Doing good: A Step Ahead Foundation

The nonprofit is expanding its reach and growing its impact, eliminating economic and transportation barriers so that area women can access the most effective contraceptives--and take ownership of their own futures.
Almost four years ago, A Step Ahead Foundation (ASAF) took its first steps into the seemingly uncharted waters of long-acting, reversible contraception.

The goal is and continues to be to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in Memphis and Shelby County, thereby lessening the inherent poverty in our area. Those first steps have led to an all-out charge that is gaining momentum and support from across the community--the nonprofit has climbed from zero to 19 partner clinics in just three years, has established intermittent partnerships with area physicians and now collaborates efforts with other local agencies. Additionally, a recent cry of public support from the American Pediatric Association is helping to pave the way for more expansion. The APA recently changed its view from "The Pill" (oral contraceptive) and "The Shot" (Depo-Provera shots) to long-acting, reversible contraception (LARC) as the most effective means of contraceptives for teens who have become sexually active.
A Step Ahead Foundation differs from similar organizations in that the nonprofit provides a call center that schedules appointments for clients, as well as free transportation to the partner clinic closest to them. They are ASAF, not providers or connectors to abortion or sterilization services. Their mission is to remove the geographic and economic barriers for area women to have access to the most effective, and up to now the most expensive, methods of contraception at no cost to them.
"When women can plan their lives, plan their future and plan their babies, they are better able to achieve their hopes and dreams,” explains Claudia S. Haltom, CEO of ASAF. "In our first year, we worked primarily with people in my network as a former Juvenile Court Magistrate, like David Jordan and the case workers at Agape. Now we are in 19 community-based clinics that have frontline providers in places where women normally access their healthcare--and where they can take their children."
ASAF is not only gaining the public's awareness, but they are also gaining a larger base of support, with invitations to speak at various events, community centers, health fairs and churches. ASAF's outreach representatives are regularly staffing tables at MIFA, the Department of Human Services, and Maximus Child Support offices and soon will be available at three public health clinics to talk to women about their contraceptive options.
When ASAF was founded, Haltom says that the majority of the people they spoke to tended to focus on the term "contraception." Now they are making the connection between unintended pregnancies and the local level of poverty.
"The number of unplanned pregnancies determines how well a person can fight their way out of poverty,” says Memphis OB/GYN Dr. Dwight Moore.
And Dr. Melrose Blackett, Board Member for A Step Ahead Foundation, says another connection that has made a difference is the aspect of encouraging birth spacing--for healthier mothers and healthier babies, women should allow 18 to 24 months between pregnancies.
The groundswell is noticeable. Just a few years ago, the term LARC was rarely heard. Now more area medical providers are mentioning LARCs because of the higher level of effectiveness and, because of ASAF, their accessibility. LARCS are more readily available, on the shelf at their clinics, knowing these methods will be paid for, with ASAF as the payor of last resort.
"In our organization's infancy, our staff members had to go everywhere. Now we are able to expand our reach through our Partners in Prevention program with other community agencies who not only incorporate our message but are folding it into their very culture," said Katy Langston, Director of Development and Marketing for ASAF.
Through ASAF's outreach and educational endeavors such as the Girl Talk and Real Talk programs there is more awareness of this birth control method among area teenagers. The improved ease of insertion has contributed to the increase in requests for the long-acting, reversible methods.
As A Step Ahead moves into its next phase of organizational growth, it is widening its reach within the community. Volunteer opportunities are available to work with the organization's outreach team to help generate new places to speak, as well as to help staff events. College internships for students in disciplines such as nursing, social work and public health programs are being developed on local college campuses. To request a scheduled talk with girls groups, youth groups and other agencies that work with teenage populations, contact Belinda Simpson

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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