Whitney Young Health’s WIC Program Helps Refugee Women Stay Healthy

The discussion of this blog post may seem familiar to those who read the article by Claire Hughes at the Times Union, but it’s too good not to share!

Kelsey Munn, RD, CLCC teaching the group of women healthy habits and how to take care of themselves (Skip Dickstein/Times Union).

After meeting the women who used Whitney Young Health’s WIC program and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) services, both organizations noticed that these women were out of their element in a sense that they now were suppose to shop and cook food they have never even seen before and also buy these grocery items with their WIC checks that they were also unfamiliar with as well.

To alleviate these issues, Katie Palmer from WYH’s WIC and Amy Pabbi from USCRI collaborated to form a 8-week series of classes that was designed to encourage these women to care for themselves as well as their families. The first group to be a part of these classes were women from Syria and the Sudan and for the next two months, they learned how to use their WIC checks to buy, nutritious meals, get recipes on how to cook these unfamiliar foods, and how often they should see their primary care provider and gynecologist.

While this series of classes was for women who solely spoke Arabic, there are plans in the works to continue these classes with women from other countries and who speak other languages due to it’s success.

You can read the full article by Claire Hughes here.

Two simple words

I can still remember when my former Board Chair (and past Women of Excellence award recipient), Ann DiSarro, called me and said, “We want to nominate you for Women of Excellence this year.” My first response wasn’t “Thank you”, it was, “Are you sure? Maybe you can wait another couple years.” We are our own worst enemies, aren’t we? Doubting ourselves. Thinking we’re not ready. Thinking we’re not worth something. Thank God for strong women in our lives who believe in us and see the magic and impact we have on others!

I can still remember when Ann sent me the letters of recommendation that accompanied my application. She told me to hold on to them and save them for whenever I was having a bad day, or doubting myself. They were written by my other Board members, also past Women of Excellence award recipients. Those letters were award enough for me. To have women I respected immensely write the letters they wrote…that alone will always mean the world to me.

I can still remember when Ann called me to tell me that I was going to be the 2014 Women of Excellence award recipient in the category of Emerging Professional. I was in shock and couldn’t believe this was the conversation I was having. I thought about the years sitting in the crowd of over 600 people at the annual Women of Excellence luncheon, being inspired by their speeches, leaving energized like I, too, could change the world, and hoping that one day I would be considered “excellent enough” to receive that award.

Receiving the Women of Excellence award impacted my life in more ways that I can ever share on paper or in a blog post. It is meaningful to me because I was chosen by past Women of Excellence award recipients, my peers, to receive this award. I still to this day do not know who was on that clandestine selection committee that year. I became extremely close with the other women in my WOE class, and they have celebrated milestones in my life, including throwing me a gender reveal lunch when I was pregnant with my daughter. They are Carmela’s aunties and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I learned how to show appreciation to the people in my life who helped support, lift me up, and make me the person I am today, but also how to give myself permission to show appreciation to myself for all the hard work I put into my life and career to become this person and be deserving of this award.  Lastly, I learned how to say “thank you” because as the wise Benita Zahn told all of us, “When people say congratulations, say ‘thank you’. Don’t say, ‘oh it’s nothing’ because it diminishes the award for everyone who has received it in the past and will receive it in the future. You earned it. Be proud!”

WOE 2014

Coming Out of the Closet: How Attitudes (and Breast Pumps) Are Changing for Working Parents

In a storage closet crammed with old desks, chairs, and outdated computer equipment, one typically doesn’t expect to find a nursing mom in the inventory.

But alas, on a spring day in 2010, that is exactly what one poor soul found, when he inadvertently walked in on me during a pumping break.

By the look on his face, it was clear all he’d really wanted was an extra chair or something. But instead, he got me: shirtless, looking over my bare shoulder in horror, trying in vain to conceal my angrily wheezing Medela breast pump like it was a joint.

Paralyzed by shock and embarrassment, all I could do as he clamored for the doorknob was blurt out, “Um…excuse me?

Looking back, I can laugh—but I can also see the flaws in this situation. Even in the last decade, a lot has changed for working parents and caregivers, to the point where today, in 2017, a story like this would likely be more the exception than the rule.

The issues affecting this group loom large, and there is still much progress to be made. But as we celebrate Mother’s Day and Womens Health Week in the month of May, we can also take heart that progress IS happening, no matter how small.

Here are some of the changes I’ve noticed over the last seven years as a working mom:

Breast pumps are getting smaller, quieter, and more discreet. I gasped when I saw this wireless breast pump, because I really wish I’d had access to something like this when I was nursing. While it might not work for everyone’s preferences, technology like this means that more working moms can choose not to leave their desks to pump if they don’t want to, and that’s amazing.

Technology and services for caregivers keep getting cooler. If I’d known about something like Amazon Family when my kids were babies—oh man, what a lifesaver that would have been for us! Further, who knew someone would invent a wristband that reminds you about everything from feedings to sleep schedules to daily step counts? (Wow.)

More workplaces have dedicated lactation rooms. I pass by the empty lactation rooms at work and think, “thank goodness this is a normal thing now.” Finally, more workplaces acknowledge and support that:

  • Nursing moms deserve a private room with a door that locks.
  • Nursing moms deserve a room that isn’t the bathroom.
  • Nursing moms deserve a room that’s uncluttered, well-lit, and comfortable.
  • If a nursing mom isn’t getting all of the above, they deserve the right to ask for it.

More workplaces are offering family leave. Workplace trends indicate that more companies will begin to offer family leave inclusive of all types of caregiving, in order to help acquire and retain top talent. And yes, more of this leave will be paid.

And most importantly:

More people are standing up for working parents and caregivers.

Right after the storage closet incident of 2010, I shared the story with my manager at the time as an embarrassing, but funny, anecdote.

Um, excuse me? They have you pumping WHERE?” she gasped. She immediately called my client, and respectfully demanded a better place for me to pump. My spot was moved that day.

She was awesome.

Because she spoke up, she made me realize I deserved more than what I was getting. I became informed, and armed with the courage to stick up for others I saw in similar situations.

I encourage you to be that kind of advocate for the working caregivers you know, even if you can’t quite put yourself in their shoes. If someday you have your own child, or need to care for a sick loved one, you will take solace in others keeping watch, ready to stand up and say, “Um, excuse me?” if you aren’t getting the support you need.

That, and you might need someone to help you find the lactation room.


How do you think the workplace is changing for working parents and caregivers? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Women and Mental Health

From the desk of Kate Renna, Development & Marketing Specialist at Whitney Young Health.


Did you know 1 in 5 U.S. adults will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a time to speak up about mental health being just as important as physical health as well as encouraging those who may suffer to speak out and share how they are feeling. Everyone is affected or impacted by mental illness through friends and family.

Maia Betts, LCSW-R, the Director of Mental Health at Whitney Young Health spoke about Women and Mental Health at recent Capital Region Chamber’s Women’s Business Council event, discussing how WYH is taking measures to ensure our female patients are receiving the helpful mental health care they need.

“Whitney Young Health offers integrated healthcare to address patients’ behavioral health and physical health care needs. Over the past two years the medical and behavioral health departments have collaborated to implement evidenced based strategies to provide whole person healthcare.  This innovative approach to integrated healthcare reduces preventable hospital visits, overall healthcare costs and leads to greater patient satisfaction.  At Whitney Young Health, behavioral health services are co-located with primary care are at all health centers.


Maia Betts, at the Women and Mental Health at recent Women’s Business Council event

Integrated care at Whitney Young Health means that patients are screened for depression during their medical visits, along with risk for alcohol/drug/tobacco use.  Depression in adults can lead to significant physical health problems, particularly if untreated. One in eight women can experience some form of depression during their lifetime and occurs in different stages in a woman’s life from pregnancy to menopause and beyond.

Additionally, women experience depression about twice the rate of men.  Yet, it is not a “normal” part of being a woman.  Less than half of women seek treatment because they feel ashamed to discuss their depression. And, evidence suggests that women are more prone to experience anxiety and physical health complaints related to their depression.

A model of integrated healthcare leads to a decreased rate of depression amongst its patients and lower health care costs. Moving fragmented care to integrated care treats the whole person – mind and body.”

For more information on women and some of the warning signs you may see regarding mental health, head over the National Institute of Mental Health.

Spring Cleaning for a Hectic Life


It’s Spring already. Well, this year escalated quickly.

They say time moves faster the older we get, but maybe it’s just life that moves faster. We all get so busy with work, school, family and other commitments that days become a blur, we’re exhausted and left wondering; “How did this happen?”. Again.

Everyone has had the experience of trying to do too much at once. While women haven’t cornered the market on over-achieving we do seem to be the gender who’ve turned it into an Olympic sport.

But as we begin our annual Spring cleaning rituals, purging our homes of the inevitable disarray that magically occurs when the thermostat drops, why not do the same for our lives?

It feels harder than organizing the family junk drawer, but we all have time-sucking life-clutter that we can afford to ditch.

Unfulfilling Relationships

Every human connection we have constitutes a relationship of some sort. Friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers and fellow volunteers all represent people to whom we’ve made commitments. But how many of them are meaningful? How many do we do we truly enjoy?

A Cornell study, found that out of 2,000 people surveyed, 66% stated that they had one or two people with whom they had discussed “important matters” in the last 6 months.  On average, participants had 2.03 confidantes. We need these friends. Friendships can actually keep us healthier. But at a certain point we need to step back and consider what’s real, and which ones are we hanging onto like an old pair of pants that we swear we’ll wear again someday.

The harsh truth is, some of our relationships may be bringing us down. Unhappy friends can decrease our happiness by 7%. That doesn’t mean we should  bail on the friends who are going through a tough time or the friends struggling with depression or other health issues. Support during hardship is a critical role of a friend. This is about those perpetually unhappy friends. The ones who are never satisfied and always have something to complain about.

We all know someone, an old friend or a coworker that we’ve been propping up. There’s a time where we have to stop taking responsibility for people that we like or want to like or used  to like. When it comes to relationships sometimes sucking it up is easy. It’s harder, but healthier, to be objective about real value added. When we release these relationships from our lives we free ourselves up to spend time on things we actually enjoy, or to put more time in into the relationships that really matter.

Reducing Obligations

Even with a few less friends in our lives, we may still have a calendar full of obligations. Show of hands, how many of us have said “yes” to doing something we knew we didn’t really have time for? It’s OK, put your hand down. It happens to all of us.  

“Can you bake cupcakes for the bake sale?”
“Can you squeeze in that report by Friday?”
“Can you work the 50/50 raffle this Weekend?

“Sure, I can do that”

We all agree to do things we don’t want to for various reasons. Feeling guilty for saying “no”. Feeling like we should be able to make time for what is being asked. Feeling like declining a request is somehow admitting failure or ineptitude. We all have triggers that lead us us to over-committing.

There are great reasons in life to say “yes”, like learning, love and adventure. We should say “yes” to the opportunities that come into our lives that will lead to enrichment and new experiences.

But should we say “yes” every time we’re asked for something?


We have a right, even an obligation, to set personal limits and boundaries on our time and energies. You can’t possibly give your best to anything when you’re giving a little of yourself to everything. Especially when you’re giving none of it to yourself.

So look at your day, week, month and find something that you’re dreading. Something you could live without. Even if you can’t wriggle out of it this time, use that task as your “red flag” of sorts. What kind of commitment is it? Why is it stressing you out?

Identify those characteristics so you can spot the next one when it comes along. Amp up your positive self-talk, remind yourself you have nothing to prove and if necessary, practice saying a polite, “no’” in the mirror.  This spring, throw out a compulsive need to please along with the space heater that stopped working in January.

Shaking Bad Habits.

Believe it or not, saying “yes” too much is a bad habit. But there are others that are sapping our time. In fact anything we’ve gotten “used to” that is undercutting our efficiency is bad habit.

These take on all shapes and sizes and can affect our health and happiness. Things like not getting enough sleep, skipping exercise and convenience based diets that offer little nutritional value all constitute bad habits that can leave you run down.

We also tend to have an unhealthy attachment to our electronic devices that could use a little pruning. A Neilsen Study reported that US adults spend over 10 hours a day looking screens, between phones, computers, televisions and similar technology.

Think about that. That’s 41% of your day. If you deduct 8 hours for sleep that goes up to 62%. Then factor in that the average US commute time is 25.4 minutes. That means another one of our few, non-device dedicated, hours is spent looking through a windshield.

Even if you don’t believe you’re one of the worst offenders, think about that friend who couldn’t stop texting or checking their email during your last brunch? Side note, see unfulfilling relationships.

Just by consciously reducing your screen time by 15% it would put 90 minutes back in your day. What would you do with an extra hour and a half? Take a walk? Read? Catch up with a real friend? Make some healthy plan-ahead lunches? SLEEP!?

We could all benefit from fewer Top 10 lists, Facebook updates, Netflix shows… pick your poison.

It seems like being tuned in to all things, all the time, has become a social imperative. But a digital disconnect may be in order. Try saying “no” to being reachable at all times or being caught up on the latest TV show that everyone is talking about. Really, it’s all just more clutter that needs to go along with the chairs in the basement your great aunt gave you when you moved in five years ago.

person-looking-searching-cleanThere’s no time like Spring to unburden yourself of things you no longer need. With the reemergence of the sun and the color green we all find ourselves a little inspired to seek a “fresh start”. This year, make yours more about your life than your closets. Try throwing out your draining relationships, unpleasant obligations and bad habits. You don’t need them and nothing feels quite as good as getting rid of old junk. And OK, clean out your closets too.


The Changing Face of the Workplace – Part Three

Please note: this blog post is part three of a three part series. Read the first post on what it’s like bringing my baby to work with me here and the second post on starting your own business and working from home here.

Emma Willard 4-19-10-290_0
Emma Willard School – 285 Pawling Avenue, Troy, NY

Still pondering what it means to create and work in a nontraditional workplace, I reached out to, Julie Clancy, Head of Admissions at Emma Willard. Julie is an amazing YWCA-GCR board member, one of the smartest people I know, and by far the most organized. Emma Willard is uniquely situated as not only working to provide a flexible, progressive work environment for its employees, but also is helping to educate and prepare the next generation of women for their careers. In today’s global world, schools are preparing children for jobs that do not yet exist.

Julie says she see students preferring versatile workplaces, and more so than ever, employees need flexibility in what defines “office” and what defines “workday.” She also sees a trend with more and more organizations and companies recruiting candidates who can work remotely; who can join a meeting virtually; who can keep deadlines; and who can keep their own schedule all the while being productive. This saves companies money (less office-space) and these companies are finding their employees are happier, more productive, and more accessible.

Julie believes that skill sets are ever-changing, yet strong communication skills will always be the hallmark of a highly competitive candidate. That means speaking, digesting information, and responding articulately.

“We live in a world that is deeply inter-connected, so relationship cultivation and management is key. The workforce also needs to be prepared for jobs and careers that are cross-disciplinary, otherwise known as “wearing multiple hats.” Very few jobs exist in silos, so the workforce needs to be dynamic, brave, and nimble,” says Julie. These are some of the skills Emma Willard works to develop in their students.

When asked how Emma Willard is helping to prepare its students for the workplace of the future, Julie says,

“You can’t be what you can’t see. At Emma, we consistently expose our girls to examples, representations, and experiences that showcase what is possible. We cannot know what the workforce will look like in 20 years, let alone 40 years, but to leave Emma with a toolbox of the essential skills highlighted above, plus self-awareness, curiousness, and drive, these girls are able to see what kinds of life-paths are very possible. Also important to keep in mind is that humans are living longer than ever now and are staying in the workforce well into their 70s and 80s. This means that people are having multiple careers, multiple chapters of their lives, and even more experience under their belts. It is exciting to know that at 50 years young, one might embark on a new job opportunity and stretch themselves in ways that hadn’t happened in the first 25-30 years of working.”

Julie thinks one of the biggest challenges her students will face in these nontraditional settings is fear of the unknown, but she believes there are several tools that are hugely helpful in understanding unconventional or new experiences.

“First, of course, is an open mind. Soak in all that is happening; be sponge-like. Then, ask questions, and let them bubble up from a curious place instead of a place of judgment or fear. Consider asking your questions based on what you are observing- as if you are a journalist. Be ready to change course several times as you find your way. I also think everyone needs to be prepared to put on overalls from time to time and do the heavy lifting. Organizations are multi-layered and rely on the full participation of all employees to get small and big projects done well. Lastly, it’s important to be ready to feel very invested in your work. Career and work should be energizing and should light up the brain.”

As the above examples illustrated, we are all trying to Lean In in our own ways – trying to find that delicate work-life balance. Yet, for many of us the boundaries that used to exist between home, office, passion-projects, co-workers and friends aren’t as relevant anymore. And in workplaces where those formal barriers do exist, many of us are finding they no longer work for us. I think what’s important is to identify your priorities, whether that’s job stability, compensation, flexibility, etc. Once we know what’s important to us and our motivations, it can be easier to find a workplace that fits our needs. Many people ask me how I found a job that allows me to bring my baby to work, right at the exact time I needed it. I didn’t know an environment like that existed, but I did know that in order for a position to be right for me, it would have to allow for an extreme amount of flexibility. Knowing what I wanted (and more importantly what I didn’t) allowed me to focus my job search and to know when I had found the right place. But, as Julie tells us, it’s not just about finding the right fit for you, you have to possess the skills necessary to succeed in these new nontraditional workplaces.