SARAH VERBIEST

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

This seismic election has left our natiaudre-lordeon on a spectrum of emotions ranging from anger to jubilation and everywhere in-between. No matter where you might personally fall on the spectrum, let us continue to do the work that this coalition has set out to do together because you matter and the work you do matters!

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Start sign on the road

Accepting messy and the need to apologize sometimes for inadvertent mistakes are better than silence.

No matter how frustrating life was the day before, or how long the night, out of the dark each morning rays of light emerge. Dawn is a cosmic reset button. I’ve always loved the idea of new beginnings – I am a fearless “resolutioner” every January. I start each day with a fresh “to do” list. I believe in second chances. And so, here we are, months after allowing this blog to lay fallow, a post.More Link

switchpoint photoWhen was the last time you attended a conference where you were challenged with new ways of thinking, seeing your work and the world around you? The SwitchPoint conference hosted by IntraHealth recently convened unusual people from many different industries to create social change. I had the opportunity to participate and my head is still spinning (in a good way). The two day conference included power talks from scientists, artists, activists, engineers, entrepreneurs, gamers, researchers and emerging young global leaders. This was combined with microlab learning opportunities to bring people together to brainstorm as well as a number of impromptu group activities created interesting connections. More Link

Our volunteers help to move forward a lot of our initiatives and activities. Have you noticed our blog upgrades?  The graphics, social media sharing capabilities, and the addition of widgets to display videos and showcase the latest newsletter were all made possible by the volunteer work of Megan Fazekas-King. Here is what she had to say about her experience:

Megan Fazekas-KingVolunteering with Every Woman Southeast has been a great way to stay connected to the maternal and infant health field while I pursue other career opportunities. It remains a passion of mine and it’s important that I stay involved with it on some level. I chose to work for this initiative because I have been involved with it from the very beginning. I’ve watched the coalition grow, and believe strongly in its mission of building and sustaining an equity-focused, life course approach to women’s wellness.

As a communications professional and marketer, I bring a different perspective to the work while still maintaining a solid understanding of the subject matter. I believe that this perspective is often overlooked when it comes to promoting public health initiatives. I think of Every Woman Southeast as being an incredibly forward-thinking coalition and it’s important that its messages are portrayed on media in a way that reflects that.

I’m also grateful to Sarah Verbiest for giving me the opportunity to work with her on this project. She’s an encouraging leader and friend. It’s not only been great working with her and the rest of the EWSE team, but it has also been a rewarding experience that I have learned a lot from.

Megan Fazekas-King currently does freelance work for public health programs and nonprofits. Click here to review her profile and exceptional work. 

SarahDownsRecently, my fellow graduate interns and I had the opportunity to participate in the March of Dimes 2014 Lobby Day at the North Carolina Statehouse. As volunteers, our mission was to visit lawmakers in their offices and garner support for funding of the You Quit Two Quit program, an evidence-based program that focuses on tobacco cessation among pregnant women by providing support for women, and training for healthcare providers; and for maintained funding of the Healthy Baby Bundle of programs aimed at reducing infant mortality in North Carolina, including the NC Folic Acid and Preconception Health Campaign, Safe Sleep, and the East Carolina University high risk maternity clinic. All of these programs have been recommended and endorsed by the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force as important initiatives to reduce the rate of infantAdvocacy Day mortality in North Carolina, which is among the highest in the nation.

When we arrived in the morning, dressed in purple to indicate our support for March of Dimes, we met the people we would be working with that day. We were given packets with the names of the legislators we were assigned to drop in on, and talking points for each of the programs for which we were going to be advocating funding. Afterwards, we were briefed by several individuals from the March of Dimes, including Tiffany Gladney, the Communication Coordinator, and the coordinator of Lobby Day, and Peg O’Connell, the North Carolina Chapter Advocacy and Government Affairs Consultant. They reviewed the talking points with us and answered all of our questions. We then broke into small groups, and began our visits with the legislators.

In all, my fellow graduate interns and I dropped in on 8 senators and representatives, including Senator Josh Stein, Senator Mike Woodard, Representative Susan Fisher, Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield, Representative Susan Martin, Senator Don Davis, Senator Louis Pate Jr., and Senator Ronald Rabin. Throughout the day, we benefited from the expert advice and guidance provided by the leaders of our teams, Catherine Heindselman, Director, Eastern Carolina Division of the North Carolina Chapter of the March of Dimes, and Gwen Carmon, the National Director of Volunteer Diversity and Development at March of Dimes.

Lobby day attendees at briefingOccasionally, we were able to speak directly with the lawmakers, though in most cases, we spoke with an aide, and left materials for the senator or representative. When speaking to representatives and aides, we emphasized the importance of funding these programs for the reduction of infant mortality, and improving the lives of mothers and babies in the state of North Carolina. All of the lawmakers and aides expressed support for the March of Dimes, and were eager to learn more about the programs for which we were advocating funding.

At the end of each meeting, we took pictures with the Senator or Representative with which we met, and invited them to enjoy apple pie with us in the courtyard. Unsurprisingly, this was a big hit, and many people joined us for “Mom and Apple Pie”. This gave us an additional opportunity to speak with lawmakers and their staff about why the funding for these programs is so essential, and how it can save not only healthcare costs, but also the lives of so many North Carolina infants who die in the first year of birth.

3interns.AdvocacyDayBy the end of the day I was struck both by the astounding bipartisan support of March of Dimes we encountered, which I found particularly surprising and refreshing in this time of partisan division, and by the importance of talking directly to our representatives about those issues we find worth speaking up for. This was my first experience lobbying lawmakers, and while it seemed intimidating at first, it was the ideal introduction. The event was well organized, and a lot of effort was put forth to make sure that all of us volunteers were prepared for our meetings with legislators, and felt confident in our ability to advocate for the issues we feel strongly about. The cause of reducing infant mortality is certainly worth standing up for, and I felt confident representing March of Dimes, a well-respected organization with a 76-year history of improving the health and lives of mothers and children, from defeating polio to reducing infant mortality.

While I have always been interested in the political process, this was the first time that I involved myself in the process so directly, and it reminded me that the only way a democracy can truly function is if its citizens get involved.

Sarah Downs is a graduate intern at the Center for Maternal and Infant Health. She is currently attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gillings School of Global Public Health, and majoring in Health Behavior.

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

Last week myself and several other Every Woman Southeast leadership team members had the opportunity to attend an Infant Mortality Summit in New Orleans. The meeting was sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in collaboration with the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the March of Dimes. The meeting was specifically for states in the Department of Health and Human Services Regions IV and VI – 16 states that have historically had among the worst rates of infant mortality in the nation. The objectives for the meeting were ambitious and included to understand strategies to improve birth outcomes; create synergy among State Health Officials, MCH Directors, Medicaid and State partners; identify clear strategies and outcomes for each state (completed by state teams); investigate a common strategy for the states in the region; and create a unified message that builds on best practices. From the North Carolina perspective, I thought that the meeting went very well. I feel very hopeful that this may well be the significant push many of us have been waiting for to finally shine the light on infant mortality and move forward with some new energy and innovation. I’ll post the proceedings on our website as soon as they become available.

And on a side note, I must say that I had a chance to taste my first Beignets at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter. All I can say is “YUM”. We Southerners may have our challenges but we also have some great food!

For the past few weeks the Every Woman Southeast Coalition’s leadership team has been working to finalize its goals, logic model and action plan. As we’ve thought deeply about what needs to happen in the Southeast to truly improve the health of mothers and babies, we agree that change will only come when we take on the hard issues. These include the social determinants of health, policy issues that impact our communities, leadership development, and racism. That’s enough to make your head swim!

But doing the business the way we always have doesn’t cut it – especially in these difficult times. The Life Course Model is a new paradigm in the field of maternal and child health that has the potential to change our practice. This model offers a new way of looking at health, not as disconnected stages (infancy, latency, adolescence, childbearing years, menopause and beyond) unrelated to each other, but as an integrated continuum. This perspective suggests that a complex interplay of biological, behavioral, psychological, social and environmental factors contribute to health outcomes across the course of a person’s life (thank you to Drs Pies, Kotelchuck, Lu and Ms Parthasarathy for the quote).

We want to figure out how to put this model into practice – here at home. Want to learn more? Check out the MCH Lifecourse Toolkit website from CityMatCH. They have excellent resources! We’ll be posting our plan just as soon as its done – we’ll be sure to let you know!

Thank you to Team Alabama for inviting me to talk about the Every Woman Southeast Coalition at their annual Perinatal Symposium in Birmingham last week. While thunderstorms kept me in the Charlotte, NC airport longer than I liked, the weather in Alabama was beautiful! At the Symposium, I was honored to follow a fantastic presentation from Rose Horton, President-Elect of AWOHNN. The presentation was the first I’ve given about EWSE since we decided to push our boundaries and commit to addressing health inequities and the social determinants of health. I think it went over pretty well. The slides are posted on our website.

I also got a glimpse at Albama’s fantastic preconception health campaign called GALS – Get a Healthy Life. Here is a link for more information http//www.adph.org/familyplanning. Seriously – a public education campaign that features shoes – fun and great information.

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