The National WIC Association (NWA) recently held its Annual Education and Networking Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While the conference officially kicked off on Sunday, April 2nd, the Community Partnerships for Healthy Mothers and Children (CPHMC) project team members met for an exciting pre-conference meeting on Saturday, April 1st. The pre-conference started out with a fascinating presentation from Karen Shore at the Food Trust, one of NWA’s national partners on the CPHMC project. Karen spoke about all of the work The Food Trust does to improve the healthy food offerings at a variety of retail markets. Her insights were helpful for the CPHMC local agency representatives who are working on healthy retail in their home communities.
The remainder of the day on Saturday was spent in informal discussions between CPHMC local agency team members about a variety of topics. The Altarum Institute, NWA’s evaluation partner on the CPHMC project, helped to introduce and facilitate one of the networking sessions, and spent some time highlighting some of the remarkable achievements of the CPHMC agencies in attendance. As there are only about six weeks left in the project, this meeting was an opportune time for local agency team members to discuss successes, challenges, and best practices from their projects.
CPHMC team members came together again on Sunday morning for a poster session in which each agency presented a poster highlighting one outstanding aspect of their project. This was an information-packed session in which local agency representatives from around the country (who are not being funded through the CPHMC project) had the opportunity to walk around, read about CPHMC interventions, and interact with the CPHMC local representatives to ask questions and learn more. CPHMC representatives also prepared one-pagers for this event, which summarized all of their selected interventions, so that session attendees could learn about aspects of the projects that weren’t captured in the posters themselves.
During NWA’s Annual Conference, which kicked off Sunday afternoon, the CPHMC had a strong presence. On Sunday afternoon, following the opening general session, Jill Bonczynski, WIC Director for the Tri-County Health Department in Colorado, participated in a concurrent session in which she touched on Tri-County’s efforts to increase WIC participation. Tri-County Health Department is a CPHMC agency, and funds from the CPHMC project have helped to bolster their WIC recruitment and retention efforts. During the same time slot, Sloan Gingg, Grant Coordinator for the San Juan Basin Health Department in Colorado (another CPHMC agency), presented on San Juan Basin’s partnership with Head Start, one of the central efforts of their CPHMC project.
Sloan also made an appearance on Tuesday morning during a general session that highlighted the power of partnerships in the CPHMC project. Amber France from Wood County Health Department in Wisconsin, Susan Gross from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Maryland, and Nanci Jenkins from Panhandle Health District in Idaho joined Sloan for a panel discussion about how each agency leveraged local partnerships to accomplish their project goals. In addition to the panel discussion, Quinney Harris, Senior Program Manager at the National WIC Association, introduced the overall project and touched on major accomplishments, and Linnea Sallack and Loren Bell of the Altarum Institute wrapped up the session by presenting on highlights from their evaluation of the first cohort of local WIC agencies involved in the CPHMC project. This general session was truly outstanding and gave all conference attendees the opportunity to learn about the CPHMC project and understand ways that their agencies can engage in this sort of policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) work.
Later that morning, Glencora Gudger, Community Partnership Coordinator for the Richmond City Health District, participated in a panel in which she discussed how the Richmond City Health District, a Cohort 1 CPHMC agency, has worked to improve breastfeeding rates in Richmond. In order to improve community partner knowledge of WIC breastfeeding services, increase referrals to WIC for breastfeeding support and develop unified breastfeeding messaging, Richmond City WIC developed a three-prong approach which entailed 1) delivering WIC 101 presentations to over 50 community partners 2) cohosting a citywide breastfeeding symposium to implement a singular, train-the-trainer breastfeeding curriculum and 3) implementing this curriculum at a number of community organizations.
During the same time slot, Sina Gallo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University, gave a presentation about infant Vitamin D supplementation based on a study being conducted that aims to describe the Vitamin D supplementation practices of local mothers participating in WIC. Dr. Gallo has been a partner in Loudoun County Health Department’s CPHMC project, particularly on their breastfeeding interventions. Another Loudoun County partner, Amara Channell Doig, also of George Mason University, presented earlier in the conference about addressing breastfeeding disparities.
To wrap up the day on Tuesday, NWA presented its NWA Leadership Awards to six individuals who have shown outstanding WIC leadership within the last year. Three of the six award recipients are connected with the CPHMC project! First, Jill Bonczynski, who was mentioned earlier, was presented with a WIC Leadership Award for her innovative and dedicated leadership at the Tri-County Health Department in Colorado. Jill was deserving of this award for a number of reasons: She successfully oversees 10 grants and manages two other funding sources which provide evidence-based education and resources to focus on obesity prevention, access to healthy foods, care coordination linkages and co-location of services; she has worked to integrate and co-locate the WIC program into primary care provider offices; and she instituted a yearly WIC Educator Planning Day, among other accomplishments.
Second, Gordie Moeller, a food security advocate in West Michigan, was presented with the Friend of WIC Award. Gordie has recently volunteered and served as a coalition member with District Health Department #10, a CPHMC agency, in their efforts to improve access to healthy foods in Lake and Oceana Counties. Since retiring in 2006, after 40 years of working as a social worker, Gordie has voluntarily worked on food security issues all over west Michigan. His work has included connecting people to WIC and other food benefits through a Community Resource Guide in West Michigan and connecting farmers and markets to business and grant opportunities, including WIC, DOUBLE UP, and Project Fresh.
Third and finally, Kate Noon, Founder, Virginia Alliance for Breastfeeding Laws, was presented with an NWA Advocacy Award for her efforts to help pass the 2015 Virginia Right to Breastfeed law. Kate has collaborated with CPHMC project staff at the Richmond City Health District to help make breastfeeding more accessible in the city of Richmond.
Overall, the Annual Conference was a resounding success, and the national CPHMC staff at NWA are thrilled that the Community Partnerships project had such a strong presence at the conference. More and more WIC state and local staff are learning about the power of partnerships and the need for WIC to step outside of the clinic walls to improve community health!