baby. And that's the mission and passion that drives all of us."
In the case of Bridget eight years ago, keeping her infant was not an option. The baby's father was in jail; she had lost her job and wound up in a shelter with her toddler daughter. After considerable deliberation, she relinquished the newborn through Children of Hope.
"It felt like the right thing to do," said Bridget, now 46. "When I met Tim I just felt like that was my angel sent to me," she said. Bridget and her daughter live in North Carolina, where Jaccard helped to relocate them.
Pat Shea, 74, director of Mommas House in Wantagh, which provides shelter in four Nassau homes for pregnant women and young mothers who can't manage on their own, credits Jaccard with spotlighting the support that's available. "The awareness that he's created -- that there's help and they can walk into any place -- any hospital, fire department, doctor's office -- and drop their baby off without any question, has made a tremendous impact and saved lives," Shea said. "It's a terrible situation to begin with and yet they have the opportunity to at least give this child a chance."
Over the years, Jaccard, who is married with three children and five grandchildren, has formed lasting relationships with many of the mothers and children (ages 1 to 15) who have been in the program. Many call him "Uncle Tim."
For his part, Jaccard's great joy is watching youngsters -- like Brandon Laracuente -- grow up with parents who adore them. Ilene Laracuente, 54, and her husband, Ed, 50, who live in Bethpage, adopted Brandon, who had been relinquished to Children of Hope, when he was 6 weeks old. "It was a godsend for us," said Ilene, who was also adopted. "He's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. A smart, smart, smart child, and a loving child."
Brandon, who is 11, hopes to be a doctor. "I'm happy that they care for me and that they love me," he said of his parents.
Three years ago, when Jaccard was retiring as an AMT, he was offered an office at police headquarters to continue his safe haven work, and now he is grooming a few successors. "The awareness of the program is something that needs to be constant in order for the next generation of young adults to be aware: If they are in crisis, there are other options out there," he said.
Jaccard and his colleagues instill that message when they address high school students during the academic year, clarifying myths and misunderstandings about pregnancy and contraception. Jaccard tells the teens, "I don't want you to use the safe haven law (but) it's there as a last resort, if you feel there is no other option."
The AMT Children of Hope hotline for expectant mothers in crisis is 877-796-HOPE, where women can learn about the support and various options available to them.
Donations to AMT Children of Hope Foundation can be sent c/o Nassau County Police Department, 1490 Franklin Ave., Mineola, NY 11501