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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Saint Louis: Unanticipated Leadership Academy Evolves from St. Louis Health Start Program

When programs provide the resources necessary to enable participants to develop leadership skills, they may discover empowerment opportunities in even the most disadvantaged situations. This was the result of a study led by Dr. Darcell Scharff and Dr. Ellen Barnidge of the Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice, and published in Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Racial disparities in birth outcomes are a significant problem in the U.S. To address disparities in the St. Louis area, the federally funded St. Louis Healthy Start (SLHS) program works to reduce individual and social causes of infant mortality.

SLHS recruited women with high infant mortality rates, high rates of low birth weight, and low rates of adequate prenatal care, to participate in the program. Staff observed that many SLHS participants exhibited various skills, such as advocating for their families to improve conditions in the community. As a result of these observations, SLHS created the Making Change Happen Leadership Academy (MCHLA).

MCHLA empowers women by providing tools to identify their neighborhood’s needs and assets and for building skills to find solutions. Women develop skills in leading meetings, planning agendas, and incorporating core skills needed to act on issues. MCHLA prepares women to engage in community collaboration, information sharing, and advocacy.

Four themes emerged: development of new skills, development of new attitudes, the importance of social support, and the importance of using their voice.

Co-researchers include Dr. Darcell P. Scharff and Dr. Ellen Barnidge, Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice; Ms. Keri Jupka, Emerson YMCA; Ms. Lora Gulley and Ms. Kate Kasper, Generate Health.