Friday, June 02, 2006

Solutionary Women: Rebecca Kalin

This week's Solutionary Woman, Rebecca Kalin, was recommended by Michael Stein.

Rebecca is the founder of the nonprofit, Asthma Free School Zone and she was kind enough to answer my e-interview questions:

Briefly describe Asthma Free School Zone.

The Asthma Free School Zone aims to reduce asthma-related illness and absenteeism in school children by creating a protective school zone that is free of unhealthy and unnecessary environmental hazards. We train school and community members about environmental health, and post durable, no-idling street signs that not only help reduce idling–the #1 source of urban pollution–but also help build neighborhood cohesiveness by signaling that asthma is a community concern. We started in our first school in the spring of 2002.

How did you get involved in this kind of work?

After a few years of designing and producing educational radio programs in Africa, I decided to go for a Masters in public health-my favorite content area. A visiting lecturer inspired me when he challenged the class to, "think creatively … design an asthma intervention that has not been designed before." As an artist born of artist parents, I thought that seemed a heck of a lot easier than biostatistics. So, the AFSZ was born and was quite quickly dubbed, "the only known asthma intervention that targeted ambient air quality in the microenvironment of schools." It is now before the New York City Council, which, if passed, would be implemented in all 1400 schools citywide.

What do you enjoy the most about your work with Asthma Free School Zone?

Any project built from the ground up is, by nature, creative. Here, at the AFSZ, we aim to be different, ahead of the curve. Every day offers an opportunity for fresh thinking. Also by nature, people in the public health field tend to be good and generous people.

What are the biggest challenges in your work with Asthma Free School Zone?

Although the work seems never-ending, that is not the biggest challenge. It is, rather, working with the system, specifically, government bureaucracies that have never known the word nimble.

What keeps you motivated and energized to do this work?

The satisfaction of accomplishment; the challenge of doing work that makes a difference; my wonderful staff; a community of smart, good-hearted public health colleagues.

What tips, resource and advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the kind of work you are doing, or just wanted to make a difference in children's health issues?

You won't get rich. You will work with the best of people. There is a lot of room in public health for creativity. Because the field doesn't require creativity, a creative person can very easily make a special contribution. And, if you really want to do this kind of work … call me!

If you know a Solutionary Woman who works at a nonprofit or NGO who you think I should profile, please email me at britt at brittbravo dot com with their name, organization and contact info.

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