Birthing Hope 2022 Awardee Announcements

HealthConnect One is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022 Irving Harris Advocacy Award, Kay Matthews, and 2022 Senator Durbin Award, Comunidad Maternal en Utah! Our awardees were nominated based on their commitment to birthing people through education, advocacy, and support. Each awardee provides vital resources to their communities and HealthConnect One is proud to honor them at our upcoming Annual Virtual Fundraiser, Birthing Hope 2022 on June 23rd, 2022. 

As the founder of Shades of Blue Project, Kay Matthews and her team are on a mission to uplift all birthing individuals with the care, respect, and dignity they deserve – no matter their social status or birth outcome. Kay comments, “We focus on the birthing experience, and this is how we bridge the gaps by acknowledging everyone’s birth story matters.” Through education, advocacy, and respectful care, they are dedicated to helping birthing individuals of color whose lives are impacted by racial disparities that heighten their birthing challenges. Kay adds, “It is from my own personal experience of infant loss and postpartum depression, that I’ve recognized a critical diversity gap in mental health resources and emotional support for Black and minority birthing individuals which is what we are working to dismantle through our work and advocacy.” HealthConnect One is honored to host Irving Harris to present Kay Matthews with the 2022 Irving Harris Advocacy Award for her work in maternal health.  

Comunidad Materna en Utah (CMU) was established as a non-profit organization in the state of Utah in June 2017, as a necessary resource for expecting Hispanic mothers and their families. As an organization, they seek to advance access to prenatal care, promote physical and emotional well-being, and develop learning opportunities for low-income families or those in vulnerable situations. Founder Mayra A. Sanchez, an advocate for the empowerment of pregnant women of color, is an immigrant of Mexico and proud mother of 9 children. CMU has a vibrant team of labor/postpartum doulas and health workers in the community, which allows them to provide specialized support in pregnancy, childbirth/postpartum, and attend to the basic needs of families, all while serving them in their own language with cultural competence. They note “The growth of CMU gives us the vision of expanding services to other cities in the state. The effort and mutual support of government sectors, community organizations and members of the same are essential. [We hope] to reach the places in the state where support is needed.” HealthConnect One appreciates the essential work of CMU and will recognize them as awardees of the 2022 Senator Durbin Award during our annual Birthing Hope virtual fundraiser on June 23rd, 2022.  

Lactation Across Borders

National Breastfeeding Month | Roundtable Discussion


Date: August 30th | Time: 2:00 PM EST | ZOOM Webinar

The declining health status of immigrant groups through generations is varied and complex, as are the breastfeeding practices and available support across communities.

To close out National Breastfeeding Month, HealthConnect One is hosting a roundtable discussion on “Lactation Across Borders: Breastfeeding and Lactation Culture and Practice within Immigrant Communities.”

During this discussion, panelists working with immigrant communities across America to strengthen their maternal and child health outcomes will share their insights on supporting breastfeeding within these communities.


Charlene McGee | REACH Program Manager @Multnomah County Health Department
Charlene McGee, MPA serves as the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) Program Manager. REACH is a five-year funded program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address chronic disease xc. In this capacity, she leads targeted policy, systems, environmental and communication strategies to redress chronic disease disparities and informs division-wide goals, monitors program performance, and assess outcomes to eliminate health disparities and cultivate a culture of Black Health for Multnomah County Black and African immigrant residents. A self-proclaimed Liberian-Oregonian, Charlene’s experience as a survivor of the Liberian civil war and a Black immigrant has heavily influenced her career trajectory. Her career spans more than 20 years, serving in a variety of roles

To-wen Tseng | Volunteer Blogger @San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition
To-wen Tseng is a TV reporter turned independent journalist and author. She writes about parenting, education, and family lifestyle for a variety of publications. She is an award-winning blogger and has authored six books. To-wen is also a passionate breastfeeding activist. She received a rude awakening when returning to her previous newsroom after giving birth to her first child in 2013 and was denied breastfeeding rights, which eventually resulted in her separation from that company. Since that experience, To-wen has dedicated her career to advocating for family-friendly policy and gender equity at the workplace and speaking out about breastfeeding barriers in Asian-American communities and beyond. She writes for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition and MomsRising; co-founded API Breastfeeding Task Force and AANHPI Breastfeeding Week.

Monica Esparza | Executive Director @New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force
Monica Esparza is currently the Executive Director of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force. She is a trained CLC and Community Interpreter who previously served families as a breastfeeding peer counselor for more than 10 years, providing peer-to-peer support to lactating families through the WIC program both individually and in the hospital setting. She participated as a Leader in the Health Connect One Birth Leadership Academy and the NM Women of Color Leaders in Non-profit. She has served on different boards and currently sits on the National College of Midwifery Board. As a Mexican, Immigrant woman living in the south valley of Albuquerque, she brings a grassroots community approach and an equity lens into her work. She understands the importance of centering families and BIPOC communities in everything that we do. She enjoys hiking and gardening with her husband and 2 children.

Maya Jackson | Executive Director @MAAME, Inc.
Maya Jackson is a mother, community organizer, breastfeeding advocate, full-spectrum doula, and the founder and Executive Director of MAAME, Inc. (Mobilizing African American Mothers through Empowerment). A native of Durham, North Carolina, she graduated from North Carolina Central University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. She has over ten years of working in nonprofit leadership in the arts and public health. In 2018 Maya became a birth doula and Milky Mommas International Lactation Peer Counselor. She eventually founded and launched MAAME, Inc. MAAME, a community-rooted maternal health organization whose mission is to support Black and other birthing people of color. This fall, Jackson will begin working towards her MPH and MBA at Benedictine University.

Stevie Merino
Stevie Merino is a community organizer, mom, anthropologist, birthworker, and proud islander woman–CHamoru (Guam) & Boricua (Puerto Rico). Much of Stevie’s work has been in efforts to uplift the voices of Pacific Islanders, who are often afterthoughts in discussions, resources, and invitations to the table. Stevie’s research in anthropology focuses on Pacific Islander birth traditions and birth disparities specifically on Chamorro’s in Southern California. Stevie presents her research at various academic conferences around the country, where she centers the experience and voices of Pacific Islanders that are often left out of these spaces. She is the co-creator & trainer of The Birth Workers of Color Collective and Long Beach doula of Color training. Stevie holds various positions in the community and in academia, including holding the Gender Equity Seat for the American Anthropological Association Members Programmatic Advisory and Advocacy Committee.