Congratulations to CHEER CHAMPion of the Week, Brittany Isler, MS WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor II, and soon-to-be CLC. Known as “The Breastfeeding Girl” in her hometown of Cleveland, MS, Brittany was nominated for her efforts to support breastfeeding moms and normalize breastfeeding within her community.
“My community is so small and everyone knows everyone. I have utilized the small community connections to reach moms and talk about breastfeeding, so it can be normalized within our community. My goal is for us to make breastfeeding the first feeding choice for our babies.” – Brittany Isler
Brittany’s work is motivated by her personal breastfeeding experience with her second baby. When she had her first child 8 years ago, Brittany did not breastfeed because she did not hear about it until it was too late. However, when her second child was born a few years later, she nursed him exclusively until he was three! “The more I learned about breastfeeding from my peer counselor, the more I realized that more moms should do it. When I saw the amazing benefits for moms and babies, I decided to model breastfeeding and share its benefits within my community,” Brittany shared. She documented her breastfeeding experiences, shared photos on Facebook, breastfed in public spaces, and created a space to discuss breastfeeding within her community. “A lot of moms just don’t know and I realized that I could get out there and help them to know about it.”
In her role as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor, Brittany supports new moms and babies in Cleveland, MS by educating them about breastfeeding, answering questions, and clearing up their misconceptions. “I try to ask them what they have heard, so we can correct some of the issues and help them to avoid some of the rough patches I experienced,” she says. During her home visits, hospital visits, and follow up sessions, Brittany also identifies potential medical problems and refers moms to pediatricians when necessary. Although she can no longer do in-person visits due to COVID, she continues to provide most of these services through phone calls and online platforms.
“I enjoy reading the research and sharing the facts about breastfeeding. I love having shared learning experiences with moms, breaking things down, clearing misconceptions and witnessing all their ‘ah ah!’ moments”. Brittany expressed. “One of my favorite clients had made up her mind not to breastfeed, even after we discussed the importance of breastfeeding for her and baby, but she agreed to do skin to skin. After delivery, the baby was placed on her chest for skin to skin and then the baby latched on, and she has now been breastfeeding for 6 months! I was so excited to see that happen.”
Brittany believes that if all the moms in her small rural community could learn about breastfeeding and its benefits, then they will be better equipped to assist others and further normalize breastfeeding when they move to other places. “I think that’s how we make change, not just for breastfeeding, but for other health issues within the community too.”
Congratulations Brittany, thank you for all you do to champion breastfeeding and support moms in Cleveland, MS.
Project Elea is a global network of volunteers who work collaboratively with the residents of Eleonas Refugee Camp in Athens to improve living standards and community well-being. The project stands out for their emphasis on creative engagement of both children and adults, in addition to providing basic services like food and clothing distribution.
Project Elea is named after the Greek word for ‘Olive Tree’ which represents peace, honor, strong roots, long duration, and is an integral part of Greek culture. True to their name, the organization seeks to bring about peace, stability, and togetherness in Eleonas Camp by making the residents’ time there more pleasant, positive, and productive. They also aim to empower refugees to “begin rebuilding their lives and their families on solid foundation, with hope and inspiration for the future.”
Although Project Elea's work focuses largely on education and community building, they have been unable to continue the usual classes, indoor activities, community events and gatherings since the onset of COVID-19. “During this time, we have adapted our services to the situation,” shares Emily Wilson, Project Elea Coordination Team Member. “Around the time COVID started, Eleonas welcomed many more refugees from the islands which has put a strain on the already limited resources.” Project Elea is now managing the distribution of non-food items such as hygiene items, masks, sanitizers, clothes, shoes and winterization supplies to accommodate the needs of the 2800 people at the camp. “Our organization is collaborating with Refugees4refugees, another NGO, to ensure that the vulnerable populations are being protected from the winter weather conditions. We have adapted our program from an education/integration focused project to emergency response and distribution,” Emily states.
Project Elea and CHEERing (our international arm) have a close collaboration working together in Eleonas camp. CHEERing helps Project Elea with distribution of foods and supplies to residents, while they refer infants to CHEERing’s Grow Clinic for infant weights and measurements. Both teams also share interpreters and the volunteers and staff are always ready to work together for the betterment of camp living conditions.
Congratulations Project Elea, we applaud your flexibility and determination to respond to the specific needs and interests of Eleonas camp residents before and during the COVID-19 pandemic!
This week’s CHAMPion is Kimberly Rickard, MSN, CNM, a registered nurse with 24 years of experience working in women’s health. She was nominated for recently completing her Nursing Certification in Midwifery at Frontier Nursing University, for her many years of leading University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC)’s Baby-Friendly designation efforts, and for being among the first group of healthcare personnel to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“When a couple of the Lactation Specialists at UMMC told me about Baby-Friendly USA, I appreciated the way that the initiative supported evidence-based care for women and their newborns. With the support of the administrative team, we participated in NICHQ’s Best Fed Beginnings and then partnered with CHAMPS to work towards our Baby-Friendly designation. We started the journey with very low breastfeeding rates, no skin to skin care, no rooming-in, and many process and infrastructural barriers, but we gradually worked at it and ultimately created a mother-baby unit and provided couplet care! After I left UMMC 4 years ago, the phenomenal team continued the work to achieve Baby-Friendly designation in 2017.” -Kimberly Rickard, MSN, CNM
Kimberly now works at Baptist Memorial Hospital (BMH)-Desoto, where she was excited to be part of their team as the hospital became Baby-Friendly designated in 2018. Her BMH-Desoto team has also successfully implemented safety bundles surrounding obstetric hemorrhage and sever hypertension in pregnancy. In December 2020, Kimberly received her Advanced Practice Nursing Certification in Midwifery after undergoing both didactic and clinical training and successfully completing the American Midwifery Certification Board.
In addition, Kimberly recently became one of the first set of providers to receive the COVID vaccine at her hospital. “I was fortunate to be offered the COVID vaccine during the first round because I am a healthcare provider. I was apprehensive at first, but I trust the science and understand the importance of vaccination in battling disease. COVID has been difficult for everyone and it has been terrible for relationships. I want us all to be able to visit with family and friends, travel and be adventurous, or maybe just go to a movie! I want to be an example to others that the vaccine is safe.”
When asked what motivates her work, Kimberly expressed her passion for health equity. “I believe all women deserve access to quality healthcare. I once heard the phrase 'Every person, whether man or woman, was born of a woman,' which really stuck with me and motivates me. I truly love empowering women and showing them they have the strength and ability to care for themselves and their families.”
Congratulations Kimberly, we applaud your commitment to quality maternal health care and Baby-Friendly practices, your wonderful academic achievements, and your enthusiasm about getting vaccinated!
CHEER Champion of the week
Each Monday (besides public holidays), we will recognize a CHEER Champion for all the support they have provided for CHEER, CHAMPS, or the general public.