Nellie Benitez, Lead Outreach Worker and Focus on Fathers Specialist, and Elizabeth Fridley, Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Nurse, with the Chatham County Public Health Department are engaged members of the Lead and Healthy Homes Task Force. Along with Carl Kivett, Lead Inspector and Risk Assessor, they conduct home investigations to ensure children with high blood lead levels receive the attention they need. They also conduct outreach to foster families and children by facilitating trainings with foster parents about lead hazards such as keys, mini-blinds, and refinished furniture. More recently, Nellie and Elizabeth have started conducting trainings at child care facilities and they plan to continue this trend into the future. In the past year, they have conducted 168 home visits and 13 provider visits. As a result of these efforts, 27 children have been cleared from the NC Lead Surveillance System due to significant decrease in blood lead levels.
In December of 2014, the Chatham County Public Health Department received a grant to utilize signage on Chatham Transit buses to educate the community about lead hazards. The buses identified travel to areas with populations of children showing elevated blood lead levels. The goal of this project was to encourage parents to ask their children’s physician about lead and Nellie and Elizabeth have seen an increase in inquiries from parents since the start of this initiative. In addition, they have also spearheaded a number of canvassing events in neighborhoods with children showing elevated blood lead levels. This is important because 33% of housing in Chatham County was constructed prior to 1978. Elizabeth says, that she enjoys canvassing because she learns so much about new areas in Chatham. She also admits, “It’s hard to quantify preventative measures” but since the beginning of the program, they have organized 3-4 canvassing events each year and visited 83 homes.
Nellie and Elizabeth both enjoy visiting families and providing education about lead poisoning prevention. Nellie explains that, “she likes working with families and creating good outcomes for the children”. Nellie also commits some of her time to work with Anthony Izzard, Fatherhood Coordinator, on a program called Focus on Fathers. This program is designed to increase Chatham fathers’ family and life-skills competencies and to prepare them for a life-long role of mentoring their children. As a bilingual specialist for this program, Nellie provides one-on-one assistance and support through home visits to program participants to assist them in meeting their individualize service goals. She currently has 15 clients, all fathers of children ages 0-5 years. Nellie says, “Working with fathers is interesting and eye-opening” since she previously worked with mothers. She now understands how important the father figure is for these children and she enjoys being a part of their lives and helping them fill the role they intended.