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.

Magnolia Project hosts federal Healthy Start regional meeting

Aug 1, 2017  •   Written by Erin Addington   •  no comments

IMG_0308The Magnolia Project hosted the Georgia and Florida federal Healthy Start grantees at a two-day regional meeting July 24th-25th, which provided an opportunity for the regional grantees to come together for strategizing, skill building and information sharing that will enhance their programs.

The meeting was organized by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) Division of Healthy Start and Perinatal Services (DHSPS). Topics covered include Healthy Start priorities; coordinated intake and referral in Florida; sustainability planning; strengthening evaluations; quality improvement; prescription drug use during pregnancy and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; and other relevant topics.

IMG_0284Grantees left the meeting with updates and reviews of the Healthy Start standardized screening tools, national evaluation information and other important division updates like ongoing activities and new initiatives.

Magnolia, an initiative of the Coalition and federal Healthy Start initiative since 1999, works to improve the health and well-being of women during their childbearing years by empowering communities to address medical, behavioral, and cultural and social service needs.

Open Position: Azalea Project Prevention Director

Jul 31, 2017  •   Written by Erin Addington   •  no comments

The Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition is accepting applications for a Prevention Director with the Azalea Project.

The prevention director is responsible for the planning, coordination, implementation and evaluation of Azalea Project primary prevention education activities targeting community health consumers and healthcare providers in five counties in Northeast Florida (Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns) to reduce the number of babies born exposed to prescription opioids, heroin, fentanyl and other substances. Click here for the full job description.

Resumes and cover letters should be e-mailed to

Make a Difference! Leadership Academy Spring 2017 class graduates

Jul 21, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

Six participants graduated as part of the Spring 2017 Make a Difference! Leadership Academy on June 8, the eighth class to finish the grassroots IMG_3944program, an initiative of the Magnolia Project and the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition.

The goal of the Leadership Academy is to support the efforts of local residents to make changes in neighborhood factors that contribute to disparities in health and birth outcomes. The Academy trains individuals and assists them in the development of a Community Action Plan that outlines a specific project to move a community to action.

The graduating class participated in and completed several community projects. One of the biggest accomplishments the group celebrated was creating a safe bus stop for children living in the Blodgett Homes apartment complex. The group spent several hours advocating at city official offices to have the unsafe bus stop be moved from a busy intersection to a vacant grassy area. The new location allows kids to play and roam freely away from passing cars. The group also advocated for a crossing guard to be present to ensure that the children were escorted safely to and from the bus. On June 24, the group participated in their final service project, a neighborhood cleanup for their apartment complex.

Devin Coleman, chairman of the Coalition’s Northeast Florida Fatherhood Task Force, delivered the commencement speech and encouraged the graduating class to keep advocating for what is right.

For more information about the Make a Difference! Leadership Academy, please contact LaRonda Howard at

National Health Corps Florida members complete their 2016-17 term

Jul 17, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

The 2016-17 class of National Health Corps Florida members completed their service term on July 21 and were recognized for their commitment to service and contributions to the community at a Recognition Ceremony on July 13.IMG_0253

Twenty-one members completed the 46-week, 1,700-hour term, providing direct service in various public health-focused nonprofit and government partners in four counties in Northeast Florida, including Baker, Clay, Duval and Nassau counties.

At the ceremony, mentors took the time to reflect on the service the members provided throughout their term.

The 2016-17 sites were: