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The Briana Project

By: Sara Vranes, CPM

What is The Briana Project?

The Briana Project is a mobile outreach program providing free postpartum care,
education, and advocacy for underserved women and mothers in the Salt Lake Valley.
We provide in-home and mobile prenatal and postpartum visits and community classes
in Salt Lake City. We meet with and assess the needs of individual women and their
families. We provide meals, basic household, personal, and clothing items, and access to
a supportive and loving community. We listen to them and address their needs directly
as we provide a safe space and respectful care.

The co founders of The Briana Project: Rachel Swan, Sara Vranes, Cathy Larson, & Vanessa Kerr.

The first expedition of The Briana Project took place in July of 2012, with a three-woman
team traveling to the Saraya region of Senegal. Three years later, a group of 4 women
decided to revitalize and refocus The Briana Project’s efforts, this time focusing on our
own neighborhood. We considered continuing our work with the women and families in
Senegal, but we felt a strong pull to stay local. We wanted to continue the work that
Briana started when she was alive, to give a voice to the voiceless women in our
community, to listen to those women, and to help them feel safe and provided for. We
believe that when a woman has access to respectful care, advocacy, and education, her
power to change her world becomes limitless. We wanted to help foster this change and
this power, to help create peace one woman at a time.

Who is Briana?

An important part of understanding The Briana Project is understanding who Briana is. Briana Blackwelder is a young, visionary midwife who believed all women deserve access to safe space and respectful care. Her vision was to enact change in maternal health practices, both in local and international communities. Briana died in a tragic car accident in April 2011. The Briana Project was created by her friends and fellow birthworkers as a way to honor and further her important work.

Current Projects

In our efforts to remain local and meet the needs our community, the specific projects we dedicate our energy and resources vary. This is a learning experience for all involved, and we continue to grow with each new season. While our mission statement remains the same, the group we focus on changes as the needs change, whether this be the needs of our refugee, homeless, underserved, or the otherwise over looked women throughout Northern Utah. Where there is a need, we fill it. We make it a priority to remain involved in the community, and assist other local organizations when we see a need arise. We do not want to recreate the wheel—we just want it to stay in motion with an increased efficacy.

Just this week, a woman reached out to us, asking if we would be able to help her. She had first contacted us back in the summer, as VOA (Volunteers of America) mentioned us to her as a place to seek support. She was pregnant, then, and was seeking help with providing for the needs of her baby. We were able to discuss which supplies she could need, and she felt comfortable enough to bring up her struggle to remain sober. We explained that we would be happy to help her acquire supplies for her baby, and strongly encouraged her to go forward with seeking sobriety. We gave her information on programs designed to fill this very specific need. She thanked us and said she would look into those programs. Six months passed, and last week she reached out again. She had completed treatment and is currently sober with her 3 month old baby. We are meeting with her tonight to provide her with diapers, clothes, and a stroller. Donations of funds and supplies have made this possible.

Some of our projects over the last two years have included:

  • Les Femmes Kits: Hygiene kits designed specially for our homeless sisters throughout Salt Lake County, including pads, tampons, socks, deodorant, and handcrafted soap from local vendors. We assembled over 100 kits on International Women’s Day, and handed them out the following Saturday throughout downtown Salt Lake City
  • A bra drive for homeless shelters after a woman we met during our homeless outreach mentioned that bras are not typically provided in clothing donations. We wanted to remedy this, so we put the call out to our community and within two weeks we had over fifty bras of varying sizes, including nursing bras
  • Provide immediate postpartum housing to help a woman and her 3 day old baby to live in a safe space as she recovered. We put out a call on Facebook asking for supporters to sponsor a day in the long-term hotel and/or to provide a hot meal for mother and baby. The response was overwhelming: 6 weeks of safe lodging was provided, and two weeks of meals
  • Provide prenatal care, birth, and postpartum care to women that did not feel comfortable with the care they were receiving in the hospital, and could not afford a homebirth. We helped to provide loving care in a safe space
  • Provide lactation assistance to refugee and homeless women
  • In home visits to refugee families needing prenatal and postpartum support

Join us in creating a healthier community, one woman at a time. The Briana Project is a registered non- profit organization. All donations are tax deductible. Click here to donate. You can also find us on Instagram at @the_briana_project.

About Sara:

Sara Vranes works as a midwife, doula, and lactation specialist. A native of San Francisco, Sara moved to Utah in 2003 to pursue her Bachelor of Science degree from Brigham Young University in Sociology and International Development, focusing on international women’s health. She received her doula training from Melissa Chappell in 2005, after which she lived in India for six months researching birth and breastfeeding practices as part of a field study program. Her experience in India shaped her life, putting her on the path to pursue midwifery at the Midwives College of Utah in 2013. Sara also received her CLE (certified lactation educator) certification from UC San Diego in 2012. She is a cofounder of The Briana Project, a nonprofit that provides care throughout the childbearing year to homeless, refugee, and underserved women throughout Northern Utah. Sara lives in Salt Lake City with her cat, Penelope, and is the proud aunt to eighteen nieces and nephews.