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As Elena Johnson began in late June as the Health Department’s new Breastfeeding Peer Counselor, she envisioned her experience as a client and her connection to the community driving her new role.
“Being a Native American woman, I think it’s good to have representation, not only for other Native Americans but for other women of color to be able to see that breastfeeding is something that everybody can do,” said Johnson, who is currently pursuing her associate degree in social work from Haskell Indian Nations University. “And it’s not just for one group of people. When people see other people who look like them doing something, they may be more apt to ask for help or to receive the help they are given or to utilize those resources.”
As a Lawrence High School graduate and member of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Elena is passionate about addressing health inequities and helping families connect with programs that offer nutrition, health and food security.
“I think my voice is not very common — more so in Lawrence because there is Haskell and a strong Native community— but if you’re not associated with that, then you don’t really have any knowledge of it. I’m proud to be Native, and I think I carry that with whatever I do,” she said.
She has been active both as a volunteer with Just Food in Lawrence and managing the new food pantry at Haskell.
Elena said her own experience with breastfeeding support programs at LMH Health after her daughter Coralynn, now 1, was born and from previous Health Department Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Cary Allen, helped her become interested in applying for the position.
She recalls the importance of the accessibility of the Health Departments Breastfeeding Peer Counselor program. During one stressful day, her husband, David Johnson, notified her their daughter did not eat while Elena was at work, but she was able to use the program’s text line outside of clinic hours to message with Cary Allen for reassurance things were likely OK.
“Once she talked me through that, I felt a little bit better especially because she was nursing with me,” Elena said.
As she continues her studies at Haskell, Elena is excited for the opportunity to help mothers and families on their own breastfeeding journeys, she said.
“It was important to me to be able to give back the support that I got,” Elena said, “so if there’s somebody else out there who needs help, I can help with that.”