Today’s entry takes me back to the original intent of this blog, which is to give people their flowers while they live. This was one of the hardest blogs I’ve had to write because I know the person about whom it is written would rather stay in the shadows working and impacting lives than to be put into the spotlight.
Stalanda, there aren’t enough flowers in this world for you. My sister from another mother, what can I say about you that won’t come out totally inadequate and capture such a small percentage of your rockin’ awesomeness? I probably will fail at my attempt to describe you, but here goes…
“Where God leads me, He will provide for me.”
With those words in mind, Stalanda Butcher quit her comfortable job teaching, packed her belongings and moved to New Orleans. She didn’t know how she would make it financially, and she really didn’t even quite know what to expect when she got there.
But she did it.
She had been teaching math to junior high and high school students. It seemed like a perfect fit for someone with a passion for reaching out to children. But something kept tugging at her heart and saying, “There is so much more for you to do within the walls of a school building.” She had no idea what that meant, but she kept her eyes open to what the world might have in store.
The world did not disappoint when it brought her to the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She lucked into a description of the program while looking through catalogs one day, and that nagging inner voice started whispering to her once again as she read about the school’s maternal/child health and health education/communication dual masters program.
Stalanda prayed. She talked to her parents. She thought through all the reasons to go and the reasons to stay. Ultimately, she left her comfort zone and ventured into potentially choppy, uncharted waters. She had no job and no clear picture of where the future would take her, but she kept repeating to herself “Where God leads me, He will provide for me.”
While in New Orleans working on her Master’s degree, Stalanda could look out her downtown window and see children walking the streets all through the night. Where were the guiding hands of parents in the lives of these children? What were they doing out when they should be safe in their beds getting rested for the next day at school?
She read case studies about children dealing with morbid obesity, pregnancy, parenthood and suicidal thoughts. She looked at those children walking through the streets of New Orleans unaccompanied, unguided and seemingly unacknowledged by most of society. That voice in her heart had been guiding her to this point where she would realize that her life’s path would lead to a career centered on improving the wellbeing of children.
I would imagine there isn’t a single child who has come into contact with Stalanda or with one of the programs she has implemented since those days at Tulane who could possibly say they had not been positively impacted by the work of this real-life Wonder Woman. She has worked with The Children’s Coalition of Northeast Louisiana and will assume the role of the Coalition’s Board President this year. She now works as the program manager of the St. Francis School-Based Health Center at Carroll Junior High in Monroe and is impacting the lives of those students each and every day through the work she and her staff do.
Opening the Center was not the easiest thing Stalanda has undertaken, but true to her usual form, she tackled the process head-on. Obstacles were placed in front of her that would’ve sent others running for cover.
But not Stalanda.
She addressed each obstacle, won over community members and school leaders and has helped decrease absenteeism and return most students to class rather than send them home with minor aches, pains and complaints. In the first year of operations of the School-Based Health Center, Stalanda and her staff were able to reduce the number of emergency room visits from the zip code where most of the students reside by 49.5% for adolescents ages 12 to 18.
Those are just numbers to Stalanda. The statistics are helpful to quote as the Center seeks funding and promotes its services back to the School Board and parents, but they are simply numbers on a page. Stalanda is more concerned with the students who have changed their lives through behavioral health sessions, with the parents who report having to take off work less to stay home with sick children and, most importantly, with the students themselves.
Stalanda’s heart is full of service and genuine love. She would say that all she has accomplished is through the grace of God and through the community partners she has been fortunate to collaborate with, but we all know she is the catalyst in every group in which she participates. It is her knowledge, honest love of children and desire to achieve the highest ethical, professional and personal standards that provide the strong foundation on which her work is built. If you are ever blessed to serve with her on a committee or a community outreach project, you will see that she is the real deal.
She is compassionate, honest and ethical. She is good-natured and is integrity personified. She has a cheer-infused, infectiously wonderful laugh. She smiles and greets each person she meets. She walks a Godly path and helps adolescents at her church as they attempt to find their own path. She is a dedicated wife and mother. She is friendly. She is someone who is a model of so much of what is remarkable in this world.
I want to be Stalanda Butcher when I grow up! But if God can’t commit to that much work on me, I’ll be happy just to be her friend and coworker. I am blessed to have this awe-inspiring woman in my life, and I hope to somehow in some little way give her back even a small measure of the joy she brings to me.