Posted 11:23 a.m. Friday, Oct. 27, 2023
Alumna Maichor Lee incorporates non-traditional approaches to build community health
For UWL Alumna Maichor Lee, good health is not just about good nutrition and regular exercise. It comes from experiences that bring people closer together as a community.
As La Crosse County’s public health educator, Lee has created many experiences that connect the community while incorporating healthy-lifestyle choices. Her 21 years of programming for the county has ranged from weekly line dancing lessons for Hmong women to group health education classes for senior citizens.
“I am a people person. I love to talk to people, bring them together and give the education and resources that I know are available,” says Lee. “In La Crosse County, we have rich resources, but sometimes people aren't aware of those opportunities.”
Lee’s work as a strong advocate for women and the Hmong community in the La Crosse area earned her the 2023 Tribute to Outstanding Women Eliminating Racism Award. The award was presented in early October.
“She has always been passionate about assuring diversity, equity, and inclusion in her multiple realms of interaction with others in the community context,” says Gary Gilmore, UWL professor and director of assessment for UWL Public Health Programs. “She believes that each person can have a unique role in continually giving back to the greater good in the world.”
A perfect fit in public health
Lee remembers Gilmore fondly from her years as a UWL student. She discovered public health as a potential career path for the first time as a UWL undergraduate when a health educator visited one of her classes.
“All my life I had wanted to become a nurse, but in college I realized that educating people about health is what I really wanted. I wanted to inspire people to do things better for themselves,” she says.
In her work for the county, one of her more memorable health education events involved ACE training for Hmong community members. ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences. The accumulation of ACEs, or traumatic experiences in childhood such as divorce, sexual abuse, or neglect, can take a toll on the body later in life. Lee recalls explaining ACEs to the group and seeing participants slowly open up to share their own.
“When they talked about it, the tears were still there, and you can feel the sorrow and the hurt. But it helped them to get it out,” she says. “The tears and laughter and conversation helped them understand.”
Another success was the creation of a grant-funded program to teach line dancing to Hmong community members at the Hmong Culture and Community Agency. During a 20-minute break, Lee would provide a short talk on a health topic. Although it was a fun and social program, it met some initial resistance as the idea of married Hmong woman dancing and performing was not a Hmong cultural norm. Even so, the program was popular attracting 60 women to the first lesson and lasting for over three years. The initial resistance faded as the community saw the benefits.
“It was all about building self-confidence, self-esteem and encouraging these women to value themselves and take care of themselves,” says Lee.
The group blossomed into friendships that continue today. In other words, the program became Lee’s perfect example of good public health.
About the Wisconsin Well Woman program
Lee is the coordinator for the Wisconsin Well Woman program, a state-funded program that offers healthcare to low-income women within federal guidelines to provide important checkups such as a mammogram and pap test for women age 40 or older. Those enrolled can get assistance paying for things like breast cancer or cervical cancer treatment. “The mission of the program is to encourage women to get screened,” explains Lee. Lee specifically coordinates the program in five counties: La Crosse, Monroe, Buffalo, Vernon and Crawford.
What is the YWCA Tribute Award?
The Eliminating Racism Award is given annually to a woman in the Coulee Region who has demonstrated a commitment to eliminating racism by working to dismantle policies, laws, practices, and/or attitudes that harm people and communities of color, and works towards racial reconciliation, healing, and equity in the community.
Lee was nominated for this award for her participation in the Wisconsin Well Woman program, which offers healthcare to women who would not otherwise have access to important checkups and her tireless efforts to support the Hmong Community, especially through her work with the Vang Council of La Crosse. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee took special interest in helping to create tailored communication strategies to reach out to Hmong community members, protecting and advancing the health of countless community members at a time when it was most critical.