AMCHP’s “Sharing Your Why” Project for the 2022 Annual Conference
June 15, 2022

Thank you for joining us at the AMCHP 2022 Annual Conference, held virtually from May 24-26, and being part of our Sharing Your Why plenary session where WHY was front and center.

Get inspired by our maternal and child health (MCH) community through their stories. Discover why they feel passionate about their work, what motivates them, why things need to change to create more equitable opportunities for the MCH population, and where their efforts fit into that change.

Through our Sharing Your Why plenary session and our presenter’s stories, we aimed to:

  • Highlight the multiple ways in which their journeys to the MCH field enhance and strengthen the overall MCH workforce.
  • Make you feel motivated and passionate about their work and the direction that MCH needs to head to shape better futures for children, adolescents, and families.
  • Motivate you to reflect on their MCH journey, what brought them to the MCH field, and experience a sense of belonging within the MCH field.
  • Allow you to discover how the public health and MCH fields are enriched by having a workforce with diverse experiences and backgrounds and acknowledging the many pathways to and within MCH.
  • Understand our collective capacity to welcome others into the MCH field, feel inspired to create a welcoming environment, and think intentionally about who they are/should be inviting into the MCH space as the collective building blocks for effective and strategic partnership and collaboration.

Check out these inspiring testimonials from our MCH community!


As an early career professional, the wildflowers in the field reflect the different professional positions I’ve taken and passions I have explored. We all have our own list, right? My path has picked up on the cross-sector of public health in different fields which led me to pursuing a Masters in Public Health.

Logan Smith, Title V CYSHCN Program Specialist, Montana Department of Health and Human Services


I’ve been at AMCHP for a little over three years now and I love getting to work with everyone in MCH. It’s a special feeling to get to work with people who are so passionate about the work we do, especially around health equity and anti-racism, youth and family engagement, and the centering of the lived experience. My why is just feeling really motivated every day to continue the work that we all do to improve the systems of care for all of our MCH populations. I just feel like I’m part of the MCH family now.

Maura Leahy, Program Manager, Child and Adolescent Health, AMCHP


I am an internal medicine and pediatrics trained physician and I’ve always enjoyed my work with children, families, and really thinking about health impacts across the life course. My journey in public health began back in 2012 as a Title V children and youth with special healthcare needs director here in Texas. Since that time, I have taken on other roles within my public health career with maternal and child health, continuing to be a key component of my work. I really enjoy my time in clinical medicine and being able to care for individuals and at times entire families. However, over the years, what I’ve found to be most fulfilling in my career is being able to improve outcomes for large groups of people across not only the state of Texas, but our nation. And I’ve been able to do that through my work in public and population health.

Manda Hall, M.D., Associate Commissioner, Community Health Improvement Division of Texas Department of State Health Services


Through my experience in LEND, I learned how to pair my lived experience and passion for disability rights and advocacy to create meaningful systems change for those who have been historically marginalized. And that’s my why. Despite having one less academic degree than my original life plan, I found something even better: a place at the welcoming table of MCH. After almost five years at AMCHP, I haven’t looked back. I am only looking forward to continuing this work.

Paige Bussanich Falion, Senior Program Manager, Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs, AMCHP


Coming from a medical Sociology background, maternal and child health is an area of study that both fascinates me and that I find inherently tied to women’s issues. The inherent inequalities that exist in gender, class, and wealth directly correlate with maternal and child health issues. The capitalist structure of US’s society does not help secure stable health access for many women and children across the country, especially considering nearly 14% of the nation lives in poverty. The for-profit institution that is the US health system directly harms women, children, and families as well as their access to stable, affordable, and secure healthcare. My interest in this field stems from my knowledge that women and children, especially black and minority women and children, are ostracized in both the welfare and medical institutions, which also has negative repercussions on their socioeconomic standing. Having poor health can reduce one’s chances of finding stable employment and housing, leading to a cycle of structural violence, rooted in poverty and instability.

Briana Leone


… my ‘why’ has changed a lot over the last nineteen years. It’s always been shaped by my talents for being data-driven and my passion for work that helps to improve outcomes for maternal and child health populations and my personal experiences. Today, so much of what I put into my work is a passion for mentorship and how I can use the unique skills that I have and the privilege that I hold to create opportunities and possibilities for other people.

Caroline Stampfel, Chief Strategy and Program Officer, AMCHP


Now, I work with the Adolescent Health Initiative on improving the quality of physical and behavioral health care for adolescents, especially those marginalized by systems of power. I also co-facilitate our teen action council to make sure youth voice is at the center of everything we do and that the voices of youth of racial, ethnic, and gender minorities are uplifted.

Mava Cooper, Program Coordinator, Adolescent Health Initiative, Michigan Medicine


Once I learned about public health, it was like a light switched on in my head…and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve had professional experiences in both hospital and non-profit settings building community relationships and participating in public advocacy. My strongest why is my lived experience as a Black woman and navigating society. I’m hopeful that my contributions to MCH and society will lead to a thriving life course for young girls into adulthood.

R. Aver Yakubu, Saint Louis University


No longer am I accepting the blame placed on individuals for their adverse health outcomes. It’s time to challenge systems, work WITH affected communities, and make changes for upcoming generations to achieve optimal health. After all, I strongly believe that a healthy society will always be nonexistent when there is a constant threat to the health of our mothers, babies, and children.

McKenzie Harpe, Birth Doula, Master of Public Health Student, District Health Educator


Simply put some families and children don’t have the same opportunities to be as healthy as others. If I were to delve deeper into my personal experiences, I could picture how different my life could have been if my mother had access to mental health services or even how I could have struggled more by not having built-in support at school as a young mother. My efforts fit into that change because I can use those personal experiences to educate peers and professionals alike. That way families can know better and do better, and professionals gain the knowledge needed to help improve outcomes for MCH.

Megan Mezel, Family Advocate


I grew up pretty isolated, in a rural part of our state, with only two other Deaf or Hard of Hearing children in my school district.  When I found out my son was also Hard of Hearing I deliberately set out to find a community for him.  I reached out through my early intervention specialist and asked to be connected to other families. … Eventually, I connected to other families through Hands and Voices and later Facebook pages.  I participated in a LEND program as a family trainee, which introduced me to the disability and Public Health world.  From there I found my people.  Those who look for ways to support individual families and those who work to create better systems to serve those families. My life experiences as a community organizer and public-school teacher in diverse communities has served me well in this work. I am aware of the need of diverse, peer led, and equitable services and people.

Lydia Dennehy


Having grown up in a family with a sibling who had significant disabilities at a time when there were no community services or educational support for children with special health care needs, I am passionate about improving the landscape for today’s families. Sure, I could have become a special education teacher or a case manager and influence the lives of my students or clients. But the world of Maternal and Child Health is one of the few mechanisms to change the system for all families and children. I have witnessed dramatic growth in services for children with disabilities in our state and yet nearly every day the CYSHCN program hears from families who were not aware of what was available to them. And, I am fully aware that there are many families we are not yet reaching. This means we still have work to do. Knowing that what I do every day leads to more families getting the support that they need and deserve, makes each day and every effort worth the while. That’s why I do the work that I do.

Becky Burns, Wisconsin’s CYSHCN Statewide Coordinator


I support MCH efforts because it is crucial to promote the health and wellbeing of parents. For today -parents are the first line of support for children, especially those who have special health care needs. Day in and day out. And for tomorrow – today’s parents are future advocates and mentors.

Lily Brown, Parent of a child with Cohen Syndrome, Co-Executive Director of Parent to Parent USA


My paternal grandmother, who I affectionately call Alla paati, had no access to formal education. School was a distant dream for her. However, she taught herself to read and write, and could recite almost every Hindu scripture at-will. Her circumstances tasked her with the job of survival and self-actualization. She got married when she was 14 years old, and she went on to have 7 kids including my dad. She birthed all 7 of her kids at home in the presence of a midwife and none of the kids were adequately spaced or planned.
However, she lost 3 of her kids – she would say – at times unsure if it was 3 or 4 – such was the nature of care that existed at the time. … To some, my grandmother’s story may seem like the tragedy of a mother. But we as MCAH leaders know that it is not. The deaths of her children were caused more by social conditions than by any specific disease that I mentioned earlier. Fundamentally, my family tree was molded in a particular way because of my grandmother being born at a specific time, in a specific place, in a specific skin color, under certain social and economic circumstances. … Echoes of what my grandmother faced in India 60 years ago remain true today even for a segment of the population in the USA. For example, in the state of California, from 2008-16, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black people grew to 4-to-6 times greater than all other racial and ethnic groups. It strikes me yet again how much the lived experiences of people of color and differently abled individuals is so different from that of the more privileged communities.

Keerthana Rajagopal, Title V Coordinator, MCAH, California Department of Public Health


I was inspired to pursue public health because of my work with community organization. I realized that a conversation about the big problems in justice would be incomplete without recognizing the importance of community and larger societal context. After that realization, the transition to public health came naturally. Through my community work, graduate education, and plenty of encouragement from my support system, I came to understand that promoting health for vulnerable populations was the most important and fulfilling thing I could do with my skillset. … I choose to work in maternal and child health because I want to serve my community, and I believe the biggest long-term impact can be made in maternal and child health. The beginning of life and beginning of parenthood are such crucial times, and the families experiencing these crucial times need and deserve support.

Sophia Pérez, Maternal and Child Health Fellow, What to Expect Project


I’m doing this work many years after needing help myself.

What I needed:
– Someone to coach me on the right words to use with professionals
– Someone to tell me that there was hope, options, and a bright future
– Someone who didn’t judge me for being “over-emotional, “over-concerned” or “overwhelmed”
– Someone to explain a bunch of unknown terms to me
– Someone who would coach me and empathize with me.

I try to be that someone to someone else.

Tamara Bakewell, Family Involvement Manager, Oregon Center for Children and Youth with Special Health Needs, Oregon Family to Family Health Information Center



Learn from Teresa Nold of LEAD-K Family Services Program as she explains her story as a part of the Deaf community, her family’s experiences with health care needs, and what she hopes can improve.


Also, be sure to check out this video of Nold and her son Isaac doing an American Sign Language Cover of Ben Platt’s “Can’t Imagine.”


Listen to Coralaidee Jiménez’s personal experiences and how they catapulted her into the field of public health.


Hear from Serafín Soto about how natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted his motivation to support families.


Listen to Milaida Hernandez Cruzado speak about how working in MCH is fulfilling.


Hear the inspiring story that Melissa James-Jackson from the Ohio Department of Health shares about her daughter’s colon cancer diagnosis.


Hear from Natasha and Rhea of the Environmental Justice Coalition about how climate relates to health inequities and their goals to get Generation Z involved in action.


Listen to what motivates Milwaukee PATCH Youth to work in adolescent health.


Interested in attending in 2023? Save the date for next year’s conference that will take place May 7-9, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. We are so excited to be able to offer an in-person experience after two years of wonderful, virtual conferences! Subscribe HERE to be the first to receive updates and information about AMCHP 2023. Follow AMCHP on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook for updates.