Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.
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Smiling Mother Playing With Baby Son At Home

Black women and their babies have suffered centuries of injustice. Black women’s voices are co-opted, but not heard. Change must happen.

Facts are facts, Black women living in the South face historic, ongoing challenges to their health and wellbeing. While we can argue that all women in the South could have better health outcomes, the reality is that Black women and their babies have suffered centuries of neglect and injustice. Further, Black women’s voices are often co-opted, paraphrased, summarized but not heard. There are insightful and important solutions, strategies, and stories out there that most of us never take the time to hear. Change must happen.More Link

IndianWomenLogoInterpersonal communication aka face-to-face contact is quickly being replaced by all forms of social media contact, but the fact is that it is not the same. People are opting to text, Tweet, Facebook, instant message, email, blog or any other option rather than face-to-face interaction. Some say it’s simply because it’s convenient and so much quicker. The truth is; it’s a cop-out for when you really don’t want to hear ALL that the other person has to say. In our minds, we have no time for real communication. People of our society are choosing to become passersby or observers only of the many needs of our world with no real ties or commitment to anyone for anything. We mistakenly believe this lack of interaction will lessen our stress because we don’t have to deal with the problems of other people. Actually, even the historically sacred “family meal time” is now competing with smart phones, lap tops, notepads and other electronics; in addition to videos games and television from prior generations. Where will this all end?

IndianWomenblogpic3On Friday, September 19, 2014, a group of concerned American Indian Women held the 8th Annual Conference for American Indian Women of Proud Nations at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The theme of the conference was “Intergenerational Conversations: Sharing Our Stories to Encourage Healing”. The 2014 conference featured sessions on the Jim Crow South, Historical Trauma and The Waccamaw Siouan Women’s Talking Circle, which featured outcomes from recent community dialogue in the Waccamaw Siouan community. Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs and several UNC Pembroke students presented a session on the Jim Crow South. Committee members believed this year’s conference focused on building bridges between generations. Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, who serves on the conference planning committee stated, “In years past, some of our younger participants said at the conference, they never had an opportunity to hear about the Jim Crow experience of their elders. That time frame had a dramatic effect on Native communities throughout the southeast. This year, we began a process to share with younger participants about those troubling years as well as the lessons learned by our elders.”

IndianWomenblogpic1Two types of Native communication exercises were successfully demonstrated; a fishbowl and a talking circle. Each is useful in different ways. Fishbowling information is useful to share information and perspectives of members of one group with those of another. The instructions below will assist in your construction of a fishbowling exercise.

  • Step1: When all groups have concluded their research or read a selected article they are ready to share their findings. This can be done by using a fishbowl exercise, with one group forming an ‘inner circle’ where they discuss their findings with each other, while another forms an ‘outer circle’, with their backs towards the inner circle, and listens and records the discussions of the first group. The rule is that those in the outer circle can only listen, and cannot contribute to the discussion in the inner circle.
  • Step 2: When the inner circle discussions have ended, the groups swap, so that the inner circle becomes the outer, and vice versa. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until all groups have heard from one another.

IndianWomenblogpic2Talking, sharing and healing circles are useful when the topic under consideration has no right or wrong answer, or when people need to share feelings. Moral or ethical issues can often be dealt with in this way without offending anyone. The purpose of talking circles is to create a safe environment for people to share their point of view and experiences with others. This process helps people gain a sense of trust in each other. They come to believe that what they say will be listened to and accepted without criticism. They also gain an appreciation for points of view other than their own. During the circle time, people are free to respond however they want as long as they follow these guidelines. All comments should be addressed directly to the question or issue, not to comments that another participant has made. Both negative and positive comments about what anyone else in the circle says should be avoided. Just say what you want to say in a positive manner. Speak from the heart. Click here for more information on the Guidelines for Talking, Healing, and Sharing Circles and Principles of Consultation.

Overall this was an inspiring and affirming conference that facilitated intergenerational transfer of Native ways from Lumbee elders and knowledge to younger generations in a very real and unique way. I guess, what is glaringly apparent is that healing tends to happen when there is true and meaningful dialogue that is delivered via face-to-face or interpersonal communication. Let’s not give up on any real genuine chances of healing that still remain for humanity! We need all the healing we can muster!

Veronica Kay Freeman (Coharie and Waccamaw Siouan) is the Co-Chair of the Conference for American Indian Women of Proud Nations Planning Committee, the Community Intervention Supervisor for the Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Inc., and a member of the Every Woman Southeast Coalition Leadership Team

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 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

One of our featured leaders from Alabama is Janice M. Smiley, MSN, RN, Director of the State Perinatal Program at the Alabama Department of Public Health. She took some time to talk about the Perinatal Program and to discuss some challenges and opportunities she faces in Alabama.

How long have you been in your current position? 

I have been with the Alabama Department of Public Health for 16 years. However, I have been in my current position, the Director of the State Perinatal Program, since July 2007. The mission of the State Perinatal Program is to identify and recommend strategies that will effectively decrease infant mortality and morbidity.

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work? 

The favorite part of my job is educating and raising awareness of healthy lifestyle behaviors and their correlation to overall health and well-being. I enjoy talking with men and women men informing them that the choices they make today may play a role in their future and the future of their children, encouraging them to plan their lives and not let life just happen. I get excited when “the light goes on” they understand and began to consider some of their choices and make decisions to change their behaviors and/or to engage in better behaviors. Also, I particularly want to help them understand their family medical history and the potential of those conditions to impact their future health.

What is your biggest challenge? 

Not enough time to devote to the many tasks that are important and need my attention.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast? 

I am involved because I believe that preconception and interconception health are the areas where we need to focus our attention if we are to improve the perinatal health of our nation and thus the infant mortality rate. One contributing factor to infant mortality and poor birth outcomes in Alabama is the health of the mother before and between pregnancies. The women of Region IV face many of the same problems and issues related to women’s health and wellness. Within Every Woman Southeast there are many experts, people with vast knowledge, programs, as well as projects that are going on within other states that we could learn from to improve the health of women. Every Woman Southeast provides an atmosphere for sharing and disseminating information about successful projects, lessons learned from programs, and proven strategies. Thus Every WomanSoutheast creates an environment to help each state, not reinvent the wheel, but identify and implement strategies to improve the health of women, infants, and families in the southeast.

If you had a million dollars what would you do with it? 

Provide healthcare and education to men and women with chronic conditions who want to improve their lives and health. Provide coaches for families of low social economic status to help them improve their lives and the lives of their children.

Anything else you’d like to say? 

Thank you to Sarah and her team. It is truly a pleasure to work with and learn from all the members of Every Woman Southeast.

D’Ann Somerall, DNP, FNP-BC, Division Manager and Family Nurse Practitioner Program Manager at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing also took the time to talk to us about her work in Alabama and she was happy to answer our featured interview questions for Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position? 

I have taught at the School of Nursing for 10 years, but only in this role for one month. 🙂

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work? 

I love working with students. The Family Nurse Practitioner Program program is a distance accessible program meaning that I need to be as creative as possible to provide the learning content in a manner which will stimulate the learning for the student, since the students are physically not in the classroom to draw on the enthusiasm of the instructor.

What is your biggest challenge? 

Catching up on my emails on a daily basis; balancing work, family and fun! (I’m a bit of a workaholic).

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

My initial Master of Science in Nursing lead to an advanced degree as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. I believe a very important role that I have as a Nurse Practitioner, is to teach young women about preconception health – not just when they are ready to conceive, but what to do prior to that day in order to have a health life and a healthy baby. I volunteer with an outreach program in a low income county in Alabama where I present a program to 6th-8th graders on reproductive health and living well now, so that one day they can have healthy babies and they can have healthy lives. Every Woman Southeast is the perfect venue for me to develop connections, learn advanced information and develop partnerships in order to continue to promote preconception health with my graduate students and others.

If you had a million dollars what would you do with it? 

Take all my family members to Hawaii! After a relaxing vacation – start a free clinic for care of patients who pledge to make a change in their health by providing health care, offering pro-health classes, financial support, and babysitting services so mom’s can work!

Anything else you’d like to say?

It has been a joy to serve with this group of fantastic group! Sarah is the most organized person I have ever worked with! Her grad students are awesome!

Our other featured leader from Georgia is Kesha T. Clinkscale, MPA, Director of Program Services at the March of Dimes Georgia Chapter and she’s the Coordinator of the Inter-pregnancy Care-Birth Outcomes Project. She was happy to answer our featured interview questions for Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position?

I joined the March of Dimes as director, Program Services in April, 2012. Prior to accepting this role, I spent the last 14 years serving the nonprofit sector in Georgia in a variety of fundraising, grantmaking and program management positions with organizations such as the American Cancer Society’s National Home Office, American Red Cross Biomedical Services, the Turner Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work?

Listening, learning and leveraging resources in a collaborative environment to affect positive change and advance mission. 

What is your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge is the biggest challenge for all of us: reducing infant mortality.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

I am involved with Every Woman Southeast because –  as a collective body of subject matter experts who are passionate about maternal and child health – I believe we can make a significant and positive impact towards eliminating preventable pre-term births and reducing infant mortality.

If you were to get $1 million what would you do with it?

Establish a micro-finance initiative and invest in small businesses operated by women in the African diaspora. 

One of our featured leaders from Georgia is Anne L. Dunlop, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor & Preventive Medicine Residency Director at the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

How long have you been in your current position?

I have been working as a public health practitioner and researcher in the field of maternal-child child and primary care since finished combined training in Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine in 2002 (ten years!).

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work?

I love designing and delivering interventions to improve women’s health and well-being, particularly for women who otherwise have poor access to health education and behavioral services.  I really love receiving feedback (especially from the individual women but also by analyzing data from groups of women with whom we have worked) that shows that the interventions have made a difference in the lives of women!

What is your biggest challenge?

I think overcoming silos in service delivery, particularly for low-income individuals, is the biggest challenge to achieving improvements in health services and health outcomes for those most in need.   Beyond that, a huge challenge of our work is trying to achieve improved health behaviors among those with few resources or environmental facilitators of positive behavioral change.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

I am involved in Every Woman Southeast to be inspired and motivated by passionate and committed individuals who can teach me new and better ways of accomplishing our shared mission and help me ‘sing the song when I’ve forgotten the words’.

If you were to get $1 million dollars what would you do with it?

I would invest in developing and evaluating ‘resiliency-building’ education for at-risk youth, with the goal of improving their educational and vocational attainment, family life, self-reliance and self-efficacy, and ultimately their life satisfaction and health outcomes.

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