Healthy Start Celebrates 25 Years of Creating Community Leaders

Posted October 04, 2016 by Rachael Ruffin

Woman At Podium
Parents should be empowered to be community leaders who can present new information for others.
The role of leaders is not to get other people to follow them but to empower others to lead. – Bill George, Harvard Business School, former CEO of Medtronic

For 25 years, the National Healthy Start Association (NHSA) has served as a leading voice in support of government policies and programs that serve pregnant women, babies, and families in vulnerable communities. NHSA works diligently to ensure optimal birth outcomes and elimination of disparities advocating for community-based services, such as outreach, home visitation, care coordination, health education, health and depression screening, and paternal engagement programs.

NHSA and Healthy Start programs across the nation take pride in their one of a kind approach to serving and working with communities. At first glance, Healthy Start may appear to be no different than other home visiting models or community-based interventions in maternal and child health. But what sets Healthy Start apart is the way it partners with its consumers – Healthy Start families who represent the strength and resilience in their communities. 

Connecting Community Members and National Leaders
Each year, NHSA hosts an annual conference on Capitol Hill to provide participants news about innovations, research and challenges relevant to Healthy Start. Healthy Start families share their stories to convey the need for and success of Healthy Start programs, and also meet with their Congressional representatives to detail challenges and solutions in their communities to gather additional support for the program. 

These consumers are the people who are best equipped to tell their stories. No one can provide more insight into events in our communities and how the programs work than the participants themselves. Acting as champions for their communities is a great responsibility, but it’s an important step in putting on our participants on the path to becoming leaders who can improve community health. 

From Community Member to Community Leader
Learning and sharing information in Healthy Start programs are not annual events. As Healthy Start families learn new information from their programs, they’re empowered to share lessons with family members, friends and their broader communities. A mom who has mastered breastfeeding might teach other new moms in their breastfeeding experience. A dad who has learned about bonding with babies could mentor young men as they become fathers. A family who has benefited from the program can become spokespeople, supporters and promoters for Healthy Start. In short, students become the teachers; followers are encouraged to become leaders.

NHSA and Healthy Start programs across the nation take pride in their one of a kind approach to serving and working with communities. Healthy Start uses home visiting models or community-based interventions for maternal and child health, but then sets itself apart by truly partnering with its consumers – Healthy Start families who represent the strength and resilience in their communities. 

Healthy Start staff members connect participants and communities by staffing project sites; serving as mentors; equipping clients with the tools needed to thrive in their communities; and empowering mothers, fathers and families. Healthy Start members go even further to empower everyone to take the lead in advocating for rights, for equity, and for optimal health for themselves, their families and communities. 

In its 25th year, Healthy Start celebrates the success it has in empowering women, men and families across the country to go from community members to true leaders who can advocate for changes they want to see to improve the health of their community.

Rachael Ruffin, MSPH, is a former NHSA program manager, who specializes in population and community-based health programs. 

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