It started watching my Dad live with a severe genetic heart condition....
As a kid, I didn't understand it but I knew something was wrong when life started to change. As a family we were fairly healthy - we ate wheat germ, liver, spoonfuls of molasses, and took Vitamin E gel capsules. Processed food was never in our house, but if my dad snuck out and purchased a bag of Fritos or box of Captain Crunch it was gone within an hour. It was not beneath me to hide a box of sugary cereal because I knew with five siblings it would quickly become everyone's snack for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
My dad’s regimen was a strict diet and exercise program. He was once a college athlete, but dental school and six kids later, his weight crept up and he was an occasional smoker (I remember breaking the cigarettes and putting them back in the box). His heart condition was never talked about. As a child living in upstate New York, I wondered why my parents traveled so far to the big city to see a doctor.
Years later, I learned it was to consult with top cardiovascular physicians about his condition. A suggested surgical procedure was cutting edge, but risky and the odds of dying on the operating table were high. Diet, exercise and stress control were his best options. Despite my dad's efforts, he died while running on his lunch break at 40 years old. I was just 14 years old.
I went on to receive an undergraduate degree in Sports Medicine and started working in a cardiovascular and neurology laboratory. I received my Masters in Applied Anatomy and Physiology, and continued to work in stress testing and cardiovascular rehab centers. Maybe it was part of my healing process? Or the hope of gaining some understanding to an unexplainable situation? Heartache and emotions have become my motivation and the basis of my involvement in doing what I can to educate others in my community.
My focus changed with the birth of my first child
This period of my life broke my heart. Prior to his birth, I focused on health, fitness and nutrition, but now it was time to hone in on my environmental knowledge. My son was born with skin issues so I started digging and digging.....it was time to heal my child. So what about the clothes I put on my child? Anything with a decal or a tag would throw him into a tizzy. What about the detergents? What exactly is that chronic medication doing to my child over time?
Through little changes and learning, I began to take control of this health issue. I knew I did not want long term medication to be the only solution. I wanted to make informed decisions. I wanted to be part of the discussion. This shifted everything.
My heart grew and so did our community Photo: Clean Water Action
After creating a small health fair for our community which included, Clean Water Action, the Boston based non-profit organization for safer chemical legislation, I learned more about protective legislation regarding toxic chemicals.
That feeling - the drive to share with our community- was pressing inside me. The result was Medfield Green, a nonprofit formed by myself and three other powerful mothers. Now we had a platform to educate and learn from other people about environmental health issues from cosmetics to lawn care to recycling and supporting local shopping. It was a labor of love, but I witnessed first hand the impact a community can create when they have the structure bring people together.
Since then, I have become involved in lobbying at the State House and have traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for environmental issues. Who knew?! Originally I was intimidated by speaking to an elected official until I took the view that they are public servants elected by the people.
Looking back, the key was I surrounded myself with strong, passionate and caring people. I was not alone. I continued to educate myself on how I can create change and empower other people to do the same.
My whole-hearted advice
Learn about legislation that impacts your world.
- Start with getting to know your state representative. Contact them with local issues and issues that are close to your heart. Most reps have open office hours at community buildings for concerned citizens to voice their opinions and concerns. Just talk with them.
- Learn more about your state issues using Safer States.
- If you lead a Savvy Women's Alliance Chapter, see if your local representatives would like to meet your members, or if you can visit the office for a coffee hour.
- You don't have to be a writer or public speaker, just show up. Be present. Be part of a state of change. Raise your hand and say, "I want to be there!"
At Senator Warrens Office in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Clean Water Action
Are you interested in being part of state action? Raise your hand and send us a quick email.
Medfield Green -Cheryl's nonprofit mentioned above- created a town shifting impact and a new norm for a generation of children. This month, Medfield Green will join forces and transition into the Savvy Women's Alliance Chapter of Medfield!! The honor is ours and we look forward to combining wisdom and experience!