Pee Dee Healthy Start Incorporated: Answering the Calls of the Community for 30 Years
By: Faith Brown
Pee Dee Healthy Start Incorporated is a 501 (c) 3 community-based, nonprofit, organization which has provided an array of services to rural residents in the Pee Dee for 30 years. As a result of the quality of services, PDHS has gained recognition within the Pee Dee Community and abroad.
Madie A. Robinson, M.S.W., L.I.S.W., CP/AP and Executive Director/CEO of Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc., felt compelled to address specific issues affecting the rural communities in the Pee Dee area. Heavily influenced by her grandmother, Bell, who was an education advocate, Robinson combined her Historically Black College/University (HBCU) education, knowledge and skills gained as a former employee of Department of Health & Environmental Control (DHEC) and Florence County Department of Social Services (DSS) prior to joining the Pee Dee Healthy Start Initiative in 1992.
A Florence native, Robinson has dedicated her life to ‘giving back to the community.’
The purpose of Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc. is to address the disparities of adequate health care for rural residents. The lack of adequate healthcare for these residents has created a crack in the foundation of the family structure. High rates of infant mortality and low birth weight among infants permeates rural communities, jeopardizing the mental and emotional health of the foundational structure of family.
Robinson states, “30 years later, unemployment and poverty, low educational attainment, and a disproportionate burden of chronic disease relative to the general public, restricted access to quality health care, and insufficient or lack of health insurance coverage” remains to infiltrate communities in the rural Pee Dee Area. The challenges that affect the overall health of many residents of rural communities are influenced by the characteristics of the community, individual health behaviors, environmental factors and accessibility to adequate health care.
The mission of PDHS is to connect rural residents to community-based organizations that will afford them appropriate healthcare, supervised employment and training, supervised employment, housing, education and food resources. Guided by their motto, PDHS: “Believes that healthy families are the basis of every child’s promise for a bright future. The strength and resilience of these families provide the backbone of vibrant, thriving communities.”
PDHS serves residents in Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Marion, Marlboro, and Williamsburg Counties providing in house school-based, prison-based and community-based services.
Robinson’s exceptional leadership and dedication to serving the community has afforded PDHS a 30-year collaborative relationship with: Health Care Providers (DHEC, private agencies, and Federally Qualified Community Health Centers); Pee Dee, Community Action Agency ( Pee Dee, Darlington County, Chesterfield-Marlboro EOC and Williamsburg County). Collaboration with state agencies, civic and community organizations, school districts, medical providers, and coordinating councils ensures residents are afforded services specific to their needs and forestalls the duplicity of services.
Programs and Services
Robinson, a pillar in the Pee Dee Community, has spent 30 years promoting the services provided by PDHS locally, regionally and nationally. PHDS offers the following programs:
Healthy Start Eliminating Disparities in Perinatal Health-provides services to women 10-44 years of age and fathers that will eradicate circumventable infant deaths, curtail preterm and low weight births, foster preconception health, ensure high-quality healthcare, reinforce the family structure and promote safe and healthy environments. Program participants rate, “Evidence-based curriculum to educate women on the importance of healthcare services, one-on-one interaction with staff, and health literacy” as the top three services for this program. The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) provides funding for this program.
Project Rural, Early, Sexual Prevention, Empowerment and Care for Teens (RESPECT)-provides sexual risk avoidance services to women 15-19 years of age. High School students can attain employment as Communication Personnel in this program. The Success Sequence for Poverty Prevention in this program is: poverty prevention, attain a high school diploma, gain full-time employment and abstinence until marriage before starting a family. Program participants rate, “Food/Snacks provided during group workshop sessions, leadership development training and healthy relationship skills” as the top three services for this program. The Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Program, Administrations for Children and Families (ACF) and Family and Youth Service Bureau (FYSB) provides funding for this program.
Family, Marriage, and Relationship Education Works (FRAMEWorks)-provides adult services to individuals ages 18 and above. This program encourages the belief, “Promoting and increasing awareness regarding the importance of healthy relationships leads to healthier societies, communities, families, homes, and ultimately healthier children.” Program participants rate, “Healthy relationship skills, program supports, and program incentives” as the top three services for this program. Participants receive childcare assistance for job-related activities, up to two children and up to $210 dollars in Visa Gift Cards for completion of the program. The Administration of Children and Families (ACF) and Office of Family Assistance (OFA) provides funding for this program.
The Dannon Project at Pee Dee Healthy Start-provides services for high-risk and at-risk youth 18-24 years of age. Participants in this program are nonviolent offenders with the desire to improve their employability skills through occupational and life skills training. This program offers judicial preventative education while simultaneously identifying an individualized, sustainable career path for participants. Identification restoration, housing, medical coverage and food assistance are offered through this program. Participants can obtain a Commercial Driver’s License, become a Phlebotomist and obtain Forklift certification through this program. Program participants rate, “Links to services, career certifications, and incentives” as the top three services offered in this program. The Dannon Project (Alabama) provides funding for this program.
Although Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc. has been successfully providing services to residents in the rural Pee Dee area for 30 years, the agency faces many challenges. Federal funding is crucial to the “lifeline” of the agency. The lack of federal funding threatens the sustainability of programs we offer. Securing companies and businesses to employ ex-offenders and pregnant women also poses a challenge. Without the guarantee of employment, program participants may not trust the efficacy of their community. The lack of non-federal funds creates a gap in the infrastructure of our agency. Potential candidates shy away from grant-based employment. Public Health and Community-based Awareness is a necessity for a potential Board Member to possess as they will oversee and govern the programs, policies and procedures of our agency.
Offering Virtual Services
To maintain the commitment to rural residents of the Pee Dee area, Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc. is providing services Virtually. Virtual services will ensure individual and family needs will remain a top priority of the agency, while simultaneously adhering to the guidelines of the Center of Disease Control (CDC). For future participants, Pee Dee Healthy Start will provide support with technology devices for those who lack access to broadband internet, a computer, laptop or a smartphone.
Looking ahead to the next 30 years, Robinson envisions PDHS with, “Multiple sources of funding to strengthen our relationship with families in the Pee Dee Region, providing culturally competent services and remaining community based.”
For more information about Pee Dee Healthy Start Inc., please visit: www.pdhs.org