That’s What She Said

We’re keeping our intro short – but oh-so-sweet – this post and letting some kick-ass women do the storytelling.  

Women’s History Month has us digging into some pretty staggering statistics around food-insecurity, celebrating some women Ph.D.’s paving the way in Alzheimer’s research (NBD) and chatting about shoes (SHOES!).

Good Shoes Take You Good Places

Photo courtesy of Soles4Souls.

Soles4Souls tells the inspiration story of two remarkable women, Raquel and Traci. Raquel, a mother, wife and entrepreneur in Honduras – and Traci, a teenager in New York. Although both women are bonded by a similar birth experience, they live exceptionally different live exceptionally different lives today, yet their stories continue to intersect.

In the article that was originally published by Soles4Souls, it goes on to say:

Raquel and Traci are joined by a similar birth experience. Like many girls in countries where most subsist on less than $2 a day, their mothers were unable to care for them. For many desperate families, “abandonment” is a final attempt to help children survive unspeakable circumstances. Unfortunately, lacking the capacity for care, most of them fall through the cracks and become the most vulnerable of victims. But not these two. Raquel made her way to Our Little Roses, a safe haven for at-risk girls in one of the world’s most dangerous areas, and enjoyed a happy childhood until she was strong enough to stand on her own. Traci was rescued by a spunky Jewish single mom after spending the first few months of her life in foster care in Guatemala. She’s been lovingly raised in the U.S. suburbs ever since. Someone invested in them and it’s paid off.

 They’re also united by this mission you support and a simple pair (actually many pairs!) of shoes.

Traci’s life-changing shoe experience stemmed from a desire to give back to her country of origin. When at ten years old she learned about Soles4Souls’ direct relief programs in Guatemala that provide children new shoes to keep them healthy and in school, she jumped at the chance to get involved. After exploring the various options, she decided to host a shoe drive. “Traci knew the used shoes she’d collect wouldn’t go directly to Guatemala but rather be used for other job creation programs, but she committed fully to the overall mission of helping people in need,” says Traci’s mother Nancy. It all started pretty small. “At first, I thought I could come up with 100 pairs of shoes just raiding my mom and sister’s closets,” giggles Traci. “But as the shoes started coming in and the community started talking and caring about my project, I knew I had to go all the way.” 30,549 pairs of shoes all the way to be exact!

 Raquel’s transformative shoe moment came as she landed her first job, a seasonal position at a local shoe store. As exciting as it was to earn enough money for a new Christmas outfit (the very coveted “estreno”), that was but a preview of things to come. Little did she know that more than a decade, two children and a huge leap of faith later, she would be the proud co-owner of her very own shoe store. “Raquel exemplifies the spirit of Soles4Souls’ job creation model,” affirms our local non-profit partner Raul. “In a short time, she’s become one of the program’s most promising micro-entrepreneurs.”  Raquel and her husband Carlos opened the storefront this past February with an initial loan from an angel investor, naming it Camila’s after their young daughter. They work closely with Raul, trusting in his mentorship and procuring a steady supply of competitively priced, high-quality shoes collected by our network of volunteers. “Our operation has become self-sustaining,” notes Raquel proudly. And that’s exactly what the program is meant to do.

 The two have since walked different paths. Now fourteen, Traci looks to a bright future, confident in her ability to conquer any obstacle. And she’ll be joining us for a shoe distribution service trip to an Arizona Reservation this summer. Raquel’s future is equally bright. Her shoe business affords her a way not only to build a future for her two children, but also to give back. “I come from a very humble past, so I understand the struggles of our people,” reflects Raquel. “I’ve been given a hand up and now it’s my chance to do the same for others.” And she has. A hand up to the customers who purchase her quality shoes at a good price, providing their families relief, health, dignity and hope. A hand up to the struggling mothers and sick elders to whom she gifts a pair of shoes they sorely need but can’t afford. And a hands up to other girls from Our Little Roses as she fulfills her vision of offering them safe employment as they transition out of the home. “It’s like a chain,” she adds. “One person helps another, and then they help another, and so it goes.”

Empowering Women = A Hunger-Free World.

Photo courtesy of Rise Against Hunger.

Rise Against Hunger is putting a spotlight on the fact that women are more likely to experience food insecurity than men in EVERY (literally) region of the world. Raghiema, a 4-year-old girl in South Africa, is a hot-sizzle of a story showcasing how a daily meal at school took a young girl from sickness and hunger to joy, education, security and confidence.

In the article that was originally published by Rise Against Hunger, it goes on to say:

For Raghiema, a 4-year-old girl, Seawind, South Africa is her home. Seawind and the greater Lavender Hill area is an impoverished community on the Cape Flats, where residents settled during South Africa’s apartheid era. The community faces a multitude of challenges, including a high rate of unemployment.

For children like Raghiema in her community, consistent access to nutritious meals is a rarity. Raghiema lives with her mother and 11 other family members in crowded quarters, and prior to receiving Rise Against Hunger meals, she often ate only bread and frequently got sick. Now with the consistent nutritious food, her immune system is stronger and she is able to succeed in school, even helping her peers excel.

For Raghiema, a 4-year-old girl, Seawind, South Africa is her home. Seawind and the greater Lavender Hill area is an impoverished community on the Cape Flats, where residents settled during South Africa’s apartheid era. The community faces a multitude of challenges, including a high rate of unemployment.

For children like Raghiema in her community, consistent access to nutritious meals is a rarity. Raghiema lives with her mother and 11 other family members in crowded quarters, and prior to receiving Rise Against Hunger meals, she often ate only bread and frequently got sick. Now with the consistent nutritious food, her immune system is stronger and she is able to succeed in school, even helping her peers excel.

It’s A No-Brainer.

Photo courtesy of Alzheimer’s Association.

2018 study surveyed over 20,000 pictures of “scientists” draws by K-12 students. It found that children are increasingly drawing women in their sketches. YAY! Bummer news, however – the study also shows that women appear less ofter as children get older.

Alzheimer’s Association spoke with Alzheimer’s disease scientists Drs. Kacie Deters and Elizabeth Mormino about their feelings about a more gender-balanced world and thoughts on being women-leaders in the research field.

In the article that was originally published by Alzheimer’s Association, it goes on to say:

Dr. Kacie Deters, Alzheimer’s Association funded researcher, postdoctoral fellow, Mormino Lab: I was Pre-med as an undergraduate student and became really interested in biology, which I decided to pursue as my master’s degree. That was when I became exposed to dementia research and started learning more about the different types of dementia. I’ve always been trying to answer that huge question: “Why do we forget?” Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with Alzheimer’s disease research.

I’m of mixed race, black and white, and I’m very interested in racial and ethnic disparities in Alzheimer’s. In Beth’s lab, I’ve been able to put 100 percent of my drive to research into practice.

Dr. Beth Mormino, principal investigator, Mormino Lab: I was always interested in science and math in school. In undergrad, I had the opportunity to use brain imaging technologies, learning how to explore the brain and how it works. At the time, I was working on brain imaging of developmental disorders: autism, epilepsy, ADHD. I became fascinated with studying pictures of the brain, and this work ultimately put me on the path to neuroscience. I truly became enamored by Alzheimer’s disease imaging during grad school at Berkeley, when positron emission tomography (PET imaging) really started taking off.

A Passion for Research

Both became intrigued by the idea of combining different imaging technologies to focus on the early detection and monitoring of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Beth Mormino: How can we combine our imaging discoveries with other data to predict risk of developing Alzheimer’s? That is a question I want to answer. We use brain scans to visualize changes in the brain, such as the amyloid plaques and tau tangles that characterize the disease, and focus on identifying biological markers that develop decades before a person is diagnosed with the disease.

This is where genetics comes into play: the idea of combining imaging and biomarkers to understand a person’s future risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Kacie Deters: 
Genetics account for an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. We have seen the research: there is a difference in the effects of genetic risk factors based on a person’s race.

I have read a lot of data about Alzheimer’s findings in the white population but far fewer studies in the black population. Why are African-Americans at a higher risk? Considering the fact that a large portion of the U.S. population is of mixed race, like myself, I am very focused on disparities research in Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Beth Mormino: Kacie and I both geek out about data and everything we can learn from it, so seeing the kind of imaging work we do starting to be used in clinical trials is really exciting. Sometimes scientists can feel removed from the real world, but our connection to this disease is a huge source of motivation. Seeing our work making a difference in the world – helping real people in need – is incredibly gratifying and important to us.

Making Strides as a Female Researcher

Having examples of other women in the field of Alzheimer’s disease research is hugely important, whether these are mentors, colleagues or peers in the field.

Dr. Beth Mormino: While there are a lot of women attending neuroscience conferences – and more and more younger women, which is fantastic – it is still pretty uncommon to see a lot of female keynote speakers at these events. I’ll admit that it can be sort of jarring not to see as many examples of women in senior positions when thinking about the next stage of your career.

Of course, there is a flip side. I am lucky to have had exposure to very successful women in my field, including Dr. Reisa Sperling, who I worked under during my postdoctoral training. Working with a female leader in the Alzheimer’s research field had a huge impact on my career, but I know that kind of opportunity isn’t one every researcher has access to.

As a mother and a scientist, I have found that there is also the ever-present challenge of what people think your role should be as a woman. Even when working in a progressive academic field full-time, female scientists are exposed to a different set of expectations than their male counterparts. These expectations may influence the decisions of some female scientists; I imagine that some women may wonder how far they can rise in their careers. And they shouldn’t have to.

Dr. Kacie Deters:  I agree. As a minority, I didn’t have any senior minority female mentors until recently, working with Dr. Lisa Barnes at Rush University Medical Center. But I am so fortunate to have women ten years ahead or behind me to work with and look up to.

In my experience, women seem to doubt their accomplishments or question their success more than their male counterparts. Fight the imposter syndrome! People like Drs. Reisa Sperling, Lisa Barnes and Shannon Risacher, one of my Ph.D. mentors, who have achieved so much have motivated me to stay on the path that I know I am meant to be on.

Dr. Beth Mormino: There are so many leaders who have had a huge influence on my career: Drs. Dorene RentzJill GoldsteinSusan ResnickDenise Park. Whether it has been on a personal or professional level, it has been amazing to get to know my fellow scientists, listen to their advice or see their career trajectories. These women are great examples of what a scientist should and can be.

The Future is Female

Drs. Mormino and Deters agree that women have so many strengths that feed into the field of scientific research: multitasking being key.

Dr. Beth Mormino: How are women not suited to becoming leaders in this field? Women are amazing communicators who work well under stress. Women are curious, driven, intelligent and have an amazing team-building approach to their work. All of these qualities make for a terrific scientist.

I have felt completely supported in my field by both my male and female colleagues, and there are more and more sources of help for people juggling their career and their family life. It’s very encouraging. I think it’s just a matter of time before the gender norms and expectations of the past wash away.

Dr. Kacie Deters: Female scientists are being heard, but we need to continue to speak up. We need to integrate ourselves into conversations and continue to hold our ground.

Seeing the women I’ve worked with so closely killing it in the research game, receiving grants, having their work published, receiving honors and awards, getting speaker invitations and nominations … it is so inspiring and encouraging. It’s the reason I always strive to be better and continue to work as hard as I can.