As the community liaison for Broward County, Florida’s Healthy Start Coalition, Cheyney University Alumna Alima Harley always has a full plate.
Coordinating different events, reaching out to counterparts in other cities, and counseling expectant mothers and families with children can be emotionally draining, even stressful sometimes.
Harley said it’s worth it.
“Having a child is a life-changing event and a pregnancy doesn’t happen like clockwork,” she said. “It can be especially overwhelming for a single mother with limited family support and who doesn’t have a job paying life-sustaining wages. That’s what the Healthy Start Coalition is for.”
Harley started her freshman year at Cheyney in 2004 with a major in social relations and a concentration in criminal justice. She graduated in 2010 but not before two tragedies entered her life.
“In 2006, that was my junior year, my mother died in a car accident, and I took a year off from my studies,” she said. “In 2010 my father passed away from lung cancer. In the midst of all this, I was looking after my younger brother. I’ve been in the position where I needed help. I know what it’s like.”
The Broward County Healthy Start Coalition, Inc. was incorporated on February 14, 1992. In that county, the non-profit is a leader in Maternal and Child Health policy and programming.
Harley said the Coalition’s work includes management of subcontracts for quality services to pregnant women and children birth to age three.
“When I was starting my own family I was working in an Olive Garden but needed a job with a better schedule,” Harley said. “I became a lactation counselor, and I got the job because I was breastfeeding my second son and my own counselor gave me a referral. That was the start of my transition to where I am today. I became Healthy Start’s community liaison in 2016. What’s so important about what Healthy Start does is we work to improve the maternal and child health developmental outcomes. That covers a lot of territory. The Healthy Start Coalition is in place so expectant mothers know they’re not alone.”
Harley went on to say that in Broward County, and indeed in the broader society, in about sixty percent of families, the mother is the sole source of income and that society needs to look at pregnancy and families differently.
“The pandemic revealed a lot of these problems; like the high cost of child care, people who are struggling to pay rent or mortgages or to just have affordable internet,” she said. “We need to change the overall narrative. People can’t sustain families on minimum wage jobs. Now the American Rescue Plan and other pandemic-related federal financial assistance has helped a lot of people. But our society needs to think long-term. At some point, society needs to change.”
As for her time at Cheyney University, Harley says it changed her life.
“When I graduated, I had job offers. I couldn’t take advantage of them right away because of what I was handling in my family. But Cheyney is one of the best universities in the country and certainly in this region. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without Cheyney. Cheyney made me.”