17 Feb HOW KNOCKING ON DOORS IS SAVING MIAMI-DADE WOMEN’S LIVES
After beating an early-stage breast cancer diagnosis in 2004, Miami resident Andrea Ivory made it her mission to empower women across South Florida to overcome disease and achieve comprehensive wellness. One year after her diagnosis, Andrea founded the Florida Breast Health Initiative, now the Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative (WBHI), a nonprofit Community Grants recipient (2019) dedicated to changing and saving lives while providing women at greater risk for breast cancer and heart disease with access to early detection and proper treatment.
To date, the organization’s grassroots education and outreach efforts have reached thousands of women. WBHI’s door-to-door outreach program alone visits 11,000 new households each year, made possible by trained, multilingual volunteers who share breast and heart health education and make preventive screening appointments. During Heart Health Awareness month this February, WBHI is also partnering with Starbucks, Baptist Health South Florida and Jackson Health System to offer free screenings throughout the community.
We sat down with Andrea to learn more about what drives her passion for the cause, what makes WBHI’s grassroots efforts so effective and the nonprofit’s growing work to empower women through wellness.
What drives you to work on heart disease prevention and awareness?
“I am driven by the women we talk to every day. We seek out the women who feel left out economically while continuing to work hard, who often begin a conversation with our volunteers by saying that they don’t have time to eat healthy or know very little about their risk of heart disease. After working with our teams, I see them become healthier, stronger women seemingly overnight.
Everyone should know that cardiovascular diseases affect almost half of American adults and is the leading cause of death for women – but it doesn’t have to be. Small changes like increasing physical activity or incorporating nutritious food can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and breast cancer. When women are empowered with these simple tools to thrive, their families and communities can thrive, too.”
What makes grassroots, door-to-door campaigns like WBHI’s programs so effective to reach people?
“The feeling of someone coming to your door because they care about your health and your future is unparalleled. When our volunteers take the time to chat with a woman about her health and potential risk for breast cancer and heart disease, they are saying, ‘This does not have to be you – what can we do about it, together?’
The impact also goes beyond the number of doors we knock on or the number of health screenings we provide – it’s also about what happens when we engage our community in a culture of health. When we bring prevention and risk reduction resources directly to underserved neighborhoods and seek out hundreds of women to be screened, it becomes personal. Every time we knock on a door, we’re also saying, ‘We care about you, your goals, and the future for you and your community.’ No social media campaign can compare to that.”
What are the common barriers you see for successful prevention and early detection of heart disease?
“It often comes down to our habits: Most often, we only go to the doctor when we already do not feel well, or we only think about healthy eating once we are told that we absolutely must. We need to condition ourselves to take proactive care of our bodies with regular screenings and simple, healthy steps forward.
WBHI focuses on serving at-risk women because they often face additional challenges to maintaining their health: transportation to critical health resources, time to dedicate to their health, and disposable income to spend on the gym or a simple doctor visit. The women we serve are frequently uninsured or underinsured – with an estimated 20% of residents uninsured, Miami-Dade County has the highest percentage of uninsured or underinsured residents in Florida, which ranks 50th among the 50 states and D.C. WBHI eliminates these barriers by bringing prevention and screening services directly to these women’s front doors and communities at no cost to them, while facilitating behavioral change in the process.”
How is WBHI expanding to reach more people?
“It’s no longer just older adults who need to stay up to date on their health: Federal recommendations say that screenings for cardiovascular disease and risk factors like high blood pressure should start at the age of 18. Young women should take action now to set themselves up for success.
Because of this, I’m excited to expand our programming to reach people of all ages and backgrounds. For example, we are growing our college programming to reach students and young adults with accessible prevention tools. Our intervention is part of the curricula at local post-secondary academic institutions. Through these courses and student-led campus groups, young adults are educating their peers and modeling healthy lifestyles for others.”
What is the No. 1 action you recommend women take for their heart health?
“Understand that it could happen to you. Then, take action to get educated and stay up to date. Start by getting screened annually to learn your heart healthy numbers like cholesterol and glucose levels. Take charge of your personal health and risk factors, and identify what you can do to avoid becoming a statistic.”
WBHI is always looking for volunteers to join their efforts; learn more and get involved at: FLBreastHealth.com.
Valerie Crum is senior programs associate at The Miami Foundation.