Impact Week: Reaching That First Birthday

Tristen Morales, a senior at Loy Norrix High School, decided to study nursing after participating in the Early Introduction to Health Careers pipeline program at WMed.

When a community commits itself to safeguarding the health of its most vulnerable people, that means more babies—especially babies of color—will celebrate their first birthday.

United Way BCKR set a goal to improve infant mortality rates in families of color and low income to 6.0 per 1,000 births by 2025.

Tristen’s Story

Before his sophomore year in high school, Tristen Morales wasn’t sure what his future career looked like. He knew he wanted to help people, but couldn’t narrow it down.

“I went through all the stereotypical professions – lawyer, police officer, doctor,” he said. “Nothing really fit.”

When he heard a presentation in his English class about the Early Introduction to Health Careers II Pipeline Program at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, he was intrigued, if a little wary of having to attend “school” on Saturdays.

He figured he’d give it a shot.

The program, funded in part by United Way as a strategy to reduce disparities in the health-care system, aims to spark interest in biomedical science and health careers among underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged high school students from the Kalamazoo area. The long-term aim is to build a more diverse student population entering healthcare fields, in order to reduce disparities.

EIH II consists of a Saturday Science Academy during which students learn health sciences, math, and the development of critical thinking, teamwork and problem-solving skills from WMed staff and students. They are then eligible to be chosen for a two-week intensive program during the summer.

Tristen completed both, and the experienced helped him clarify his future plans. Now a senior at Loy Norrix High School, he’s on track to become a nurse.

“During the program we did so many hands-on activities,” he said. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor at one point. Now I’m going for nursing. It helped to illuminate the steps that I needed to get where I wanted to go.”

“Nurses, we’re there whether you’re crying, happy, just there all the time for that moral support, for support overall, which I’m more about.”

Tristen said he shouldn’t have worried about school on a Saturday.

“It was very relatable to our age group and everything that we have going on,” he said. “Combining education and employment isn’t always the easiest thing, and they rocked it with that.”

His favorite things about the program were the medical school’s Simulation Center, a group research project on sexual health and awareness, and especially the support he received from staff and med students along the way.

“At the end of the day, they understand what it’s like for us, that especially as minority students we are indeed falling behind,” Tristen said. “This program is definitely an eye-opener for students like myself to see all the possibilities we are capable of. If not for this program, I probably would not have even looked at nursing.”

#ChangeTheStory in Health

More than 6 of every 1,000 infants born in the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo region die before their first birthday. That’s about the same as the national rate. But African-American infants born locally are far more likely to die before they see that first candle—well over 50% more likely.

United Way also set two priorities for its Health focus area: ensuring good physical, mental and behavioral health for families and infants; and awareness, education and engagement with families. Currently, United Way funds 13 programs, investing more than $1.1 million in strategic grants. [See all of United Way BCKR’s investments, partnerships and collaborations here.]

Through investments and partnerships, United Way and our region are making progress. Some examples:
• 85% of African-American mothers gave birth to an infant of healthy weight in 2017.
• 576 mothers received home visiting care for their children.
• 834 pregnant women and new mothers received services.

United Way BCKR continues to work through collaboratives such as Cradle Kalamazoo and the Regional Health Alliance to bring hope and life to all infants born in our community.

Check out our Health video to learn more about our work in this area.

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We’re celebrating Impact Week! Discover how your United Way is tackling the toughest challenges in our regional community. Here are links to other Impact Week information:

Video on Impact Week
Our Impact – a comprehensive data report on United Way investments and results.
Delivering Results, Changing Lives – an overview of what’s ahead for Impact Week.
Ensuring a Safety Net – helping people in crisis get back on their feet.
Fighting for Financial Stability – tackling poverty and near-poverty effectively.
Hope Through Education – United Way’s impact in driving higher graduation rates.
Making It Personal – Chris Sargent gives his take.
Share Your Story – we want to hear from you.