Guest Post: Three trimesters at the Coalition

Jul 26, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

15107479_1301651523190104_6145002733163771469_nRejoice Asomugha recently completed the 2016-17 AmeriCorps term with the National Health Corps Florida program, an initiative of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition. She served 1700 hours and 10 ½ months at the Coalition, working with pregnant moms and prenatal care providers to improve birth outcomes. She shares her personal and professional growth and what she learned during her time in the program.

It is hard to believe that July 21st marked the end of my chapter as both a National Health Corps Florida AmeriCorps member and outreach coordinator for the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition. Fortunately for me, the culmination of my experiences have left me with invaluable lessons that I will carry with me beyond the walls of Healthy Start. Throughout my 10 ½ months with the Coalition I have experienced exponential growth, both personally and professionally, while having forged meaningful relationships along the way.

We all know that a full-length pregnancy lasts nine months, separated into three equally important and distinct trimesters, but for the purpose of this post I will stretch each trimester to cover the 10 1/2 month experience I had. With each trimester showcasing my own growth and development.

First Trimester18157068_1465781263443795_1746989385874954679_n

When I first started, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous, confused, and overwhelmed by the amount I did not know how to do yet. As with many people who find themselves in new situations, I was quiet and kept to myself. One of my biggest fears was being asked questions that I did not know how to answer and I found that happening a lot. I was meeting with moms, talking with them about Healthy Start, enrolling them into the program, helping them apply for Medicaid and more.  My little shy self-was trying to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could. One thing I really learned from this period of growth was that most people are willing to help, especially all the Healthy Start people I had at my disposal. All I had to do was ask.

Second Trimester

After getting used to the changes that came with the “first trimester” of my service term, I found myself more confident and comfortable. I became more aware of the challenges that not only those in Jacksonville were facing, but others in our community at large. Serving the underserved and hearing their stories increased what I already believed to be a pretty decent sense of life’s inequities. IMG_0235It became apparent to me that what I was doing probably would not create a major dent in society’s problems, but for those I encountered, could make a noticeable difference. It was during this stage that I truly began to see the importance of all the education, resources and support that Healthy Start aimed to provide to mothers and their families. I began to attach more of an importance to my role as an outreach coordinator, health educator and conduit to assistance that a woman and her family might need.

Third Trimester

Now, the end to anything is always about the strong finish and the same can be said for the last few months of my time as an AmeriCorps member. However, even though finishing strong and meeting goals are important, it is also good to reflect on one’s journey. I did a lot of reflection in this “trimester.” Mostly because I was envisioning what I felt was next for me. I thought back to my different moments interacting with clients, serving the community, and even talking with others about their own aspirations, trying to pinpoint defining moments that would give me reassurance of the revamped life goals I had for myself. And I did.
Each of the struggle moments I had, the conversations, the community service, the exposures to places and people I otherwise would not have known, they all contributed to giving me a well-rounded experience. I am truly grateful that I was led to join this specific program and to have been a part of the Coalition. It was there, just like many of the families that they serve, that I was given the tools to flourish, grow and develop. It was there that I was given the tools to have a Healthy Start.

Fun in the sun: Protecting yourself and baby

Jul 24, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

Photo courtesy of the Bump

Photo courtesy of the Bump

In Northeast Florida, families spend many hours at the beaches, parks and zoo. Protection against the sun’s dangerous rays is important especially if you are pregnant or have young children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids often get sunburned when they are outdoors unprotected for longer than expected. It is important to take precautionary measures when planning a trip out because just a few serious sunburns can increase you and your child’s risk of skin cancer. Sunburns are particularly dangerous for infants because they are prone to burn more easily and have an increased risk of heat stroke.

According to the March of Dimes during pregnancy, an expecting mother’s skin is more sensitive to sunlight which can increase the risk of skin cancer, sun burns and signs of aging. Pregnant women are encouraged to take extra precautions when being out in the sun.

Tips for safe fun in the sun:

Apply sunscreen: Sunscreen can protect the skin from dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays. The CDC recommends using sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA and UVB protection every time your child goes outside. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen is not recommended for infants, especially if they’re under six months old.

Wear a hat: Wearing a hat that shades the face, scalp, ears, and neck gives great protection. Although baseball caps are popular, they do not offer protection to the ears and neck area.

Seek shade: UV rays are the strongest and most harmful during midday. Seeking shade underneath a tree, umbrella, or a pop-up tent can offer protection from the sun. Although shade can offer a form of relief from UV rays, it doesn’t provide full protection.

UPF Clothing: Clothing is the first line of defense against UV rays. A long sleeve shirt with a high neckline can be a great barrier for the skin. The UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is a rating system that measures the UV protection provided by fabric.

Think 20:20: Protect your baby’s eyes from UV rays by putting on a pair of sunglasses that blocks as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.

If your little one will be attending a summer camp or summer daycare, remember to pack these items into their backpack or nursery bag.

For more information about sun safety and to find more helpful hints, visit the CDC’s website.

Education and support: Key essentials for successful breastfeeding

Jul 12, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

The Healthy Start Coalition has launched new opportunities for mothers and babies to get the support and education they need to successfully breastfeed. Breastfeeding is beneficial for baby and mom, promoting bonding between mother and baby, potentially leading to weight loss for mom and giving baby good IMG_2151 bwnutrients to help build their immune system.

The Coalition hosts weekly community breastfeeding support groups at several locations throughout

Classes will soon be offered at the Highlander Apartments community.

Participants are encouraged to set their own breastfeeding goals and receive help and support to reach them. At the end of the course, the participants reflect on their goals to see how well they did. The participants also discuss new topics weekly from an evidence-based curriculum, are encouraged to share their stories with their peers and are offered one-on-one breastfeeding care.

In addition to offering breastfeeding education and services in the community, the Coalition also hosts groups at three Duval County Public Schools high schools that now have breastfeeding stations for students, faculty and staff to utilize: Englewood, A. Phillip Randolph and William Raines.

“Students love that they have a comfortable and private place to pump, store their milk and access to breast pads and storage bags” according to Coalition Breastfeeding Outreach Coordinator Denise Mills.

If you are interested in establishing a breastfeeding support group or attending a group, contact Denise at 904.258.4523 or

Fighting the bite: Protection against the Zika virus

May 25, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

Although it may seem like the risk has passed, women who are pregnant or hope to become pregnant and their partners should be wary about the Zika virus and the serious birth defects it can cause. While the risk of defects from Zika is relatively small according to a new report, it is still important for women and their partners to protect themselves from the virus.

The Zika virus, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, could be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus and lead to birth defects like microcephaly and other complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Last year, there were 51 babies born with Zika-related birth defects in the United States. Nearly 1,300 pregnant women, in 44 states, had laboratory evidence of a Zika virus infection in 2016. Around 970 of those women have completed their pregnancies. Overall, the risk of severe birth defects was about five percent among women who were infected with Zika during pregnancy and rose to 15 percent of those who were infected during their first trimester, according to the new article. While there has been no confirmed local transmission of Zika in Northeast Florida, protective actions against mosquito bites can prevent Zika.

There are local efforts in place to address Zika in Northeast Florida. The Florida Department of Health Duval (FDOH Duval) has launched a Zika task force to make sure that the proper safety measures are being taken to protect the community against the harms Zika can cause. Partners of the task force includes the CDC, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the local county mosquito control office. FDOH Duval, as well as the surrounding counties, has also put together a prevention package which includes three insect-repellent towelettes, a male contraceptive and literature on Zika and protective measures. The Coalition will also be distributing Zika prevention packages through its MomCare, Azalea, Healthy Start and Healthy Families Jacksonville programs and at community events.

As there is currently no vaccine for the Zika virus, the CDC strongly recommends taking the following protective actions to prevent the transmission.


  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Treat your clothing and gear with permethrin or buy pre-treated items.

Insect repellent: 

  • Repellents that contain Deet are the most effective during pregnancy
  • Picaridin is an alternative repellent that is safe to use during pregnancy
  • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than three-years-old.
  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than two-months old.

Sexual transmission 

  • Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex.

Many people affected with Zika will have mild symptoms or none at all. Symptoms could include a fever, rash, joint pain, headache or conjunctivitis (red eyes). If you have experienced any of the symptoms and have been to a region where the Zika virus is present, it is recommended that you visit a physician or healthcare provider and request testing.

To get more information about the Zika virus and possible ways of prevention, visit:


Florida Department of Health

March of Dimes


Healthy Start Coalition celebrates 25th anniversary

May 15, 2017  •   Written by Jerail Fennell   •  no comments

For the past 25 years, the Coalition has led a cooperative community effort to reduce infant mortality and improve the health of children, childbearing women and their families in Northeast Florida.

In these 25 IMG_3657years, the Coalition has provided services to more than 200,000 families living in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties, and we continue to grow.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Healthy Start and the healthy start coalitions, the Coalition hosted community partners and friends at an open house event to display our renovated office space and to launch our Mother’s and Father’s Day Campaign. It takes a village to raise a child and this Mother’s and Father’s Day you can support giving every baby, every day a healthy start at life by donating to the Coalition.

Thank you to everyone who continues to support the work that the Coalition does. We look forward to another 25 years of service!

Check out images from our 25th anniversary below!