DARIEN — Karen Sutton’s third child, Ben, is a four-year-old with a big personality who likes creating hip-hop playlists and wearing sweatbands to school. But Ben’s life got off to a tough start when he was born 10 weeks early in 2012.

With two other children at home, Sutton, a Fairfield resident, looked for support and found some through The Tiny Miracles Foundation, a Darien-based nonprofit dedicated to providing resources to families of preemies.

“I didn’t feel like I had much of a support community, especially after I left the hospital, but it was nice to connect with other parents who had premature babies,” Sutton said. “They connect you with a mentor to help you navigate health care system. I’m an orthopedic surgeon, so I know the system, but when it came to preemies, I was as naive as other parents.”

Sutton began to get further involved with the organization and last year, she and Ben participated in the foundation’s “Artwork Born Ahead of Time”exhibit where preemies of all ages make paintings to bring awareness to premature births. Sutton and her son got together with other parents to create the art and then got to see it displayed at the Westport Arts Center for a night.

“Having activities like painting and being involved in America’s Got Preemies (the foundation’s annual gala) gave me a chance to talk to other parents and learning what services are out there,” she said. “A lot of time it’s knowing other parents in the area when people may be embarrassed to talk about it. Every time child is born, it’s exciting and most people don't assume there are challenges so most people keep it to themselves.”

The art exhibit is now expanding and in its second year running. Marisela Esposito, board president of The Tiny Miracles Foundation, was meeting with parents of premature babies in Upper Crust Bakery and Cafe in Darien when she became inspired by the artwork displayed on the cafe’s walls. Shortly after, both the Darien and Trumbull Upper Crusts became home to the art after it was displayed in Westport.

More Information

The Tiny Miracles Foundation Gala

12th Annual Gala - “America’s Got Preemies”

The Inn at Longshore in Westport

Saturday, April 29 at 6:30pm.

For more information, visit www.ttmf.org

Through word of mouth, Facebook and a client database, The Tiny Miracles Foundation provided paint, brush, and canvas to everyone from adults who were once preemies to NICU units at local hospitals, where nurses dipped tiny hands and feet into the paint to be impressed onto canvases.

“It was something that could be done by everyone, from preemies to the program coordinator,” said Tiny Miracles’ executive director George Colabella.

“They loved it,” Esposito added. “The kids loved it. It was a great bonding experience that was focused on bringing more families together.”

The exhibit was in Upper Crust locations from December to early April and now Esposito is looking for another location to display the art. The art from this year and the previous one were also displayed at the Westport Arts Center.

The goal of the exhibit is to raise awareness of premature births which are on the rise in Connecticut due to older mothers and multiples conceived via in vitro fertilization according to Colabella.

“The rate of preemies in Connecticut keeps rising,” he said. “We’re in the lower tier in the country.”

The Tiny Miracles Foundation, now in its twelfth year, will hold its annual gala - “America’s Got Preemies” - at The Inn at Longshore in Westport on Saturday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m. Sponsor and ticket information can be found at www.ttmf.org or by contacting TTMF at (203) 202-9714.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata