New WIC clinic, Soroptimist event on the horizon

Gains for girls

Posted: Friday, January 06, 2006

From the blossoming of womanhood to early motherhood, women’s issues are generating fresh support in the Kenai and Soldotna area as women’s rights activists kick off the new year.

This month begins with a fundraiser for a young women’s event and ends with the opening of a Soldotna nutritional clinic for pregnant women and mothers with young children.

The fundraiser, the 2006 Soroptimist Gala, will be held Saturday by Soroptimist International of the Kenai Peninsula at the Alaska Challenger Learning Center. Proceeds from the Soroptimist’s fundraiser will be used to fund their young women’s teen conference, an event offering young women an opportunity to learn the skills needed to lead successful and healthy lives.

The conference was a great success last year, and the group is striving to generate money to host it again this year with fundraisers, such as Saturday’s Gala.

“We knew we made a difference (at last year’s teen conference) because of how the girls responded to it,” said Annie Berge, vice president of the peninsula chapter of Soroptimists.

Young women gained more confidence after attending last year’s teen conference, she said.

Attendees listened to speakers and participated in workshops on social and safety skills. Last year, Shirley Gifford, a retired Soldotna police chief, was a particularly popular speaker, Berge said.

Berge said she mentored students in local middle and high schools before she joined the Soroptimists and found many young woman needed more education in social and safety skills. And speaking more generally, Berge said women in the Soldotna and Kenai area can use all the support they can get.

“If there is even one (woman) that has a problem then we don’t have enough,” she said.

Support will also grow this month with the opening of a new nutritional clinic for pregnant women and mothers of young children in Soldotna Jan. 25.

For the first time in more than a year low-income mothers in the Soldotna area will have access to food packages and nutritional services without burning a gallon or more of gas to get them.

Women, Infants and Children, a national program dedicated to women and children’s nutritional needs, will open a satellite clinic in Soldotna with the help of Central Peninsula Health Inc., which is providing WIC with the space to operate the clinic.

“We recognize the critical need of the population we serve to focus attention on wellness and prevention, and nutrition is a key piece of doing that,” said Stan Steadman, executive director of Central Peninsula Health Inc.

The new clinic will be open every Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. and bring WIC’s services closer to women in the Soldotna, Sterling, Cooper Landing, Kasilof and Ninilchik.

“It’s kind of like a first line of defense for these women, since they can’t always run to the doctor said Kelly Reilly-Nelson, a nutritionist at WIC.

WIC provides free food vouchers for pregnant women, postpartum and breast-feeding women and infants and children up to 5 years old. But unlike food stamps, the vouchers cannot be used to buy chips or pop. They can only be used to purchase foods WIC recognizes as part of a nutritional diet. The program also provides nutritional checkups, education on healthy eating and other, more general support for the needs of early motherhood.

“We need a little more education for mothers. They’re not always sure what they should do,” Reilly-Nelson said.

Reilly-Nelson was first introduced to WIC as a young pregnant woman, an introduction that positively influenced her experience as a young mother.

“It turned out to be a neat time rather than an incredibly stressful time,” she said. “(WIC) was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

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