American Heart Association - You’re the Cure

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You’re the Cure Advocates Make A Difference in Mecklenburg County

On September 2nd, You’re the Cure advocates came together and attended a Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners meeting to discuss proposed tobacco-free regulations pertaining to Smoke Free Government Grounds and Tobacco Free Parks and Greenways.

During this hearing, several You’re the Cure advocates, including Juddson Rupp, Dr. Sandra Burke, and Dr. Thomas Barringer, spoke to the social and health effects of smoking. 

Juddson, speaking to social effects of smoking, said: “Not only being a survivor but being a parent and a community leader, that I’d like to see our public parks be smoke free so that it’s not so much hypocrisy when you go to a park and seeing people exercise… also seeing several people smoking or even on the golf course for that matter.”

Dr. Sandra Burke, cardiovascular scientist, AHA National Research Committee member, AHA Charlotte Metro Board member, and NC You’re the Cure member, spoke to the science of the damage smoking & second-hand smoke can have on endothelial cells in our body, damage which can ultimately produce heart attacks and even strokes.

Dr. Barringer, a physician specifying in cardiovascular disease prevention, also an AHA Charlotte Metro Board member and NC You’re the Cure member, said there were several reasons to pass the legislation, one of which is that “secondhand smoke is harmful to humans (especially the smaller they are) … it is a known cause of lung cancer and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 25-30%.”

The American Heart Association was also joined by volunteers in other community groups, and walked away feeling confident that the reasons, both medical and social, for passing the proposed regulations were clearly and empirically supported and that the community of Mecklenburg County, as well as the Board of County Commissioners, was now more aware of why the vote on September 17th needs to be in support of the legislation.

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What's Happening in 2015?

Recently the North Carolina Advocacy Coordinating Committee had a teleconference to finalize the 2015 Public Policy Agenda for North Carolina. The committee is excited to announce the priorities for the upcoming year and to see what all we can accomplish in a new exciting legislative session! Below you will find the approved 2015 Public Policy Agenda, we hope that the issues we are focusing on will be as exciting for you as they are to us and that you are looking forward to all the great things that are in store for the upcoming year!


The American Heart Association / American Stroke Association supports and advocates for public policies that will help improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths by coronary heart disease and stroke by 20 percent by 2020.

State Policy Priorities and Goals

  • Increase availability of healthy foods (including fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, and lean meats/seafood) in North Carolina:
    • Secure public funding to create a Healthy Corner Store initiative that increases the amount of healthy food offered in existing corner stores in low and moderate income communities.
    • Secure public funding to create a Healthy Food Financing initiative to increase the number of healthy food retail outlets in underserved communities.
  • Close the Coverage Gap in North Carolina to assure access to health care for adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
  • Support the adoption of coverage for all evidence-based, cardiovascular-related United States Prevention Services Task Force (USPSTF) A and B preventive services with no or minimal cost-sharing by NC Medicaid.
  • Tobacco Control – Support an increase North Carolina’s cigarette excise tax by $1.00 per pack and support an excise tax increase on other tobacco (non-cigarette) products to a tax rate equivalent with that of cigarettes.
  • Support codifying the Safe Routes to School program in NC.

Local Policy Priorities and Goals

  • Promote the adoption of citywide food and beverage vending and/or service standards consistent with AHA guidelines in the cities of Raleigh and Charlotte.
  • Support efforts in Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte to enact smoke-free policies to provide protection from indoor exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Promote daily physical activity in the Greater Raleigh and Charlotte communities by supporting policy efforts for active transportation, including bike and pedestrian pathways.

Have any questions about the 2015 NC Public Policy Agenda?  Email Betsy Vetter ( for more information!

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Help Grow Grassroots at our fall NC Heart Walks!

Heart Walk is a wonderful opportunity to help make walkers aware of our important advocacy efforts and engage them in the You're the Cure grassroots network. We need your help manning our You're the Cure booths at these events! Take a look at the full list of Heart Walk events below and let us know if you can help.

RSVP to Kim Chidester ( to come work a booth with us!

Charlotte Heart Walk: Saturday, September 20 at Uptown Charlotte, Trade & Tryon Streets
Triangle (Raleigh) Heart Walk: Sunday, September 28 at PNC Arena, Raleigh
Sandhills (Fayetteville) Heart Walk: Saturday, October 11 at Festival Park
Twin Counties (Rocky Mount) Heart Walk: Saturday, October 11 at Rocky Mount Sports Complex, 600 Independence Dr
Cape Fear (Wilmington) Heart Walk: Saturday, October 18 at UNCW Athletic Track Field, corner of Hamilton and Hurst, across from Trask Coliseum
Tanglewood (Winston-Salem) Heart Walk: Saturday, October 18 at Tanglewood Park
Down East (Greenville/Pitt) Heart Walk: Saturday, October 25 at Greensprings Park

Volunteer to help grow grassroots at a Heart Walk near you! Send a quick email to let me know you plan to come help us recruit!

Want to join or captain a Heart Walk team as well? It's easy! CLICK HERE to pick an event and get signed up to help raise critical dollars that help reduce the impact of heart disease and stroke.

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What Is Your Why?

As you may know, the American Heart Association has kicked off our new "Life is Why" campaign. We know there are many reasons "why" you are passionate, and we’d like to know what the reasons are behind your "why!"

We are running a social media campaign focused on this question throughout the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, and would love for you to include your story via Facebook (#lifeiswhy), Instagram (@heartmaa) or Twitter (@midatlnticheart). We want to hear and see the motivation for your passion, so please join us by sharing your Why today!

What’s OUR Why?

At the August Mid-Atlantic Affiliate’s All Staff meeting, your Government Relations team was awarded the "Greatest Health Impact" award.  What does this mean? It means that your Government Relations team has most positively impacted the lives of the residents of our Affiliate through our accomplishment of passing public policy (like the Pulse Oximetry bill in North Carolina, or CPR in Schools legislation in Virginia and Maryland) and improving the health of our local communities. 

Cathleen Grzesiek, Vice President of Government Relations for the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, said "This award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our government relations directors, grassroots directors, and all of our volunteers over the past year.  Our policy success couldn’t happen without each of them, and together, we are making a huge impact on health across the Mid-Atlantic.  Our team embodies the idea that ‘making a difference is why.’"

We could not have done this without the help of you, our You’re the Cure family!

While at times the policy process can be labored, this just proves that your resolute determination and passion have made a true difference all across the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate.

So today, it is with pleasure that we share that YOU are our why, and we hope that you will share your why with us!

You are invaluable to us, and we are thankful for you and for the great impact you have made on the health of your local and regional communities.

Thank you!

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The Truth Lies in the Lunch Bag

During August, while Congress is on recess, advocates are keeping the importance of child nutrition standards in front our lawmakers!

We have been working to support the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which provides strong nutrition standards for school meals.  Congress is working on appropriations, and the school nutrition standards have been a hot topic in the agriculture appropriations debate.  The House bill would allow schools to get waivers from these standards and the Senate bill would delay the sodium standards we support.  Because members of Congress are on recess, this is the perfect opportunity to urge their support for keeping the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act strong. 

On August 20th, You’re the Cure advocates Mary Kay Ballasiotes, Michelle Ballasiotes, Dr. Sandra Burke, Tracey Perry, and Judd Rupp, along with advocacy staff, Kim Chidester, met with Travis Manigan, Charlotte Regional Liaison for Senator Kay Hagan.  In that meeting, they discussed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and how important it is to the students and families in North Carolina for Senator Hagan to support this legislation. 

Michelle Ballasiotes shared the reasons why, as a high school student, she brings her lunch to school and has for years: the food isn’t very good and she’d rather bring her food than buy at school.  Her testimony is evident of the larger problem: students in North Carolina, and across the county, need and want nutritious foods to eat for lunch – and with some students being given only 20 minutes to eat, a quick and healthy meal is vital to their well-being.

The meeting was very positive, and it was indicative of how easy it is to become involved in the political process as a You’re the Cure advocate on local and federal issues.

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Triad Advocates Raising Awareness and Making a Difference

Have you checked out the most recent addition of Heart Insight Magazine? Gracing the cover page is the Triad Triage Trio from North Carolina! 

You’re the Cure advocates David Layton and Anne Howell have joined forces with Randy Ludington to raise awareness about cardiac risk factors.  David is a stroke survivor while Anne and Randy are both heart survivors. Together they share their stories and emphasize the importance of preventing cardiovascular disease.

Both Anne and David, as members of You’re the Cure, know the importance of taking action and using their voices to ensure that our public policies are building a healthier North Carolina where the healthy choice is the easy choice.  

Take a moment today to check out the story (page 4):

You’re the Cure NC is proud of the work of the Triad Triage Trio and their commitment to educating everyone about the risk factors and warning signs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.  Thank you Triad Triage Trio for working to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

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We've Come So Far, North Carolina!

On August 7th, Governor McCrory signed the state budget. This year's short session has been a lively one with some surprises including that the Legislature still has not concluded session and that we expect the Legislature will return for work this November on Medicaid Reform. As always, we will monitor all the legislative activities and keep you informed. During the active session, we made strides toward our policy issues and we are making plans to build strong support for our legislative issues in 2015. Thank you for your advocacy this year!

Healthy Food Financing/Food Deserts
This year, we have been working to educate lawmakers about the importance of improving access to healthy foods and eliminating food deserts in our state. While we weren't successful in securing funding for improving healthy food access through a healthy corner store or healthy food financing initiative, we did educate many lawmakers. Our work must continue and we need your help, and your voice, to continue the conversation with your elected officials this summer to remind them how important this issue is to the state of North Carolina. Email your lawmakers today and let them know you support funding healthy corner store and healthy food financing initiatives for our neighbors across the state.

Stroke Advisory Council (SAC)
We supported a $50,000 funding request for the Stroke Advisory Council as recommended by the Justus-Warren Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (JWHDSP) Task Force. Unfortunately, we were not successful in securing this funding. We did successfully work in collaboration with the JWHDSP Task Force to engage the General Assembly and the Governor in Hypertension Awareness Day on May 21st.

Tobacco Prevention Funding
In 2014, we sought $1,000,000 in recurring funding for tobacco use prevention programs, as well as a separate $200,000 in funding for the You Quit, Two Quit program to help pregnant women quit smoking. With money tight, we were not successful in increasing funding for tobacco control. Lawmakers worked hard to secure the You Quit, Two Quit funding, but efforts were not successful. Instead, they added You Quit, Two Quit to the list of programs that can compete competitively for grant funding.

Our work must continue if we are to improve the lives of our neighbors, our children, and ourselves. Thank you for using your voice. Together we will build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Life is why.

Click here to urge your lawmakers to eliminate North Carolina's food deserts in 2015.

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Mary Kay Ballasiotes

Mary Kay Ballasiotes, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

Mary Kay Ballasiotes has been advocating for children for over 15 years.  Her daughter, Michelle had a stroke before she was born and that moment changed both of their lives forever. Mary Kay’s advocacy days started in 2002 in Chicago where she founded the Childhood Stroke & Hemiplegia Connections of Illinois, simply because there was a need for it.  Before long, Mary Kay and her daughter were fixtures at Lobby Day.  At National Lobby Day, May 2006, Mary Kay spoke with the Vice President of the American Stroke Association (ASA) and told him about her daughter having a stroke before birth.  She learned that the VP had never heard of pediatric stroke. From that day on Mary Kay made it her mission to collaborate with the American Heart Association (AHA) and the ASA about pediatric stroke, and to raise awareness about it.

Over the years, Mary Kay and Michelle attended heart walks, lobby days, and were very vocal about pediatric stroke in each state they have lived in: Illinois, Georgia, and now North Carolina. Most recently, Mary Kay co-produced a pediatric stroke awareness video with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.  The video was created to raise awareness that strokes can happen in babies, children and even before birth. Join us here  to watch this impactful video.   

Making a difference in people’s lives is the most rewarding element of being part of advocacy.  Mary Kay and Michelle have attended many lobby days over the years, both national and state.  The experience never gets old to Mary Kay.  She loves seeing how her passion and effort can make a difference, and strongly feels that one person can make a difference!  In August 2010, Mary Kay and her family moved to North Carolina where she soon started working with Betsy Vetter, the AHA Director of Government Relations in the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate.  Mary Kay readily admits her love of working with Betsy.  She is one of the reasons Mary Kay is still volunteering and advocating with AHA.  Mary Kay feeds off Betsy’s passion and enthusiasm and feels that Betsy has a gift for working with volunteers and government officials.

Mary Kay is very proud of her daughter Michelle and the hard work that she has been doing right alongside her mother. While back in Chicago in 2007, Michelle was chosen to be one of the 12 “Faces of Cardiovascular Disease.”  Her image was captured on one of many large posters that were circulated around the United States for Heart Walks.  These posters are still being used today.  Because of Mary Kay and Michelle’s hard work, they were both featured in an ABC news article once again shedding light on pediatric stroke. In 2009, Michelle was honored with the Stroke Hero of the Year and received the National Youth Advocate of the Year award.

Mary Kay’s calling is to advocate for children. She feels that things happen for a reason. The stroke that Michelle suffered enabled both Michelle and Mary Kay to reach other families and make a difference in their lives and in the area of pediatric stroke.  Mary Kay does not have much free time, but when she does, she enjoys going out to lunch with friends and reading. 

One great memory Mary Kay has included that of her son, Alex.  While driving back from picking Alex up at college, he remarked how much he admires the work that she has done over the years.  The example that Mary Kay has provided has empowered him to pay it forward by getting involved in politics and leadership roles.   May Kay continues to advocate for children and wants everyone to know that one person can make a difference.



 Advocate interview provided by Blog Contributor Amanda Orfitelli.

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Help You're the Cure by Having a Party?!

Huh?!  I can help You’re the Cure by having a party?  You sure can, and it’s fun to do!    

Tupperware might have started the trend, but many since have figured out the beauty of sharing a message with a group of friends to help get something done.  One of the ways we get advocacy done is with ‘house parties.’  

Growing the You’re the Cure network is our how we have power to leverage, to get our bills passed – bills that help people live longer healthier lives.  A house party is a fun way you can pull your friends and family into the fold, helping them understand the importance of our work, and inviting them to help the cause by joining the network.  And unlike Tupperware, it won’t cost them a penny. 

Here’s how simple it can be:

  • Let us know what you want to do so we can provide support! If you don’t already have our contact information, find your AHA advocacy contacts here.  
  • Pick a date and invite your contacts.  Include information about why working with us is important to you.  Many now use online event-planning tools like Eventbrite, to make sending invitation and tracking RSVPs easier than pie.  Facebook is a good distribution vehicle too.  Or maybe phone calls or written invitations are more your cup of tea.  You decide what works best for you.
  • Plan a few healthy snacks….yeah they should be healthy!  You are representing the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, after all.  We have lots of free healthy recipes online, and you can keep it very simple.  
  • At the event, mingle with your guests, have fun, and make a short pitch asking them to join the effort.  We have guides and sign-up sheets you can use to make it easy.
  • Take pics for sharing, and be sure to thank everyone!
  • Let us know how it went, and return sign-ups so we can get them entered in the network!

Here’s what Larry and Karen Calhoun, a North Carolina couple who do house parties annually, say: 

“We do a party for You’re the Cure and the Heart Walk every year, and it’s become something we really look forward to. We cook a heart healthy Cajun meal and thus our team name, the Cardiac Cajuns. The American Heart Association has helped us get organized and given support by providing information and visual displays about YTC, heart disease, and the work of AHA.  We really enjoy getting our friends together and love knowing we’re helping build the grassroots network in the process.”

You can put your own twist on the idea to ‘make it your own.’  We even heard of someone who did a mobile house party, going around to their friends’ houses to do individual sign-ups! 

Host the Ultimate House Party: a party that can save lives!   Will you do one?


 Guests mingle and chat at a 'House Party' at Larry and Karen Calhoun's


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Bravo to you, our You’re the Cure family!

It’s hard to believe we are already in August and well into the second half of year. We would like to reflect on how far we have come in 2014, and all of the advances we have made in North Carolina this year.  We invested sweat and tears into multiple policies for our state, and we want to take this moment to thank you!

While we have work left to do on our policy initiatives from this year, we can say for certain that we made this progress due to the time and energy of our You’re the Cure advocates.  Every email, phone call, visit or letter to the editor that you may have written was resoundingly successful in conveying to our legislators across the state that you felt passionately about eliminating food deserts, funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and continuing to fund our Stroke Advisory Council.

We value each and every one of you, and we appreciate all that you have done as you have walked this journey beside us.  But we would like to take this opportunity to recognize our top advocates: you have been fearless and you have risen to the highest ranks of grassroots advocacy, and today: it is all about you!

Thank you to our Heroes:

Ilana Adlee, Becky Anderson, Diane Bevill, Amy Blackwelder, Tiffany Burk, Larry Calhoun, Candy Carter, G.W. Cheney, Diana Craft, Johnnie Davis, Cynthia Dequenne, Chanda Douglas-Ward, Lynn Elliott, Abby Fairbank, Michael Felmet, Christen Folk, Sloan Garner, Larry Goldstein, Johnny Hall, Allee Harrell, Russell Hindle, Katherine Jetton, Xiaoying Li, Patrick Libby, Dave Iloiselle, Joye Mullis, Jennifer Park, Emily Parkman, Jon Powell, Joyce Pusel, Connie Raper, Peter Reynolds, Kathryn Robinson, Joseph Skelton, Katie Spears, Angela Tompkins, Aleksandr Vendrov, Sheree Vodicka, Loretta Warren, Erica Winter

Thank you to our Aces:

Judy Allen, Robert Blackburn, Erin Brandon, Rebecca Burmster, Richard Chandler, Kim Chidester, Keith Cummins, Helen Donahue, Ginger Edmiston, Donald Harland, Pedro Hernandez, Sally Herndon, Julie Howell, Paul Kearns, Guy Lemke, Katherine Long, Kimberly Moore, Bonnie Pearson, Silke Rible, Audrey Rudisill, Gregg Stave, Jennifer Surface, Sherron Teal, Lucy Thompson, Tara True, Joe Vetter, Fern Webb, Kathleen White

Thank you to our Champions:

Frank Amend, Mary Mel Amend, Jeanette Avery, Mary Kay Ballasiotes, Michelle Ballasiotes, Ashley Bell, Michael Butler, Carolina Collins, Cassidy Collins, Jennifer Collins, Diana Cook, Dana Davis, Yolanda Dickerson, Neil Dorsey, Michele Duncan, Elizabeth Evans, Roxanna Evans, Zoe Gabrielson, Amanda Hodges, David Huang, Sarah Jacobson, Monya James, Dianne Jinwright, Kacie Kennedy, Valerie King, Nigel Mackman, Bill Malanowski, Dawn McCrumb, Dawn Moore, Peg O’Connell, Tracey Perry, Oscar Revilla, Kristen Riddle, Barbara Robless, Judd Rupp, Eric Sanchez, Robert Schechner, Pam Seamans, Shannon Smith, Lee Storrow, James Thomas, Paisley Tuffile-Payton, Kirsten Unrue, Betsy Vetter, Rosie Vetter, Marie Welch

While we have more to do when our legislators convene in 2015, this in no way negates all of the fabulous achievements we have made this year.  We look forward to counting on you to continue with us as we work for positive change in our great Tarheel State.

Thank you – for lending us your voice, and for being the Cure!

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