SARAH VERBIEST

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

I have been serving as Program Director in my current position for the Duval County Health Department’s Family Planning Program, for the past eight years. I was given an opportunity to come to the health department to work for a new community outreach program in Jacksonville, Florida, after working for a national Healthy Families / Healthy Start Initiative in Cleveland, Ohio. The opportunity to move to a warmer environment was also an incentive!
In my new job I am most excited about using an effective intervention model known as the Popular Opinion Leader that teaches young people, between the ages of 18-24, to engage their friends and colleagues in conversations around reproductive life planning. This enables them to build upon their conversation and communication skills in everyday settings, which also improves upon their leadership skills as they plan for their future. I am also thrilled about involving males in this process, as they are an important part of addressing this issue and play a key role in the prevention and education effort. It is exciting to take an innovative idea that we first tried within a small community setting and expand it throughout the city!
I find that one of our biggest challenges is that the population we serve does not necessarily take the time to “plan” their families. They come from communities where they face many obstacles and day-to-day challenges. Many of them reside in impoverished areas and oftentimes their decision about preconception health takes a back seat to other issues in their lives. In fact, oftentimes, the health of these communities is dependent upon many other different factors, including the quality of health care, individual behavior, education and jobs, and the environment. So, we find that we must tap into other resources with our community partners to engage them in our efforts around preconception / reproductive life planning. This is where our faith-based organizations are a plus, while at the same time, we try to get everyone focused on the goal at-hand.

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