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Meet Your New Grassroots Advocacy Director

With $50 in their pockets and hope, my parents brought my sister and I from India to the United States when we were young. 4 years later, after studying at a Red Rocks Community College at night and working minimum wage jobs, they bought a house, two cars and 'a white picket fence'. Our story is like millions of others, a story of creating life, a future, from nothing but a dream. The immigrant’s life truly is art in its purest form. In that same vein, for the last 5 years I’ve been working on creating a strong, diverse advocacy and communications portfolio. With my background in health policy in Colorado, I'm eager to start making impacts at the American Heart Association.

For the last two years, I’ve worked as the Communications and Public Policy Director of the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians (CAFP). As a registered professional lobbyist advocating and monitoring over 80 bills at the Colorado State Legislature, I was the in-house government relations manager for 2,200 Family Physicians giving care to 2 million Coloradans. I monitored all health related bills in Colorado and Washington DC, wrote messaging for editorials, designed all CAFP materials for events, and organized physicians for legislative action at the Colorado State Legislature and the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.

I started my advocacy career working for Majority Leader and State Representative Crisanta Duran at the Colorado State Legislature. Soon after, I became the Communications Director for Daniel Kagan for HD3 – the largest house race in Colorado history. For the 2013 legislative session, I served as a communications fellow for Senator Mike Johnston and supported his efforts to pass SB213, a bill to change the school finance structure in Colorado. During my time at the State Legislature, I supported the mission and visions of my elected official offices with policy and communications like press releases, website support, writing and editing newsletters, and developing factsheets. 

I graduated two years ago from the University of Denver with a cum laude honors degree in Economics and Communications. At DU, I was the Managing Editor of the DU Clarion – a 47 employee staffed newspaper, ranking 13th for overall quality in the nation by peers. I created the DU Clarion website, managed a large budget and worked with colleagues to deliver a 36 page paper. I copyedited every article and wrote many of the major and minor pieces.

I serve on the Board of Directors for health advocacy organizations across the Denver metro area. I am active in the community and aim to serve

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Advocate Spotlight: Gloria Hobbs, Ohio

For many years, Gloria Hobbs lived with her husband on the south side of Youngstown, where there was a grocery store a few blocks away. Unfortunately, the passing of Gloria’s husband and the economic downtown precipitated many changes in her life.  She now lives in subsidized senior housing downtown and is no longer able to drive, which unfortunately means she no longer has convenient access to a grocery store. 

For Gloria and the 300 other seniors living in the complex, a trip to the store now entails four buses. It also changes what they can buy. “Going by bus, I can only carry two, maybe three grocery bags,” Gloria said.

Some seniors opt to avoid the walk to the bus stop and waiting in the cold, heat and rain, by taking senior rides to the store.  While the senior housing will subsidize these and it allows for more than a few bags of groceries, Gloria’s neighbors have shared that it still costs between $10 and $20 per ride.  This is a substantial amount when living on a fixed income.  

“My only choice downtown is to get food at the convenience store around the corner. They don’t sell greens or meat. They do sell apples, oranges, bananas, and potatoes, at twice the rate of a grocery store. Seniors on fixed income can’t afford to pay twice the going rate for healthy foods,” Gloria shared.  She believes since moving downtown, her health has deteriorated in ways related to lack of items for a healthy diet.

Gloria supports efforts to make a change. She believes development of an Ohio Healthy Food Financing program will positively impact Ohioans who live in areas like hers, that currently do not have a grocery store. Learn more about Healthy Food Financing efforts and how we can all help.

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Rhonda Briggins, Georgia Advocacy Chair

Rhonda Briggins, J.D. GA

Rhonda Briggins, J.D. dedicates her life to public service through her role as a community advocate, political strategist and servant leader. She serves on various boards of directors such as the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, Vote Run Lead, DeKalb Workforce Development, and DeKalb Housing Authority Advisory Committee.  She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and she is the Regional Social Action Coordinator for the Southern Region which includes Alabama, Bahamas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  She also a member of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and is the Georgia Legislative Chair.  

Leadership development is a great passion of hers.  She has developed, marketed and implemented numerous workshops for elected officials, corporate offices, non-profit organizations, businesses and schools in this area. Her expertise and understanding of politics and political trends makes a valuable resource to many elected officials, company executives, employees interested in enhancing their skills. She is often sought after as a keynote speaker and workshop leader. To date, she has taught and trained thousands in the areas of political strategy, communications, public involvement fundraising, and base building. 

Rhonda brings over a decade of experience in advocacy and public policy.  She is currently the Senior Director of External Affairs for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA).  She oversees Community Relations and Government Affairs (federal, state and local) for the Authority.  Over the last two years, she has worked with the Georgia General Assembly to pass major transportation legislations for the state of Georgia and MARTA amounting in over $1billion dollars for the agencies.

She has a Juris Doctor from Jones School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Law and Society from Georgia State University.  She resides in Tucker, Georgia with her son, Kai.

Join us in welcoming Rhonda to the team!

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Share Your Story - Iowa

Iowa

For most kids, August marks the end of summer and their return back to school. How do your kids get to and from school? Are they walkers, car riders or do they take the bus?

The American Heart Association is partnering with the Healthier Iowa Coalition to create safe and healthy communities for all families in Iowa. Through Safe Routes to Schools, we can make great strides in reducing local obesity rates and improving every citizen’s quality of life. We would love to hear about your child’s experiences, barriers and obstacles they encounter everyday getting to and from school. Please Share Your Story with us.

Currently, the Healthier Iowa Coalition is working on a Safe Routes to School initiative, which will provide needed funding for projects that will encourage our children to walk to school. The Healthier Iowa Coalition is dedicated to ensuring safe routes to school. As a federally-funded program, Safe Routes to Schools provides the financial resources to repair sidewalks, hire crossing guards, and remove the barriers that discourage parents from allowing their children to be active in the community. For more information, please visit The Healthier Iowa Coalition website.

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Share Your Story: Jenna Bell

Jenna Bell Kansas

I am a mom, Army Wife, daughter, and a survivor of heart disease. When I was 23 I was diagnosed with a cardiomyopathy and told I was at risk for sudden cardiac death. I wouldn’t have a heart attack. My heart would simply stop and I would die. I was told that I would never have children and I would be living with heart disease my whole life. They were wrong. I have two beautiful children Mary Ann and Will. I am on the heart transplant list and will be getting a new heart that will end the disease in mine. Even with my new heart I’ll be fighting for my heart and yours for many years to come.

When I was first diagnosed I thought it was stress.  The love of my life was 12 months into a 15 month deployment. I was a full time special education teacher, head of the special education department, a master’s degree student and working retail part time. I went to my doctor to appease my mother and expected for him to tell me it was stress and to go home. Instead he said, "You’re young, you’re healthy, you’re not overweight but go see the cardiologist just in case." I saw the cardiologist within a week and received my deadly diagnosis shortly thereafter. That doctor could have sent me home but instead he saved my life. 

Shortly after my diagnosis I heard about a casting call being done by the American Heart Association looking for "real women" to share their stories. I knew I had to share mine. I found out I was selected as a National Spokeswoman for AHA in 2009. It was a whirlwind of interviews and advocacy events and I loved every minute. I was able to share my story with women and show them, not tell them, that heart disease does not discriminate. All women are at risk. 

I am committed to educating others about heart disease for a number of reasons, the heart of which is my children. I want them to not only have access to great schools and great teachers but also to amazing healthy food while they are learning. What our children put in their bodies is equally as important as what we are putting in their minds. I also advocate for research. I want to ensure I am here for my kids as they grow up. Right now the average heart only lasts 12 years after transplantation. I want to live far longer and research is key. Heart disease is the #1 killer and we need top notch research to eradicate it from our lives and the lives of our children.

When I think of the future I think of my daughter’s wedding. I think of watching her Dad walk her down the aisle. Her little brother watching his sister commit to the person she loves. My parents being there to support her. I think of hugging her on her wedding day and telling her how beautiful she looks. I think of all those things every time I educate someone about my heart journey and living a heart healthy life. I choose to advocate, fundraise, and educate to ensure a heart healthy future for me, my family and my community.

Her Wedding is Why.

 

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Advocate Spotlight: ND SHAPE on New P.E. Standards

Following a year long process, the new North Dakota Physical Education Standards and Outcomes were released in July 2015.  Funds were pooled from the ND Department of Public Instruction, American Heart Association, and ND Society of Health and Physical Educators to develop and host a professional development (PD) series in 7 Regional Education Associations (REA’s) across the state.  The PD series will consist of a 4 parts which will include:

  • Pregame:  Warming Up to the Standards - Get ready for the game with an online tutorial designed to provide foundational knowledge necessary to complete the course.
  • First Half - Receive a comprehensive overview of the standards including sample standards-based tasks and activities based on best practice.
  • Half Time - During half time, use backward design to further develop curriculum content on your own with the information and guidance received in the First Half.
  • Second Half - Participate in developmental level specific curriculum development, explore core content integration, and develop strategies for advocacy for physical education.

The professional development series will be held at the following locations for any area physical education teachers.  One graduate credit through North Dakota State University will be offered.

MDEC (Minot State University), November 8, 2015, and February 2, 2016, To Register:  www.escweb.net/nd_mdec

MREC (Career Academy, Bismarck), September 29, 2015, and February 9, 2016, To Register: www.escweb.net/nd_mrec

NCEC (Dakota College of Bottineau OR West Hope), October 1, 2015 and March 7, 2016, To Register:  www.ncecnorthdakota.org

SEEC (SEEC Loft - UND Tech Accelerator), October 13, 2015 and March 29, 2016, To Register: www.escweb.net/nd_seec

RRVEC (Grand Forks - UND Tech Accelerator), October 11, 2015 and March 22, 2016, To Register:  www.rrvecnd.org

GNWEC (Williston), September 25, 2015, and April 15, 2016, To Register:  Contact keith.s.rath@sendit.nodak.edu

RESP (Dickinson State University - Student Center Ballroom), September 22, 2015 and April 12, 2016, To Register: www.escweb.net/nd_resp

The trainings are funded by ND SHAPE, Jump Rope for Heart, Hoops for Heart, and our ND Department of Instruction (Health Division). 

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Share Your Story: Debora Grandison

Debora Grandison Missouri

It was 26 years ago when I was placed on medication to stop pre-term labor. That medication not only jeopardized the life of my unborn child, but mine as well. After a stint in intensive care, I began a long journey of misdiagnoses, medications and medical testing, which all led to years of unanswered questions, feeling misunderstood and a great deal of anxiety and fear.

The key to getting me on track was finding a doctor who understood my symptoms, fears and concerns. This allowed me to create a positive plan of action that would put me on a life changing journey. This journey, is my journey, a journey with a purpose to make a difference through volunteering opportunities and sharing my story.

I began volunteering with the AHA's Go Red Passion Committee and also became an active member of The Midwest Affiliate Speaker's Bureau. This year I also had the pleasure of traveling to the Missouri State Capitol to lobby in support of House Bill #457 which would make CPR Training mandatory in our high schools. And now I’m sharing my story with my fellow Missourians to promote heart health awareness.

Over the years, I watched heart disease shorten the lives of 4 immediate family members including a younger sibling who passed away at the early age of 35 from a massive heart attack. This leaves me questioning what MY future holds.

Currently, I am living well; even with a pacemaker, Afib and diabetes. I have a strong desire to encourage, empower and support those who may walk a similar path as mine. I enjoy educating others through advocating awareness and prevention of Heart Disease and Stroke. I actively seek opportunities to "spread the word" throughout the community! Finding passion and purpose through my journey, is a true gift that brings me joy!

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Advocate Spotlight: JR Dietl

What brought you to be an advocate for the American Heart Association?

In 1969 my father suffered a cardiac arrest and nobody was able to perform CPR on him. I was devastated. After becoming an EMT/Paramedic in Iowa I wanted to help so that other kids my age at the time would not have to go through what I did. I found out about the American Heart Association and I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to get involved! I started working with the American Heart Association in Iowa in 1977 as an EMT/Paramedic. I then transferred to American Heart Association in Tulsa Oklahoma by teaching, advocating as well as being hired by the AHA to repair the CPR equipment belonging to the American Heart Association. In 2001 I continued my association with them when I moved to Illinois, where I worked with the Lt. Governors committee to help pass legislation on requiring AED's and CPR in Schools and Health facilities in the state of Illinois. I worked for several years representing AHA at the Illinois State Fair in promoting CPR and AED's in the Lt. Governor's booth. In 2004 I started a Training Center in Illinois and have over 525 Instructors teaching Basic Life Support in schools and organizations in a multi-state region. Today I currently serve on the Illinois Advocacy Committee along with a few other AHA committees

What issues or policies are you most passionate about and why?

My most passionate issue is getting awareness out about how easy it is to perform CPR and use an AED and make people generally aware of that. I currently believe that CPR should be taught in the schools just like reading and writing. I truly believe that most people are unaware of how many heart attacks or cardiac arrest truly occur in the United States and how important it is to get basic life support started before professional help can respond.

What is your favorite advocacy memory or experience so far and what made it great?

Being asked by Mark Peysakhovich if I would like to serve on the Illinois Advocacy Committee. I really believe that people that serve on this committee come from a wide range of experience and are able to offer good recommendation’s on various topics that will make a difference in the lives of Illinoisan’s. I also found a great experience this last summer when the committee met in Springfield for a two day seminar that generated a tremendous amount of positive results

What is your favorite way to be active?

Being at public events raising awareness on AHA topics or meeting with state legislators and educating them to see the priorities that AHA advocates for.

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable?

Strawberries’ and Asparagus

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Advocate Spotlight: Joshua Levy

Hey! My name is Joshua Levy and I am an advocacy intern for the American Heart Association--Greater Bay Area!

                Currently, I am a student attending the University of California, Berkeley pursuing a degree in Physics. But don’t let the degree fool you. Although I am interested in the sciences, my true passion lays in helping others and making sure that we all have the potential to live healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.

                I chose to intern for the American Heart Association because of my background in sports, exercise, community outreach and my desire to work in the Public Health in the future. I have been a coach for the Special Olympics for five years and have been coaching youth basketball for one year. These programs, amongst a lot of self-education on these issues, helped me realize that many people did not have equal access to a healthy lifestyle. I witnessed first-hand that some of my players who came from lower socioeconomic backgrounds did not have as much access to physical activities as those who came from more affluent backgrounds. Although this concept was not new to me, it cemented my firm belief in the overarching value of public health and providing everyone with the opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle.

                Sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets, as well as neighborhood environmental factors are causing obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease to proliferate around the nation, especially in youth. As an athlete, this trend has greatly concerned me as my extensive experience in athletics has made me realize the benefits that one gets from staying active. Furthermore, I believe in the proverbial phrase: “better body, better mind”. Not only do I believe that physical activity results in a healthier body, my research at the AHA supports that there are many cognitive benefits that one can get from staying active.

                So that is exactly my aim this summer working for the American Heart Association: I want to help provide kids the opportunity for equal access to Physical Education. I am working on advocating to local school districts to provide regular and quality Physical Education for their elementary school students. I am digging into the heart of this issue to find out how we can work with school districts so that all kids have the opportunity to grow up learning healthy habits needed to sustain lifelong healthy lifestyles.

                Once again, I am very pleased to be working for the American Heart Association this summer. I hope that my time here will provide me with the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the community and the tools with which to influence change later on in life.

                Together, we can make a difference in the community. All it takes is one heart at a time!
Cheers,

Joshua Levy

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Advocate Spotlight - Tim Gable

Meet Tim Gable, a young survivor who had a stroke at age 25 and spent his 26th birthday in the hospital.  Tim’s a new AHA/ASA volunteer who has become a key advocate for our upcoming Saving Strokes Event in Provo. Here’s Tim’s story…

My friends and I had decided to go on a short vacation for Easter weekend. On March 31, 2013 during breakfast I began feeling very dizzy and nauseous.  I informed my friends I was going to go lay down until I felt better. I was walking back to my room when suddenly my left leg would not hold my weight and I fell in the lobby.  I managed to pick myself up thinking what did I trip on? But I saw nothing. I made it to my hotel room door where I once again fell to the floor.  This time however I was unable to get back up and this was the first time I started to feel scared about what was wrong with me.  I lay on the floor just out of reach of the door.  I was there for 20-30 minutes before one of my friends came looking for me. 

He found me on the floor unable to get up.  He dragged me into my room and tried sitting me up but my body wouldn’t hold.  I kept falling over so my friend ran for help realizing something was wrong. He had another friend come and help him pick me up they then ran me out the back door into another friend’s waiting car.  They drove as quickly as possible to the nearest hospital emergency room.  When we arrived the hospital quickly took me in and diagnosed me with having a stroke. I was given TPA then put on an ambulance and rushed to another hospital that was better equipped to handle stroke. 

As soon as I arrived at the other hospital I was taken into surgery where they located the blood clot in my carotid artery in the right frontal lobe of my brain.  There were multiple attempts to remove the clot but every time it was removed it reformed and re blocked the blood flow. The surgeon tried everything he knew but he could not stop the clot from reforming, eventually it had to be left or the surgery was going to kill me.  The clot is still lodged in my head but I’m told there is no risk of it moving. 

The next day I awoke in the neural critical care unit with the worst headache.  Nurses were called in to check on me.  I was rushed to an MRI and it was determined that my brain was now swelling due to the damage done from the stroke and was pressing on the inside of my skull threatening more damage.  The surgeon gave my parents two choices they could remove a portion of my skull in an attempt to relieve the pressure or allow nature to take its course and allow me to pass away. The decision was made to have the bone flap removal surgery.  Which luckily worked and ended up saving my life. 

I spent two weeks in the neural critical care unit and was then transferred to another hospital where I immediately began occupational, physical and speech therapy each day for the next month and a half. My doctors pushed me to do as much therapy as possible due to my young age the more I did early on the more I had the chance of getting back. By the time I was released to go home I was able to walk on my own with little to no assistance.  I immediately started outpatient occupational, physical and speech therapy each day. I continued this for the next year continually improving until I was finally able to pass the driving tests and get my license back!

I returned to school and finished my degree in business management. During this time I felt the need to do more for people like myself who have suffered a stroke and recently participated in an event called Saving Strokes.  As a result I have become a volunteer for American Stroke Association and hope to build a career where I might be able to use my experience and story to help others.

For more information about the Saving Strokes program click here.

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