Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.
119 Posts

By Kathy Hodges – Co-Executive Director, Family Violence & Rape Crisis Services

Violence in relationships is a reality for far too many women in our community, especially young women. The CDC estimates that at least one in every 3 women will be the victim of violence in a relationship at some point, and our history at our agency suggests that for many women violent relationships often start in their teens and twenties. This violence often impacts all aspects of a woman’s life and makes it difficult for her to seek health care, find support from her family and friends, or to support herself and her children financially.  Her partner may not only control where she goes and who she talks to, but may limit her access to contraception and coerce her into unwanted sexual activities.

Women who are being abused by their partners often carry around shame and guilt for their violence. They are isolated from community supports, and feel they have nowhere to turn.  Our communities must be prepared to recognize violence and provide support for victims in order to turn around this epidemic of violence.  We all must know the signs:

  • Injuries that don’t match the explanation or recurrent injuries 
  • Fear or anxiety about a partner’s response to a situation
  • Reluctance to participate in activities without a partner’s permission 
  • Withdrawal from family, friends and social situations 

Each of us can be the bridge a woman needs to safety in her life. We can help her to change her situation. The first step is to listen to her and believe her.  She may never have been able to share this before, so she may need to talk for a while.  It is important to let her know that you believe her.  If anything, she is likely minimizing the violence she has experienced.  It is every bit as difficult as she is telling you.  The next step is to connect her with supportive services.  Your local domestic violence agency is a powerful resource and ally for her.  Help her get in touch with the agency by sitting with her and helping her with the contact.  Finally, she needs you to keep the door open and help break the isolation she is experiencing.  She may not be ready to leave.  She may not be ready to do anything.  Just by talking to her and listening to her, your support can help her start to see her way to safety – the first step on her path.

By Mallory Perez – Health Policy & Management Graduate Student

Femme 6 is a student group of Health Policy & Management majors at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. For the Spring 2014 semester, this team of six young women is assisting Every Women Southeast as the coalition grows and expands its network of resources. Mallory Perez from Tampa, FL is a member of Femme 6.
Nowadays, the word “collaboration” gets thrown around a great deal, whether it is a new music record or a team at work focusing on an upcoming project. I recently read an article that made me think critically about why some collaborations work and why others fall flat. “Collective Impact” by Kania and Kramer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review mentions comprehensiveness and risk-taking as part of what makes collective impact successful. The evidence of the effectiveness of cross-sector partnerships is building…slowly. So, what makes engagement in collective impact so difficult? Don’t we all want positive social change?
The five conditions of collective success described in the article are as follows: common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations. Establishing all of these elements across various organizations in multiple social sectors can magnify the impact of an initiative and generate large-scale change. Beyond the difficulties of obtaining funding, this type of work requires a change in mindset, one that fully promotes equity. I have learned that collective impact works best when each member has “skin in the game”. No one person pushes to be the sole champion of change. Rather, collective impact is more of a process, and less of who can claim the outcome. The opportunity to learn from the expertise and perspectives of others is invaluable. That opportunity is where we grow, where we bring about change.

Every Woman Southeast is working to apply the collective impact model to women’s health and preconception health. The health sector is rapidly evolving, and it is becoming increasingly clearer that “good health” extends far beyond medical care. Public health, entertainment, advertising, education, and politics are just some of the players that influence our choices, and subsequently our health. At present, Every Woman Southeast seeks to engage partners that will help impact policy decisions and the housing/transportation available to women. Both of these factors contribute to how much autonomy and control women have over their own health. As Every Woman Southeast continues to build more cross-sector relationships, more individuals will discover the ways in which they can participate in collective impact.

first_time_attendee_ribbonsAs a first time attendee of the AMCHP conference in Washington, DC, it was great to hear and learn from national leaders in the field of maternal and child health. The keynote speeches from the plenary sessions were very motivating. I most especially loved the speech given by Dr. Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH, with the Washington State Department of Health, when she accepted the Vince Hutchins Leadership Award. As an early career public health professional, learning about initiatives, programs, and strategies that have a focus in health equity is very important to me. Therefore, it was refreshing and affirming to hear the charge of Dr. Hayes, in which she stressed the importance of reducing health disparities by truly addressing the social determinants of health in MCH work. Additionally, it was truly inspiring to have had the opportunity to be among the first the view an episode from a soon-to-be ground-breaking documentary, the Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation from California Newsreel.

Since I’m new to the EveryWoman Southeast Coalition, it was great to meet some of our regional and national partners. I had the fortunate opportunity to listen to the EWSE Pilot Projects’ presentations, which was a valuable learning experience. Hearing about how some of the pilot projects incorporated reproductive life planning and preconception health messages into their health promotion programs and the lessons learned was very insightful. Listening to the accomplishments of the PASO’s radio project in South Carolina and the Reproductive Life Planning project with CHOICES in Memphis, Tennessee, helped to shape my understanding of the impact and reach of the initiatives developed through the EWSE Coalition. It is clear that EWSE is an important initiative for women’s health and health services in the south region of the U.S., especially during these times of reduced funding and increasing health burdens. It was very encouraging to see that the conference provided a space for young MCH and public health professional to link with national and regional leaders. The AMCHP conference is definitely value-added to my professional development, more importantly, in the area of networking and leveraging resources. Of note, it was awesome to see my supervisor, Sarah Verbiest in action as she used the conference as an opportunity to connect with existing partners and gain new partners and resources for the coalition. I am very grateful to have her and Erin McClain as a mentor! Thank you both and the staff at AMCHP for the experience!

By Angela Aina – CDC PHPS Fellow and First Time Attendee of the AMCHP Conference – January 2014

Blog Post by Caroline Brazeel from Louisiana

Every Woman Southeast is having an incredibly positive impact on my personal and professional life through its meaningful webinars and support from my colleagues in other states. It’s the fact that we are a regional organization of local people that makes us uniquely poised to impact change. Here’s one example of how EWSE pops into my life at random and opportune moments:

I spent some of the last moments of 2013 talking about Jamila Batts and Dr. Kimberlle Wyche-Etheridge’s October EWSE webinar. After a great NYE dinner, one of the guests, an architect, began describing his most recent work project – a redesign of some of New Orleans’ public schools. In an effort to design a building that met the needs of the students, parents, teachers and school board, he had immersed himself in the lives of the people that flowed into and out of the school. He found old pictures of the building’s façade from the early twentieth century and attended community meetings where neighbors voiced concerns and parents expressed their hopes for the new building. He took that information and thoughtfully proposed options to the school board for adapting the existing structure to meet the current and future needs of those who use it.

His process of reaching into archives for an explanation of how the school became what it is today evoked Dr. Wyche-Etheridge’s work on the Nashville CityMatCH Racial Healing project. When I told him about how they worked in Nashville to map the history of one neighborhood’s development, he couldn’t wait to get home and look it up on the EWSE site. To him, the Nashville project was a combination of his interest in urban planning, architecture, and social justice. To me, his work was a window into how the physical infrastructure for school health and wellness is shaped. At work, I don’t spend any time talking to architects, but our conversation made me realize I needed to reexamine my definition of non-traditional partners.

I’m not sure I would have seen the connection between architecture, education and public health as clearly had I not heard Dr. Wyche-Etheridge and Ms. Batts speak about their work in Tennessee. What I know for sure is we have to ask the right questions of the right people to know how to go about doing our work differently. In 2014, I’m hoping to work on the expansion of my definition of non-traditional partners, and I know my EWSE colleagues will help guide me in that pursuit.

Caroline works at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in the Office of Public Health. She is a member of the EWSE Leadership Team.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Jessica Hardy is a very active and engaged member of the EWSE leadership team. She is a registered nurse, with an advanced degree in public health from the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB). She has served more than nineteen years with the Alabama Department of Public Health in various capacities, including the Alabama Women’s Health Liaison for the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jessica was appointed to serve as the first Director for the Alabama Office of Women’s Health (OWH) in 2002 (a position she continues to hold), and was appointed as Acting Director of Alabama’s office of Minority Health from 2009 to 2012. In addition to her work and volunteering with EWSE, Jessica is currently a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Troy University, in Alabama. We asked Jessica about the health problem she cares the most about as well as about the favorite part of her work and her favorite book. Here are her responses!

Infant mortality is a concern not only for Alabama but for the nation as a whole. In Alabama the infant mortality rate is higher than the national average and is compounded with a very daunting disparate rate between the white and black infant mortality rate. It has been said that the infant mortality rate reflects the health of a community; in Alabama this is one of our top women’s health issues today. What I love most about my current responsibilities is the outreach into the community. My work allows me to advocate for health in general, and preventive health programs in particular. Communities are very receptive to shared health information. I enjoy serving as liaison between public health and the communities across our state. One of my favorite books is by Christine Northrop, Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom. I have found that women in the community can often relate to the information Dr. Northrop shares in her books, and it opens the door for me to introduce additional resources to the women in communities across Alabama.

Making Change Happen in Florida

  Leah Barber-Heinz is the CEO of Florida CHAIN

Lost in all of the political wrangling over the Affordable Care Act is the fact that Florida’s women, an astounding 1.4 million of whom are uninsured, will see a huge positive impact thanks to these reforms.
The new law creates significant cost savings by eliminating annual and lifetime limits on how much insurance companies cover if women get sick, as well as prohibiting insurers from dropping women from coverage when they fall ill. Moreover, plans in the new health exchanges place a cap on how much insurance companies can force women to pay in co-pays and deductibles. Starting in 2014 women who cannot afford quality health insurance will be provided tax credits, and the Act will completely close the donut hole for prescription drugs by 2020.
The law also provides more and better health care options and ensures coverage of basic health services including maternity benefits. Maternity benefits are often not provided in health plans offered through the individual insurance market.
Also of particular relevance to women is the fact that the new law already prohibits insurance companies from denying children coverage based on preexisting conditions. Moving forward, it will prohibit insurance companies from denying any woman coverage because of a pre-existing condition, excluding coverage of that condition, or charging more because of health status or gender. Right now, a healthy 22-year-old woman can be charged premiums 150 percent higher than a 22-year-old man.
The Affordable Care Act also aims to crack down on excessive insurance overhead by limiting how much insurance companies spend on nonmedical costs such as executive salaries and marketing. And insurance carriers must justify their premium increases in order to remain eligible for the health exchanges.  
The positive impact these reforms will have on Florida’s women and their families cannot be overstated. A recent report by Families USA found that more than 70 percent of consumers in the individual market will be eligible for financial assistance through the Marketplaces, because they either qualify for tax credits that will make their coverage more affordable or for Medicaid.
As a result of these and other important reforms included in the Affordable Care Act, fewer Florida women will delay needed care or be forced to give up basic necessities in order to get the health care they need.
Hello Blog World! My name is Callie Womble and I’m a Masters of Public Health student in the Health Behavior Department at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. My graduate program focuses on the social and behavioral sciences as a means of understanding and improving the health of populations. One of my academic passions is minority women’s health. I enjoy brainstorming innovative ways to improve wellness and reduce disparity. I first got involved with women’s health in undergrad when I co-founded the UNC Chapel Hill chapter of the Office of Minority Health’s Preconception Peer Educator program and interned at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. These experiences were invaluable to me because they introduced me to the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) field, and ignited my passion.


As a graduate student, I wanted to build on that foundation and gain more research experience. In May of this year I began my practicum at the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health. My main responsibility has been to disseminate the Women’s Voices Survey, and analyze its results. Working on the Women’s Voices survey was a great because it directly addresses health disparities (an issue near and dear to my heart) and has given me a chance to sharpen my data collection, management and analysis skills.
At the end of August we closed the Women’s Voices survey with 1,950 responses from women of all nine EWSE states and our sample truly represented a life course perspective engaging women of all ages. (How awesome is that?!)  Analyzing the data has been incredibly fulfilling – the survey validates the stories of women in our region. The daily lived experiences of Southeastern women matter, and this survey both affirmed the women as individuals and provided a space for them to share how they see the world.  For me, the most thought-provoking aspect of the data analysis was coding the qualitative responses to questions asking women what they need in order to improve their health. Some of the quotes that really got my attention included:
·         I need an accountability partner.  I have the tendency to procrastinate and put other’s needs before my own.  I need a gently forceful person to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.
·         More education and support on how to balance the many competing demands that women face today with work, family, friends, etc.
·          to have doctors treat me as a human and not just as a poor-Medicaid recipient.
·         A practitioner that listens.
·         A better job so I didn’t have to work so hard.  More time. I feel like a lot of my health issues stem from my lack of time to do things like prepare meals and exercise. I work a lot, so that doesn’t leave much time for me.
·         Access for the African American population, especially those in rural areas.  Transportation is an issue.  Fear is another issue.  Cost factors in.  Prescription costs prevent consistent medication being used.

These quotes remind me that women in our region often have many responsibilities. They are moms, daughters, friends, sisters, employees, students, church members, sorority members, girlfriends, wives and the proverbial list of “hats women wear” goes on and on. Subsequently, prioritizing others’ needs above their own is a current norm for most women. It also reminds me that the social determinants of health (e.g. where you live, work, play and pray) are REAL and they truly impact how women experience life and wellness. In order to create lasting change we as public health professionals need to strategize ways to make self-care for women the default choice, as well as ways to positively influence the social determinants of women’s health. Indeed, this is a tall order but it’s necessary to change the status quo.

As my practicum comes to close, I have started to reflect on all I have learned these past six months. While the technical skills are indeed significant to me, what resonates most to me about my practicum is the well-rounded nature of my experience. From meetings with stakeholders, to capacity development webinars, to daily in-office conversations with my supervisor and the fellow staff, this experience has been a total emersion in all things MCH. I’ve learned countless new jargon, discovered new thought leaders and followed intense political legislation alongside my fellow staff. 
The most meaningful part of my practicum has been interacting with professionals from different disciplines. It has been both informative and rewarding to hear about women’s health issues from their perspective and then share my thoughts from the HB point of view. These interactions have highlighted how all disciplines have significant expertise necessary for accomplishing our shared goal: improve the health of populations. By working together we are able to put the different pieces of the puzzle together, have a collective impact and achieve our shared goal. Although my practicum is ending, I am excited to continue this versatile experience of personal and professional development as a part of the EWSE leadership team.  As a North Carolina partner I am looking forward to continuing our work towards health equity in our region.

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Gulfport, Mississippi to partner with EWSE Leadership Team member Juanita Graham and her colleagues on promoting the life course approach to reducing infant mortality.The focus of my trip was a presentation to the District 9 FIMR Teams (fetal, infant mortality review) coordinated by Mary Craig and Cheryl Doyle, both experienced and dedicated leaders on this project. Teams have now reviewed over 50 cases and 7 area hospitals have introduced some new policies and classes, particularly around SUIDS risk reduction. The group is now eager to expand their thinking about new approaches to preventing infant death. The meeting was very well attended, including several staff from the state health department in Jackson. The group had a lively discussion about life course and shared ideas about how it could be applied in Mississippi. 
Part of the trip included the chance to network with Juanita’s colleagues on behalf of the coalition. My visit happened to coincide with the MS Nurses Association Conference which was themed “Hunting for Evidence-Based Practice” (thus the camo gear). I had the great opportunity to go with them on an evening boat ride in the Gulf. The sunset over the Gulf was amazing and those MS nurses know how to have fun! I also had the chance to recruit some new members to the state team and learn about the MS Coast Interfaith Task Force which is doing some fantastic work on community resilience, access to health care, life planning for 8th graders and more.
While the landscape is lovely and the people are really warm, Mississippi faces many challenges, including poverty, obesity, few resources for programs and high rates of maternal mortality. Fortunately, the state also has a cadre of nurses and public health leaders who are determined to make change happen. Seeing how the community has rebuilt from two recent disasters (Katrina and the oil spill), it was clear that the people of Mississippi are resilient. Hearing that in 2012 Mississippi has achieved its lowest rates of infant mortality ever (while other Southern states have seen increased rates or stagnation) absolutely affirms that these leaders are making a difference. We look forward to connecting with new colleagues and continuing to build the  Mississippi Connection!

Savannah Cooksey, Connie Bish, Juanita Graham, Cheryl Doyle, Sarah Verbiest and Mary Craig (start top left to right)

Cecilia Sáenz Becerra is the field organizer with Raising Women’s Voices. She works with RWV’s state partners throughout the South and resides in Atlanta, GA.

RWV2logoWhat about health care reform is exciting for you?
As October 1 draws arrives, I am excited that thousands of people across the nation who previously did not have health care will finally have the opportunity to get covered through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)! Specifically, I’m excited about mobilizing women, women of color, immigrants, and LGBT folks to enroll for affordable insurance options – especially in the southern states where we know the highest percentage of uninsured populations reside, many of whom don’t earn enough to be able to buy private insurance and aren’t eligible to be covered by Medicaid. Another exciting aspect about ACA is how it’s making insurance improvements. For example, no more gender rating (women will no longer have to pay more simply because they are women), no more lifetime or annual limits, no more pre-existing condition bans, and no more taking away insurance when you get sick!

To help women learn about the new options ahead of us, Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need and the Ms. Foundation have collaborated on a campaign that will complement, support, and amplify state level ACA outreach and enrollment efforts. The campaign, women 4 health care (@Women4HC), premiered on October 1 and includes an array of resources, tools, and materials for organizations engaging in this work, including Facebook and Twitter. Get the latest updates on Women 4 Health Care and learn more about how to get involved by filling out this simple form – click here.

What worries you / keeps you awake at night?
The new health care law will bring peace of mind and security to millions of Americans, but I worry about the people who will still fall into gaps that remain – some of which directly affect some of the people I’m closest too.

In many Southern states, conservative politicians have so far refused to accept federal funds that would allow them to provide insurance coverage through state Medicaid programs to more low-income people living and working in their states. This is a heart-breaking missed opportunity that will leave many people with no affordable way to get health insurance, like my partner. And according to economic experts in states that have done the analysis, it’s also a fiscal mistake because using federal money to expand Medicaid eligibility could actually save money for states, support well-paying health care sector jobs, and generate new tax revenues. It’s not too late, though, and I hope we’ll be able to make this worry go away by persuading more states to accept the federal funds and cover the new eligible populations.

Another gap that exists throughout the country is that undocumented immigrants, like my mother, are not allowed to buy insurance on the marketplace (even if they have the money and are able to pay full price). Immigrant youth who have filed for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are also not eligible, despite being recognized as “lawfully present” in the U.S. And even immigrants with documentation will face some barriers because of the five-year ban making them ineligible for the financial help they might need to make insurance affordable in the Marketplaces. People who can’t get insurance because of these gaps will have to rely on the same, limited sources for care that were available before the new law, including community health centers, which did at least get some new funding, thanks to the ACA.

For the millions who are eligible to buy insurance in the Marketplaces, I worry that women, women of color, and LGBT folks might not get the information they need to make informed decisions about plans that will meet their health care needs. These are constituencies that historically have been ignored and marginalized and, in the South and other rural states (like Montana), often face additional access challenges. To make sure they do get the necessary information, there will have to be outreach that’s specifically designed to overcome these challenges — taking the information directly to these communities — in their homes and by phone — and to places where people from various underserved communities are already coming together — like at community events, festivals, using social media channels where people congregate virtually.

Yet, there isn’t a challenge out there that doesn’t come with great opportunity. The need to do this targeted outreach creates space for organizations big and small to come together for a common goal. And there are some great organizations that are targeting these populations and engaging in outreach in the ways I just mentioned, like RWV, Out2Enroll, Enroll America, along with a slew of local and state-wide organizations. These are the challenges we face, that for one keeps me worried, but it’s also motivating to know there is a lot collaborative work being done.

What charge might you issue to women in the South about what we should be doing now?
I would give women in the South a charge of three things to do right now:

  1. If you’re uninsured, get ready to enroll by identifying your health care priorities
  2. Draw on local available help to figure out which health insurance plan fits your budget and meets your needs, and sign up!
  3. Whether you have insurance or not – find formal and informal ways to talk with friends and community members about these exciting changes and share the tools that are available with your networks.

To expand on number one, you really have to think about what is important for you in an insurance plan. Does the plan include the doctor, clinic or hospital that you use? Does it cover your medical needs? Which plan best fits your budget? You can get more information and other thought provoking things to keep in mind in the Choosing a Plan section of the RWV website.

If you have enrollment questions you want to ask to a person, suggests you visit to find help in your area, and you can also contact one of RWV’s Regional Coordinators if we have one in your state. We are always looking to expand our Southern partners, contact me if your organization is interested.

For number three, even if you don’t feel like an expert, remember that the best messenger for these very personal issues is often a person we know. You can use the RWV Fact Sheets to help your friends and family members learn about the changes that are coming, and share the 10 ways to get ready for the Health Insurance Marketplace with anyone you know who doesn’t have insurance!


I’ve heard this phrase many times when describing my current situation.  I’ve just graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with my Masters degrees in Social Work and Maternal and Child Health.  I’m finishing up my internship at the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health, and am in the process of house hunting, job hunting, and moving out of state.  While this time in my life is certainly exciting, it’s also mildly terrifying. 
The job search is currently occupying most of my thoughts.  News outlets have been warning me for years now that my generation will have more trouble gaining employment than any previous generation.  They assure me that my competition is expertly qualified and that there are simply not enough jobs to go around.  If this is true, what does it mean for my job search?   
I’ve been listening to any and all the advice people have to give about getting a job—and there’s a lot of it out there.  I’ve found information that ranges from completely obvious to totally ludicrous.  One website warns interviewees not to show up with a drink in hand because, amongst other things, you could spill your drink on your interviewer. There seems to be a business in this kind of interview-related anxiety. There are books published on how to dress and sit, how much to smile and how to talk about yourself (a recent study shows that people with narcissistic personality disorder are disproportionately hired over those without the diagnosis, so apparently you’re supposed to speak pretty highly of yourself).  I wish I could roll my eyes at all of it, but I understand the worry.  Job interviews are one of the few interactions in which both parties involved openly admit that one is judging the others’ abilities, intelligence, and likability.  If having these tips makes people feel more confident in job interviews, then they’ve done their job.  Many professionals agree that confidence is the most important quality in an interview.
Most people encourage me to network, network, network. So far, this has been pretty successful.  For the most part, people in my field are eager to help in any way they can, especially if we have a personal connection in common.  I’m thrilled to be making connections with professionals that are doing amazing work, but I can’t help but be reminded of how privilege plays into every aspect of our lives, and the job search is no exception. Many of my connections have come through my parents’ friends (or my friends’ parents). Networking within my social network has allowed me access to a unique group of people, many of who are quite successful in their field. It is a constant reminder that becoming successful in this country is so much more complicated than simply “working hard,” it is inextricably linked to do with who you know, and what those people have access to. 
The past few months have felt like a lot of “hurry up and wait.”  Possible future rental properties and employers have told me that I should just wait a bit and be in touch soon.  While waiting patiently has never been my forte, I’m glad to have the opportunity to slow down and enjoy this time of exceptional change. There are certainly lessons to be learned from experiencing and reflecting on this transition and the new situations I’m finding myself in. After all, it’s such an exciting time.
Alisha Wolf, MSW, MPH
Note: Alisha would love to find a job in Baltimore and can start on October 1st – let us know if you have any connections! 
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