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.

Aiming for Equity

The human race is impacted by infant mortality in a way that has brought people of all backgrounds together. In this spirit, many dedicated and concerned citizens came together to aim for equity at the 2016 Infant Mortality Summit held at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland on December 5 & 6.

In Ohio, 1005 infants died before their first birthday in 2015, in comparison to 955 in 2014. Ohio’s infant mortality rate is higher than most states and the nation as a whole. Black infants in Ohio continue to die at nearly three times the rate of white infants. Professionals, community leaders, family members and advocates for women and children, gathered at the 2016 Infant Mortality Summit because they want to do something about it. History has shown that when the community gathers together on one accord, they can pave the way for gradual change. The faith of leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is still leaving a mark on the hearts and minds of all people. With the dream still not fully realized, there is still work to do.

All races and socioeconomic groups experience infant death; however, African American babies are dying at a rate much higher than other racial groups even when considering education and socioeconomic status differences. Despite the victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, racial discrimination and oppression has not abated. Modern civil rights movements are still needed to address the daunting inequities that plague the lives of children and families in Cleveland and around the country. A Collective Impact framework is being used to tackle complex social issues like infant mortality.

The success of the MomsFirst Project was displayed via poster in the main hall during the Summit. Women who participate in the MomsFirst program experience better birth outcomes that their counterparts who don't.

The success of the MomsFirst Project was displayed via poster in the main hall during the Summit. Women who participate in the MomsFirst program experience better birth outcomes that their counterparts who don't.

In the fight against infant mortality partnerships are being formed to build healthier neighborhoods and stronger communities where children can grow up safe- without being at risk for health disparities and social injustices. The Cleveland/Cuyahoga Partnership to Improve Birth Outcomes is one partnership that uses community collaboration to address these issues.

The Summit was a place where organizations and individuals alike could highlight their progress and receive encouragement for the road ahead. MomsFirst participant, Rayleenah Saleem, who recently told her breastfeeding success story served as a panelist for the session titled, “Breast for Success is an Intervention that Works: Engaging High-Risk Inner-City Mothers and Fathers/Partners in Breastfeeding Education”, along with MomsFirst Case Manager, Eira Yates. Breast for Success is a culturally competent breastfeeding education program that seeks to address the barriers that many women experience regarding breastfeeding. Breast for Success also has a parallel father-friendly version dedicated to engagement of fathers and partners. Fatherhood matters and many men are also taking a stand to collaborate with organizations that make families stronger.

The Cleveland Regional Perinatal Network, a partner of MomsFirst also presented a poster featuring their successes with connecting women to behavioral health services.

The Cleveland Regional Perinatal Network, a partner of MomsFirst also presented a poster featuring their successes with connecting women to behavioral health services.

The evidence of community collaboration was strong at Ohio’s Infant Mortality Summit as numerous organizations united under the leadership of the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality chaired by Lisa Holloway of the March of Dimes Ohio Chapter and Dr. Arthur R. James of The Ohio State University.

Every family deserves to experience the freedom of equity. How each person defines equity may vary, but we can start by making sure our children live long enough to decide.

To learn more about how to get involved to make an impact right here in Cleveland, visit


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead

National Prematurity Awareness Month

Healthy Cleveland Initiative's Healthy Neighborhoods subcommittee and MomsFirst partnered to talk to moms that have lost a baby due to prematurity.

Premature birth (a birth prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy) is the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. Fortunately, though, premature birth rates are on the decline, affecting roughly 9.6% of births. That number changes when premature birth rates are considered by race. Non-Hispanic black women are more likely than non-Hispanic white women to deliver premature babies. Research suggests that toxic stress, which disproportionately affects black women, is a contributing factor.

The Healthy Neighborhoods subcommittee of the Healthy Cleveland Initiative ( has been exploring the ways in which the social determinants of health (such as poverty, poor quality schools, food insecurity, under or unemployment, racism, etc.) contribute to a person's stress level, and how that stress level can affect a birth outcome.

On November 16th, a representative from the Healthy Neighborhoods committee and a representative from MomsFirst sat down with three women that have been touched by MomsFirst (2 participants and 1 Community Health Worker) that have lost a baby (or in one participant's case, two babies) due to prematurity.

Many of the themes the committee has been discussing for months bubbled to the surface during the 2 hour conversation in which each mom took a turn sharing her story. Those themes will be explored in much more depth at the next committee meeting, with this effort culminating in a public awareness campaign using a mother's voice. What was abundantly clear throughout the discussion was that no mother should have to bury her child and the loss robs the world of what the child could have been.

"Taco", the son of MomsFirst Community Health Worker, Jennifer Jones, who passed away at 10.5 months old after being born 3 months premature.

"Taco", the son of MomsFirst Community Health Worker, Jennifer Jones, who passed away at 10.5 months old after being born 3 months premature.

Pregnant women need support from everyone in the family and community. If you're pregnant, be sure to see a doctor for regular prenatal care and seek help for any issues that might be causing you stress. There is help available, no matter what you're going through. Call 211 if you're unsure where to turn. If you know someone who is pregnant, cook her a healthy meal, offer to babysit if she has other children, drive her to a doctor appointment,  ask her what she needs help with, etc.

Stay tuned for more to come on this topic, especially as the awareness campaign kicks off in 2017. For more information on how to support pregnant women in your area, visit

Every baby born into society is our baby. We share in everything that goes well for them and everything that does not.
— Charlotte Wilen, Infant Health Advocate

Everyone is talking about MomsFirst!

Invest in Children, one of the funders of MomsFirst, recently featured a participant in a success story on their website. Thank you, Invest in Children, for highlighting the important work being done by MomsFirst Community Health Workers everyday.

To read about Paulette and her family, click here.

MomsFirst was also featured in the United Way of Greater Cleveland's blog. Click here to read about the work being done throughout the community to decrease infant mortality.

MomsFirst 2016 Baby Buggy Walk

In honor of National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, MomsFirst hosted the 2016 Baby Buggy Walk at Zelma George Recreation Center. Approximately 200 people were in attendance for educational sessions, skating, a resource fair, lunch and the Baby Buggy Walk. Information on health, breastfeeding and safe sleep was provided, as well as helpful information from a variety of community organizations. A delicious lunch was provided and prizes were raffled off.

MomsFirst Community Health Worker Shenetta Clemis with the son of one of her participants representing the MomsFirst informational table.

MomsFirst Community Health Worker Shenetta Clemis with the son of one of her participants representing the MomsFirst informational table.

Raising awareness about infant mortality is central to the purpose of the event and the work of MomsFirst. T-shirts were provided to all attendees with the hope of serving as a conversation starter about saving our babies and the work of MomsFirst. If you, or someone you know, is pregnant and living in Cleveland, contact MomsFirst (216-664-4194).

The Baby Buggy Walk

The Baby Buggy Walk

Thank you to the Cleveland Kids' Book Bank for providing free books to give away.

Thank you to the Cleveland Kids' Book Bank for providing free books to give away.

A MomsFirst family proudly displaying their Baby Buggy Walk t-shirts.

A MomsFirst family proudly displaying their Baby Buggy Walk t-shirts.

A raffle prize winner

A raffle prize winner

My Universal Medicine and the Support that Changed My Life

In honor of Black Breastfeeding Week (August 25-31), MomsFirst is proud to introduce you to a participant that has gone above and beyond for her daughter.

Rayleenah Saleem is an extraordinary mom.  With a glowing smile, Rayleenah tells the story of how the birth of her daughter changed her life. As a sophomore in high school, Rayleenah found herself pregnant. Faced with the decision keeping her baby, she decided to follow through with the pregnancy even with fear creeping inside her. “It was worth it even though my life would have been easier without her. I was doing a lot of things I wasn’t supposed to do. She changed me for the better. It is a blessing in disguise.” she said.

Not only is Rayleenah a mom, but she also managed to earn her GED, she works from home and has been breastfeeding her 22 month old daughter Noureyah since she was born. After being referred to MomsFirst by a friend, Rayleenah found the benefits of the program to exceed her expectations. Getting one on one support from her Community Health Worker, Jennifer Reuter from MomsFirst's Adolescent Component at the May Dugan Center, has proven to be a wonderful experience.  “I felt very proud of how strong she was and adamant she was when it came to giving her child only breastmilk,” said Reuter.

The relationship that Community Health Workers like Jennifer build with women make it easier for them to open up and feel empowered to take charge of their health. “I tell her things that I feel like she has more experience in. I am definitely trusting of her, I love her.” said Rayleenah.

For many moms, getting the support they need from people they can trust is difficult. The MomsFirst team works hard to build trusting relationships to provide this support. For breastfeeding mothers like Rayleenah this support makes the choice to breastfeed much easier. “I had no other option. I’ve seen my mother and sisters breastfeed. It came naturally. I was breastfed by my mother for two years.” said Rayleenah. Even though Rayleenah was educated by hospital staff about breastfeeding, she still had strong support from her mother. “There is nothing that they could tell me that I didn’t already know. My mother told me everything. She was really my backbone.” she stated.

Breastfeeding is a rewarding experience but it does not come without challenges. Jennifer is proud of Rayleenah for her dedication. “Breastfeeding is a hard challenge for anyone but especially for a teenager trying to balance everything in life with breastfeeding”, said Reuter.  Some challenges moms may encounter include breastfeeding in public, balancing breastfeeding while working, deciding when the time is right to discontinue breastfeeding and practicing self-care.

Noureyah with her mom, Rayleenah

Noureyah with her mom, Rayleenah

A lack of acceptance often makes breastfeeding in public uncomfortable.  Despite some progress, breastfeeding in public is still not completely normalized. “People are going to give you dirty looks. One time a man looked at me like he was disgusted and another time a lady told me there is a place where you can do that, but if my child is hungry, I am feeding her.” said Rayleenah.

Keeping the best interest of Noureyah in mind has helped Rayleenah persevere. She also encourages moms to have a conversation with their baby and set a goal. “You have to tell them. She knows what I am saying when I tell her it’s not going to be too much longer. My goal is to stop breastfeeding by the time she is two”, she stated. Having a strong support system helps make these goals more attainable. When Noureyah was 10 months old, Rayleenah started balancing work and home life.  Rayleenah says although she works from home she still needs a babysitter. She is grateful to have her nephew help out.

While Rayleenah emphasizes that breastfeeding is not for everyone, she believes if the good outweighs the bad, you should go for it. “I definitely know it is the best thing for her.  She is a genius.  She knows her ABCs, she can count, and she knows all of her body parts. At one point she had really bad eczema.  Nothing worked until I put breastmilk on her skin.” she stated. Rayleenah believes more women would choose breastfeeding if they knew more about it and knew it was best for their baby. She said, “Breast milk is a universal medicine”.

These are just some of the benefits that have made breastfeeding a rewarding experience for Rayleenah and Noureyah. Now that Rayleenah has developed a routine, she is making sure to remember that her needs matter too. As a working mom, Rayleenah understands all too well how easy it can be to forget about yourself. “Setting goals for yourself is the key to happiness. Even if it’s just waking up ten minutes earlier so that you can eat, you feel good about yourself when you do it.” said Rayleenah.

Rayleenah wants all moms to remember that their dreams can still come true. In light of this, she has high hopes for her future. Even though motherhood has taken up much of her time, she still has a vision for her life and a positive perspective. Rayleenah says, “In the future, I will still be able to do the things that I want to do. I could go to college and live on campus. I thought about teaching and I love science. Isaac Newton is my idol so I think about majoring in higher education science.”

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”- Isaac Newton.



Welcoming Nursing Moms Back to Work

What better way to welcome a mother back to work than supporting her during her breastfeeding journey? Make mom feel welcomed by reducing the stress that comes with meeting her baby’s needs while working. According to research, mothers are 2.5 times more likely to breastfeed where breastfeeding is protected, promoted and supported. Working mothers have a lot on their plate. Often times they are trying to juggle various responsibilities at once. How can we be sure to support moms in the workplace? One way is to educate ourselves on how the needs of nursing moms can be met in the workplace. Nursing mothers will need a safe place to pump.  Reasonable accommodations can be made  by providing:




Federal law ensures that women have basic accommodations during the working period including reasonable time to express milk during the work day and private space that is not a bathroom.  Since there are many benefits to accommodating nursing mothers, it would be efficient to incorporate breast feeding friendly ideas into workplace policy. Motherhood nurtures many new skills such as organization, time management, the ability to multitask and engineer creative ideas. These are skills that employers value. Supporting nursing mothers can prove to be lucrative for business, producing results such as lower absenteeism rates, higher retention rates, lower healthcare costs and insurance claims, higher productivity and loyalty among workers.

For more information on creating a breastfeeding friendly workplace, visit