2021 Advocacy Leadership Program Participant Spotlight

Final Project Spotlights

Athena Porter, Administrative Assistant & Advocacy Coordinator

Community Health Centers of Southern Iowa

Athena Porter, Administrative Assistant and Advocacy Coordinator, adds the FUN to the fundamentals of advocacy. She is excited to step into the role of Advocacy Coordinator to lead her organization into a culture of advocacy. With support from leadership and the green light to proceed, she established two goals for her ALP final project: educating staff, board members, and patients on advocacy and helping CHCs of Southern Iowa to achieve Advocacy Center of Excellence – Bronze status. As part of attaining Bronze status, Athena capitalized on nearly every employee’s favorite day, “jeans day.” She has incentivized advocacy activities by encouraging staff to send in selfies participating in an advocacy action for the centers’ social media account in exchange for 5 “jeans day coupons” to be used at the employee’s discretion. This simple, unique, and fun incentive has increased advocacy participation tremendously. In addition to encouraging staff toward action, CHCSI hosted ten different NHCW events, culminating in cooking over 1,000 burgers, along with BBQ and root beer floats. Just as everyone has had to adapt to pandemic times, CHCSI converted their NHCW events to drive through this year and found it to be so successful. They are contemplating keeping this style as a tradition. Athena is passionate about bringing advocacy to a doable level, removing barriers, intimidation, and misconceptions to mobilize the caring and engaged staff of Community Health Centers of Southern Iowa.

Michele McFarland, Senior Executive Assistant

Eskinazi Health Center   

Michele McFarland’s presentation focused on both organization-wide goals to achieve the ACE Bronze Level by June 30, 2022, and a comprehensive Advocacy Plan for the Consumer-based Board of Directors, including a thorough review of why advocacy is a priority for the Eskenazi Health Center. Understanding “the why” behind specific actions helps determine goals and fosters a sense of urgency and importance. Advocacy is a stated part of Eskenazi Health Center’s organizational mission. Advocacy provides funding for their health centers and programs, helps address social determinants of health, and raises awareness on issues that affect their staff, patients, and the community they are devoted to serving. Michele concluded her presentation by sharing an Eskenazi Health Center tradition during National Health Center Week of providing lunch at Pedigo Health Center with neighbors experiencing homelessness.

Jenny Toth, Chief Human Resources Officer

Healthy Community Health Center

Jenny Toth, Chief Human Resources Officer of Healthy Community Health Centers in Harrisonburg, Virginia, provided a detailed approach of how she plans to lead her organization into advocacy for her ALP final project. Beginning with her self-awareness and education, part of Jenny’s strategy includes building an HCHC Advocacy Awareness Team consisting of a Marketing Coordinator, Employment Coordinator, Director of Advancement, and the Executive Director, in addition to herself. This well-appointed team will allow HCHC to maximize their already existing skills and resources to further the awareness and effectiveness of their advocacy action plan. Not only have the roles of the Advocacy Awareness team been identified, but Jenny has proactively identified potential allies, detractors, and best communication methods for maximized success.

Samantha Knutson, Public Relations Specialist

Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers

Samantha Knutson, Public Relations Specialist with Scenic Bluff’s Community Health Centers, has a passion for advocacy and constantly seeks ways to take her organization to new heights. A few exciting things to know about Scenic Bluff’s Community Health Centers is that they serve patients from the local Amish community, 100% of their staff are registered advocates, and they have strong relationships with their regional representatives. To build upon such a solid foundation of organization-wide advocacy, Samantha presented a well-laid out plan to engage the community in advocacy efforts with clear, tangible steps, along with metrics to measure success. Three goals for increasing community engagement in advocacy include maintaining four community advocacy events each year, such as voter registration, CHC Advocacy Drives, and the Health Summit, registering 25 community members as health advocates, and onboarding three local businesses as health center advocacy partners.  

Emily Waitt, Policy & Advocacy Coordinator

Tennessee Primary Care Association

Emily Waitt, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator with the Tennessee Primary Care Association, presented her ALP final project bringing her organization and 31 Community Health Center members back to advocacy basics by reinvigorating interest and engagement in advocacy during the Covid 19 pandemic and maintaining momentum around advocacy. As almost everyone has had to in the past nearly two years, Tennessee PCA has had to shift and adapt to current events by moving beyond traditional advocacy tools.


To maximize the wave of change, Emily has shifted the focus of advocacy from face-to-face efforts to publishing the weekly TPCA policy blog, authoring Op-eds with partner organizations or individuals, and focusing significant attention and resources on patient and provider story collection. Emily and the TPCA partnered with Senator Marsha Blackburn, leveraging the well-established relationship with the senator who is passionate about expanding health access to rural areas and telehealth, ensuring that the joint message represented the health center and the senator’s interests and was advocacy-oriented.

Kasey Smith, Marketing & Outreach Coordinator


Kasey Smith, Marketing and Outreach Coordinator of Carevide, selected two advocacy goals on which to base her presentation: enhancing the company culture of advocacy and increasing staff participation in advocacy activities. Staffing, Covid 19, and time constraints were three critical potential detractors that Kasey plans to target preemptively. As has been the case across the country in the past year, staffing shortages and turnover have led Carevide to concentrate its efforts on increasing advocacy awareness with its new hires and frontline staff. By doing so, they are intentionally embedding advocacy awareness and participation into the fabric of their organizational culture.


Kasey states, “With excellent involvement from leadership, board members, and clinical staff, our goal is to equip all staff with the knowledge and resources to participate in advocacy activities. Our culture is that everyone can participate, no matter what their title is. We do this by incorporating right into new employee orientation who we are, what we do, and why we do it so that staff knows that advocacy is in our culture and to understand the CHC mentality, truly promoting grace and empathy.”

Sharon Smith, Executive Assistant & Public Relations

Community Health Centers of South Central Texas

Sharon Smith, Executive Assistant and Public Relations, shared with the ALP cohort about CHCSCT’s approach to bringing advocacy awareness and potential impact to new employees through film. As part of CHCSCT’s onboarding process, new employees view two heart-felt stories from two women who share their experiences as advocates in the health center world. Sharon states, “It’s not just what’s inside of these four walls, but what is happening outside of these four walls also. Strong use of storytelling brings a personal connection to the cause. It connects the dots between legislative activity, patient care, real patients, why CHCs employees in south-central Texas are passionate about what they do; showing real-life examples that their patients and coworkers are truly extended family.”

Jodie Wexelberg, Public Relations Specialist


Jodie Wexelberg, Public Relations Specialist of HealthLinc, focused on an identified area of growth opportunity within the 11-location Community Health Center of HealthLinc of advocating for improved and expanded services for LGBTQ+ patients. As stated by Ms. Wexelberg, the objective of her project is “to build a coalition with LGBTQ+ organizations across northern Indiana to provide better health care and more effectively advocate for the LGBTQ+ community on a local, state, and federal level for programs and funding.”

Recognizing the importance of this opportunity, HealthLinc has incorporated aspects of this project into its annual strategic plan. In her presentation, Jodie identified items that the organization is actively seeking to implement. These include ensuring each of their 11 locations has a dedicated LGBTQ+ patient advocate, at least one provider that will prescribe gender-affirming hormone treatment, and LGBTQ+ focused continuing professional development events for all staff.  These actions were chosen explicitly after careful analysis of barriers, obstacles, and challenges to provide inclusive healthcare homes for LGBTQ+ patients.

Lisa Brown, Board Member

Lorain County Health & Dentistry

As a board member for Lorain County Health & Dentistry, Lisa Brown brings a unique perspective and direction to her ALP final project. LCH&D prides itself on having established a robust advocacy presence yet recognizes the board’s increased awareness and action opportunities. Brown presents her fellow board members with four key messages:


  • The mission is too important to sit on the sidelines.
  • The need is too great to ignore.
  • Board member voices need to be heard by decision-makers.
  • Board members have more power and influence than they think.


Within the message of the need being too great to ignore, Brown drills down to the heart of advocacy with a bold statement, “When public funding priorities shrink, go away, or are delayed, the people that we serve sufferThat’s not a fundraising problem for our organizations; that’s a survival problem for our communities most vulnerable.” Brown’s overall purpose and goal are clear: to provide a clear path for fellow board members to renew and strengthen their commitment to advocacy at local, state, and federal levels.