Three "Generations" of Community Health Workers

Ms. Pinkard, MomsFirst Community Health Worker at Friendly Inn Settlement House, had no idea that she would be working for the program that helped push her forward shortly after graduating from college summa cum laude. Looking at the smile on Ms. Pinkards face, it’s hard to imagine the battle that she faced when expecting her third child. “I was jobless and struggling. It was an unexpected pregnancy; I was in college trying to graduate. I was very sad and depressed about not working and having the resources I needed”, said Pinkard.  When Ms. Pinkard met her Community Health Worker, Mrs. Walker-White of St. Martin de Porres Family Center, she found a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Coming into the program with her was destined, said Pinkard. “I needed the support, I needed the resources. With this pregnancy, I didn’t have the support and someone to motivate me and I was very happy that she was able to do that”, she stated.

In preparation for motherhood, many women have traditionally relied on role models such as older female relatives or someone who seemed like a mother to them, such as a neighbor. These role models would circle around them. The value of caring for one another is evident in the work of Community Health Workers who go the extra mile to support mothers through pregnancy. These women often come from different paths but meet at a pivotal point in their lives.

While their stories may be different, they share a common thread. This thread is unity, sisterhood and perseverance.  Mrs. Walker-White remembers standing alongside Ms. Pinkard when she was expecting. As her Community Health Worker, Mrs. Walker-White was dedicated to making sure she had all of the resources she needed to succeed. “Whatever I gave her, she followed through. She also helped me because she would find resources in the community that were free and tell me to give them to my participants”, said Walker-White.

Mrs. Walker-White knew what it was like to be pregnant and in need of support. She didn’t grow up thinking that she would get pregnant with her first child at 17. Planted in a neighborhood where a helping hand was right next door, she soon discovered family in the community when she needed it the most. “I was just a young girl having a baby. I didn’t know what I was doing. We were in a bad place as far as our family, “she stated.

 Ms. Wynn and Ms. Jackson, both Community Health Workers at Lexington Bell Community Center, helped her survive one of the toughest times in her life.  Ms. Wynn who was once Mrs. Walker-White’s neighbor, reached out to tell her about MomsFirst, which was then called Healthy Family/ Healthy Start.

Candence Pinkard, LaTanisha Walker-White and Deedra Jackson. Ms. Jackson was Mrs. Walker-White's CHW and Mrs. Walker-White was Ms. Pinkard's CHW. As a remarkable testament of the success of the program, all three women are currently MomsFirst CHWs.

Candence Pinkard, LaTanisha Walker-White and Deedra Jackson. Ms. Jackson was Mrs. Walker-White's CHW and Mrs. Walker-White was Ms. Pinkard's CHW. As a remarkable testament of the success of the program, all three women are currently MomsFirst CHWs.

Mrs. Walker-White grew up in Cleveland’s Hough community, the same neighborhood that was once plagued by riots stemming from racial tension in July of 1966. The economic and physical condition of the Hough Neighborhood did not improve after the riots. Some attribute the public’s realization of the social and economic inequities faced by African Americans in Cleveland to the riots.

“Sometimes you can be a victim of your community. You just accepted how it was going to be”, said Walker-White. But due to the support of a caring neighbor and Community Health Workers, she was able to choose a path of her own.

“I was in a youth program and the youth counselor took me to the abortion clinic and tried to make me get an abortion. Ms. Jackson and Ms. Wynn came along and said if that’s not what you want to do, we are going to help you through this and we are going to make sure this baby lives”, she stated. This support helped her have a healthy pregnancy.

Walker-White was also struggling as a high school student and often missed school due to her chronic asthma.  “I got put out of school three times because I turned 18 and they treated me like I had just dropped out”, she said.  Discouraged, Mrs. Walker-White was not going to get a diploma. “Ms. Wynn came home one day and told me she found a school for me”, said Walker. “The one thing that they told me that I still remember today is you can do whatever you want to do. You can achieve whatever goal you want to achieve so keep going no matter what happens, “she stated.

Ms. Jackson remembers Mrs. Walker-White’s story vividly.  She became a shoulder to lean on for many women throughout her 25 years of experience as a Community Health Worker.  “I make it clear to my participants that they can talk to me about anything. It’s confidential, between me and you”, said Jackson.  

Ms. Jackson didn’t know that Ms. Walker would follow in her footsteps. Overjoyed when she saw her at a MomsFirst meeting, she couldn’t help but rejoice.  “I like to see them when they do well, that makes me happy,” said Jackson. “They will come back and tell you they were glad you were in their life. It made me feel good as a person, I did something right”, she said.

 The support that Mrs. Walker-White and Ms. Pinkard received as participants in the program has had a positive impact on their lives, inspiring them to pay it forward now as Community Health Workers.  “It makes me work even harder to help others be successful, if I can do it, you can do it,” said Pinkard.