At Dunwoody’s Fourth of July Parade this year, look for a group walking with a fire truck. That group is Charlie’s Army.
Charlie’s Army is a nonprofit organization started by Stephanie and Eric Cronmiller last year, dedicated to providing young children a voice and empowering parents to make healthy decisions and create safe environments for their families. The Cronmillers started Charlie’s Army in memory of their four-month-old son Charlie, who passed away during a nap at a daycare in February of 2021. According to a police report, Charlie was found facedown.
Stephanie Cronmiller said the idea for Charlie’s Army came around almost immediately and helped her channel her grief over losing her son.
“When we lost Charlie, I immediately bounced into, what can I do?” Cronmiller said. “Within a matter of a couple weeks, my husband and I knew we had to do something to continue to honor him, to keep him and his memory alive.”
As soon as late February 2021, Cronmiller began researching nonprofits. By that summer, Charlie’s Army was up and running.
“We wanted to be able to advocate for children and infants who can’t talk yet,” Cronmiller said. “They can’t come home and tell you that something’s wrong or they don’t like the way they’re being treated. So it’s really about empowering parents – ensuring that they are equipped with the knowledge and tools to have their best interests in mind.”
A lot of what Charlie’s Army focuses on is educating parents on the safest ways for infants to sleep and empowering often overwhelmed or tired parents and caregivers to create healthy and safe environments for children. The foundation partners with different companies like HALO, which provides sleep sacks and swaddles for infants, and Regal Lager’s swaddle brand Love to Dream, and uses those partnerships to help provide parents with swaddles and pamphlets on the “ABCs of Safe Sleep.”
Charlie’s Army’s website lists out the ABCs of Safe Sleep, which stand for “Alone,” “Back is Best,” and “Clear the Space.” The ABCs state that the best way for infants to sleep is in a bassinet or crib, on their backs, and in a space clear of everything but a mattress and a sheet.
According to Cronmiller, Charlie’s Army has donated multiple swaddles and pamphlets to new parents across the metro area. In one holiday campaign through a partnership with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life team, the foundation received a list of clinics that see the most newborns and was able to raise enough money to buy and donate HALO swaddles to new parents at Harbin Clinic Pediatrics in Cartersville.
The foundation also held a golf tournament last year at St. Ives Country Club in Johns Creek. Between sponsorships, donations, and a silent auction, Charlie’s Army was able to raise about $130,000. The foundation plans to hold another golf tournament on Oct. 7.
“Strong4Life has several pillars underneath it, and one of them is specific to Safe Sleep,” Cronmiller said of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta initiative. “For that specific event, we chose to benefit the Safe Sleep program. They’re going to be the beneficiary of this year’s tournament as well.”
When it comes to the Dunwoody Fourth of July parade, Cronmiller said she and her husband wanted to find a way to recognize the first responders who helped them that day. The Cronmillers live in Chamblee near the border of the two cities, but the daycare where Charlie passed away was located in Dunwoody.
“A lot of our experience has been with the first responders of Dunwoody,” she said. “We have felt welcomed and embraced by the community of Dunwoody throughout all of this.”
Cronmiller said she attended the 2021 parade and had a wonderful experience.
“That’s our target audience,” she said. “It’s families, and young children. We just wanted to be able to participate and recognize those first responders who were there for us that day.”
Cronmiller said that the idea to walk with a fire truck came from a dream she had after Charlie passed away. She said in the dream, he was wearing a onesie that he often wore that was covered in fire trucks. She and her friends came to view that dream as a sign that Charlie was with her whenever she saw a fire truck in a strange place. All of a sudden, it seemed she and her friends were seeing fire trucks everywhere and began sharing pictures of them with each other.
Cronmiller said she thought that walking with the fire truck would be a way to both honor those first responders and share that personal sentiment. The foundation is also expected to hold a giveaway on Instagram that day, donating a HALO bassinet to an expecting or new mother.
“I think we’re going to walk behind, or in front of, or with the fire truck.” she said. “I’ve invited friends and family. If they have kids, they’ll be on tricycles or wagons that we’ll have decorated in stars and stripes.”
You can learn more about Charlie’s Army on the foundation’s website.