Real Life Story

A Journey to Family Leadership 

By Ruth Walden
Family Specialist, New York Department of Health, Children with Special Health Care Needs Unit, Chair of the AMCHP Family & Youth Leadership Committee and President, Family Voices Board of Directors 

As I pondered joining the ranks of family leaders, I recall the support of many. I was only working for my Title V program for three short months before I was asked to attend my first AMCHP meeting. I was terrified that I wouldn’t know or understand anything at the meeting. However, people attending were more than willing to share and teach. I met many family leaders and felt welcomed to the AMCHP family. This was a time before the Family Scholar Program was part of the fabric and even before family meetings were instituted. These were the days before the emphasis was on family involvement and the development of family leadership. 

A few years later, under the leadership of Dr. Maxine Hayes, we had the first family meeting which was a tremendous success. Following the meeting, a few of the early leaders discussed the need to engage more families interested in or working within Title V.  

When I was chosen as a Family Scholar I was still within the learning period of what Title V was all about. Attending AMCHP meetings, joining on regional calls and contact with maternal and child health champions helped to increase my knowledge of Title V and my desire to be active. 

The Family Youth Leadership Caucus, predecessor of the Family Youth Leadership Committee, was formed by a group of early leaders to enhance and promote family and youth activities within AMCHP. Through the activities of the early leaders, the scholarship program has become a reality each year. As we progressed on and gained more respect from the AMCHP leadership and members, we grew to develop a work plan and take an active role. Two at-large seats were created for families on the AMCHP board of directors to ensure the family and youth perspective.  

As I took on a more active role within AMCHP, I served as a Family Mentor for scholars attending the annual meeting. My role as a mentor was to acquaint myself with my scholars via telephone and e-mail, to explain what to expect from the meeting, to answer their questions and help them to acclimate them to the meeting and sessions. During the meeting, checking with the scholars to ensure their comfort to speak up and ask questions and to introduce him/herself to their Title V director as well as helping them to network with other parents was very important. Being a mentor to scholars is a very important role to assume. Acquainting scholars before, during and after the meeting as well as serving as a key player helps the scholar to feel more accepted if they have never had the option to attend an AMCHP meeting before. Being a previous scholar also helps the mentor to prepare since they had the opportunity to observe what their mentor did for them.  

Being a mentor for me added to my leadership skills. I had the opportunity to work with families from across the country, add to my network of contacts and watch the program grow.

Today’s scholars have an opportunity to enhance their leadership and knowledge development of Title V. Commitment to becoming a scholar now carries a year-long educational component and a more developed pledge to be active in their own state’s Title V Program. A majority of states have had scholars throughout the years. For those who have shared this wonderful opportunity, please renew your relationship with your Title V program. For those who have not experienced this chance, begin your relationship with your Title V director as soon as possible and ask him/her to nominate you as their 2011 scholar. 

For more information about the AMCHP Family Scholars Program, please contact Librada Estrada or visit the program website.