Guest Post: Finding a voice with the Community Action Network

Aug 15, 2017  •   Written by Erin Addington   •  no comments

Marisol RodriguezMarisol Rodriguez is a member of the Magnolia Project’s Community Action Network (CAN). The CAN brings together partners and residents in the community to address and impact health disparities. CAN’s goal is to assess and mobilize current stakeholders in the community, as well as recruit new partners to work alongside community residents. Marisol became involved through her residence at Oakland Terrace and shares her story. 

As a young woman, a mother of five small children and now a wife to a loving husband, you do everything to be the best you can be to protect, educate, be a reflection, as well as learn.

Growing up, I didn’t have much nor had anyone to turn to because my family had given me up to the foster care system. It’s been a rocky road from there, not having much guidance or that mentor to help in situations when your back is up against the wall. I grew to think everyone and everything was against me. I know that wasn’t the case, but imagine going from being in a home with people you think love you, to a group home with people you barely even know. I grew weary, discouraged, even gave up many times, but God didn’t give up on me.

In 2009, I began to have children of my own. I managed to complete high school, continue my education in the medical field and began to become actively involved in the community. In 2010, I experienced domestic violence in my past relationship. I was only 19 years old.  I had my own place, two jobs, school and had to be a mother all at the same time. Going through domestic violence brought that the fear I had let go of when I had my first child. Friends you thought were friends, families turning their backs — it makes you afraid to speak up, yet alone crying out for help. This was the time I felt I had nothing or nobody.

Somehow, I managed to get through it. I admitted myself into a protective shelter and changed my whole lifestyle again — not only for my protection but for my children. I began to have instincts to do what was best for my children. I started to close myself in a hole, due to not being able to trust anyone, being alone in a situation like that. In 2011, God blessed me. He brought a young man and his family into mine and my children’s life. He had no children of his own, yet he and his family took us in as their own and nurtured and showed us that there is still love. They provided what I couldn’t provide for myself and children. This young man is now my husband whom I have a beautiful baby girl with. Because I felt life was beginning to make sense again, I named her Harmoni and she is everything I had left to give. My children are one of the reasons I kept striving and wanting to do better.

In 2016, me and my husband had decided we wanted better for us and the children, so we decided to move from Miami to Jacksonville. As all moves, its started off good then it hits you again — life reminds you all isn’t what it seems. We moved up here and were able to both get jobs. We were living in an extended stay hotel that cheated us out of everything we had and kicked us out when we did try to contact the corporate office, which led to homelessness. Imagine being homeless in an area you’re not from, not wanting to turn back and run from your problems.

Again, God has helped us manage to get by. We were able to get into the shelter, which led to us getting a place to live at Oakland Terrace just two weeks after we were accepted into the shelter. As I stated before, when there is good, there is always bad following around. We ended up getting approved and moving in we were grateful and still are. But all isn’t what it seems. We ended up having multiple complications in our place, from things not being fixed to everything falling apart as we began to live in our unit. This led to me having to research and really use my voice to speak. Nothing got anyone’s attention at that moment.

This also led to me meeting Community Action Network (CAN) Coordinator Vanessa Jefferson. I remember this day like it was yesterday — I was really upset because I felt no one was trying to help in any way. I met her and she had this wonderful spirit. Everything she spoke about just motivated me to keep trying and pushing. She explained don’t give up — use wisdom, be patient. Once I accepted her encouraging words, everything started to fall into place and now I use these same words to still help me continue my journey.

This led me to join the CAN. I was so excited to be invited to my first meeting with women who could relate to my situation. There were so many different stories that I could relate to. Hearing these women speak about themselves and how they managed to conquer and be where they are today took a great toll on myself. I wanted to be just like them. The CAN has helped me increase my voice with wisdom. I’ve learned with every situation, there is always a learning experience

Knowing their mission is to assist families with gaining access to information, as well as resources such as food banks, involvement in the community etc., the CAN has helped me be strong emotionally, physically and mentally. I never thought how much using your voice could help and I’m absolutely grateful. I have a family that supports me 100 percent. They provide guidance and reassurance. Being part of the CAN has helped me take on situations with wisdom, with patience, even with love, but also be strong even though there may be let downs or criticism. Myself, my husband and children would like to say thank you very much for this opportunity to express how the CAN has encouraged us to increase not only my voice but my husband and children as well.

Fatherhood PRIDE hosts Back to School event for community

Aug 14, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

Parents and students received support and education to prepare for the new school year at IMG_0996Fatherhood PRIDE’s Back to School event on August 12. Fatherhood PRIDE, an initiative of the Healthy Start Coalition, works with local fathers to help them best engage with their children to ensure all babies are born healthy and reach their first birthday.

Hosted at Platinum Cutts Barbershop, students who attended the event were given backpacks filled with essentials for the first day, discounted haircuts and the encouragement to have a great and successful school year.

IMG_0901Community partners from UF Health Jacksonville, Legal Shield and the Women’s Center were in attendance and passed out information about their programs to provide additional support to families. Healthy Families Jacksonville and Healthy Start, both initiatives of the Coalition, were also in attendance.

Fathers play a pivotal part in a child’s development. The Coalition’s Fatherhood PRIDE program works to keep fathers in Northeast Florida engaged, present and accounted for so their children survive and thrive.

Coalition receives grant to reduce rate of substance-exposed newborns

  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  1 comment

The Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition was awarded a three-year grant from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (HHS OWH) to reduce the alarming rate of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a condition experienced by neonates exposed to opioid prescription or illicit drugs during the prenatal period. The grant will be managed by a prevention director at the Azalea Project, an initiative of the Coalition focused on substance-misusing women.shutterstock_32776084

With this new grant, the Coalition will provide primary prevention education workshops to health
consumers and health providers in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties on topics such as recognizing the signs of substance abuse, resource education, an overview of the opioid epidemic and proper disposal of prescription drugs. High-risk consumer groups will be targeted, including women with a history of domestic violence, adults who didn’t finish high school, faith-based organizations and college-aged young adults. Additionally, health care providers and their staff will be trained on Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), an evidence based tool, that aims to increase the screening of women for substance use prior to pregnancy

The Coalition will also establish a new partnership with Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) Health Systems to train a cohort of 60 peers (20 per grant year) as Certified Recovery Peer Specialists.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2002 and 2013, heroin use among women increased by 100 percent nationally. A March 2015 report released by the Florida Department of Health shows that Northeast Florida has high rates of infants born with NAS. Nassau (#5), Baker (#7) and Clay (#10) counties all ranked in the top 10 counties with the highest rates in the state, 145-187 percent higher than the state rate. Duval County has the highest number of babies born with NAS than any other county at 450 babies.

The Coalition, which has a long history of addressing substance use in women, was one of 16 projects selected for funding across the country. In 2003, the Coalition launched the Azalea Project in a storefront in Jacksonville’s Springfield neighborhood to reduce risk-taking behavior in substance abusing pregnant and parenting women. The project works to break the cycle of substance use and other at-risk behaviors by providing outreach and intensive case management services. The OWH grant will allow Azalea to expand into primary prevention and support the efforts of the Coalition’s Substance-exposed Newborn Task Force.


Breastfeeding: Get the support you need to continue

Aug 8, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 9.45.48 AMAs World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) 2017 comes to an end, the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition supports the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other organizations that babies should be breastfed exclusively for six months and continue breastfeeding for the first year of life and beyond.

World Breastfeeding Week is organized by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. The WBW 2017 theme was Sustaining Breastfeeding Together. While breastfeeding can sometimes be a challenge, mothers can be successful with support and encouragement. Coalition Breastfeeding Outreach Coordinator Denise Mills, provides breastfeeding classes in the community and encourages mothers to set goals each month and try to reach them. The next month they should set new goals and grow from there.IMG_2152

Both baby and mother gain many benefits from breast feeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Breastmilk is easy to digest and contains antibodies that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections. A baby’s risk of becoming an overweight child declines with each month of breastfeeding. Women who breastfeed may have lower rates of ovarian cancer and certain types of breast cancer. It also allows mother more time to bond with baby.

Mothers may experience latch issues, engorgement or concerns about your milk output concerns. Mothers can find support and resources at their delivering hospital, their local WIC office, the La Leche League — Northeast Florida, the National Breastfeeding Helpline at 1.800.994.9662 and online resources like and For mothers living in Northeast Florida, the Coalition hosts weekly community breastfeeding support groups at several locations throughout Jacksonville:

  • Tuesdays from 11:30 am until 1:00 pm at the Azalea Project
  • Wednesdays at UF Health from 1:00 pm until 2:00 pm

Denise Mills can be reached at or 904.723.5422 x 127

Fatherhood PRIDE: Keeping dad in the game for success

Aug 2, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

Fathers play a pivotal part in a child’s development. New evidence shows that children with early father involvement are more likely to be and stay healthy. The Coalition’s Fatherhood PRIDE program works to keep fathers in Northeast Florida engaged, present and accounted for so their children survive and thrive.iStock_000016287227Large

An active male role in the early stages of babies’ development produced better performance in cognitive test by the age of two according to a new study by research teams from Oxford University, King’s College and College London. Dads have a more stimulating and rigorous style of encouragement, which in return leads to a child exploring more on their own and in return could lead to quicker cognitive development.

There has been a proven positive link between involved fathers and higher test scores, whether the child was a boy or girl, according to the study. The Fatherhood PRIDE program works to get fathers involved with their children during pregnancy. The program offers a Boot Camp for New Dads course that prepares new fathers to take care of a baby. Dads-to-be learn from dads who have successfully Love you, Dadtransitioned into fatherhood. Other courses offered include 24/7 Dad, Inside Out Dad and Mom as Gateway. Fatherhood PRIDE also works with dads to help them find employment, further their education, understand how to manage their finances and much more.

The role that a father plays in their children’s lives is important. If you know a father that could benefit from Fatherhood PRIDE services, please fill out the referral form and enroll today. Fathers can also refer themselves by completing this form.