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  • Writer's pictureNetwork Connect

Meet Dr. Gwen Angalet: Network Connect’s Biggest Cheerleader

Network Connect intern, Nevaeh Bass, sits down with Dr. Gwen Angalet, one of Network Connect’s biggest cheerleaders before the organization was founded and a long-time supporter of youth in Delaware.

N.B: “Hello Dr. Gwen Angalet, for our first question, I wanted to ask you to share a little bit about your relationship with Network Connect in its founders and how did you learn about the organization?”

G.A: “Oh well, that's an interesting story. I have known Erin Hutt and Cierra Hall-Hipkins before they really started Network Connect when they were working with different organizations in the community. And, they had a dream, and they shared that dream with me, and I believed in them, and I believed in the dream, and I said how can I help, and I've been doing that ever since they started in 2019. I watched these two young women take this concept, if you will, of really helping young people through better connections, organizations, services, and support from a concept to reality. And each year they have grown, the organization has grown, and it has gotten stronger. One of the things that I really admire about Cierra and Erin is that they are very willing to listen and accept suggestions and be open to suggestions about ways that they could continue to strengthen their organization because it's like having a child, it starts out as a baby and you're trying to help that baby grow, get stronger, develop, and be able to crawl, walk and run. They've been very open to getting some support along the way to do that, and as an advisor to them, that's how I see myself, I don't expect them to take every suggestion that I make. They have to make up their own minds about what they want to do, but I really appreciate the way they listen and consider the suggestions that I make, and then they act on those that make sense to them. They may come back with other questions about those suggestions, but they always accept them in the spirit in which they are offered, which is a very positive supportive spirit.”

N.B.: “Yes, I totally agree with you. They are amazing people to get a chance to meet and work amongst! For your next question, from your experience what has Network Connect impact been on the community?”

G.A: “My personal opinion and I have to tell you I am biased in support of them, but I think they've been like a breath of fresh air. I think that the spirit with which they approach working with other people and other organizations is really very positive. It's how can we work together, how do we overcome those challenges together, how do we grow stronger together, and how do we do that in a way that really really supports kids and families. And one of the things that I think really helps them is they stay centered on what the mission is. They don't get distracted by things that can happen in the environment political things, other kinds of financial challenges, whatever those are. They don't get distracted by that. They cope with them. They deal with them, but they stay focused on mission, and I really think that that's one of the strengths that they bring to the work that they do. I think they set a good example for other organizations. Especially, those grassroot groups that are just starting out they give those groups hope that they can do it, they give those groups support and try to mentor them the way that they've been mentored so that nobody is left behind.”

N.B.: “For the next question, I’m just going to get right into it, can you tell me about your career at the Delaware Department of Services for children youth and their families what policies programs and Community Resources did you develop?”

G.A: “Since that was the bulk of my career, there's a lot that happened in those 30 years. I started out at the Children's Department when it was first being created back in the mid-80s. I was asked to be the director of what was then administrative services and became the division of Management Services later in the evolution of the department. So, I sort of consider myself to be one of the founding moms of the Children's Department. I was really helping the work with the secretary, who was Charles Hayward at that time, to really put in place the policies, practices, and procedures that the department would follow in order to really carry out the mandates of the department around Child Protection, Juvenile Justice, and Children's Mental Health. So, it was really building a department from the ground up and doing it in a way that made sure that we were in compliance with all of the federal and state regulations that governed the work of the department. Within that context, I was also responsible for overseeing the budget of the department and the preparation of that budget the spending that took place and making sure that we did everything from a financial management perspective in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations. So that we were truly good stewards of the resources that were put at our disposal. And we did all this with the idea that children needed to be front and center. The welfare of children and keeping children safe, helping them to be healthy, helping them to be successful, were really in the forefront of our work, and we did that in the context of their families. Trying to, wherever we could, provide support to families to help them maintain a strong loving caring environment for their children. This was not always the case sometimes we had to take actions just to ensure the safety of children. When I talk about that I'm really referring to the child protection function of the department. Of course, no state agency can do that work alone. There are lots of community organizations that are contracted with the Department to carry out different services to carry out the mission of the Department. There were several volunteer groups and advocacy groups that we worked with to make sure that we were listening to the voice of the community in developing and implementing the programs that would help the children. When I talk about programs, I'm talking about programs that promote the welfare of the children that help them to move through the juvenile justice system and re-enter the community successfully and not re-offend and then helping children with behavioral mental health challenges to cope with those challenges and overcome those challenges, so they can be productive members of their community.”

N.B.: “Next question, can you discuss the internship program at NHPS and how it links to the intuitions of Higher Learning across the country?”

G.A: “Oh, that's an interesting one. Yeah, that comes out of chapter two of my career in terms of my work with Nemours, which was the Health and Prevention Services division. That was our new division in Nemours back in 2004 or 2005. That was set up to really focus on health promotion disease prevention with a special emphasis on preventing childhood obesity and promoting children's behavior health. I functioned in a variety of roles there, but the role that I liked the best is when I oversaw the internship program there at NHPS. We set that program up to really give college students, juniors, seniors, grad students an opportunity to have a real work experience in a health care organization to help them further their application of what they were learning in school. In school you're getting important knowledge about your chosen profession or your area of concentration. What really makes that come to life is when you have real life experiences where you can put that knowledge to use. That's what we tried to do to the internship program and it was a very robust program. We had three cycles of interns usually about six or seven interns at a time so on any given year we probably engaged maybe 20 or so young people in that experience. It was really to help them grow professionally, but also to help them grow personally and give them an opportunity to learn what it means to be a working professional in the field. Now what happened to those interns after they left us, they went on to graduate and go on to find jobs that really kind of fit what their interests and experience was. Some of them went on to graduate school. I wrote more letters of reference for grad school and positions than you can count. And every now and then to this day, it's been many years later, I still get emails from some of them to do another reference letter for them. Some of those interns stayed in Delaware and are working in the community here and there are a few of them scattered around, some of whom I still interact with in the roles that they have now in their organizations. So over the course of the program, I guess it was probably about maybe four years or so, we probably worked with over 100 students. It was one of the most rewarding parts of my career actually working with young people, I liked that a lot.”

N.B.: “Thank you for sharing your experience overseeing the internship program at NHPS. It's great to hear how the program provided students with real-life work experiences and helped them grow both professionally and personally. I love that your journey has been so positive and that you’ve helped so many people. On to the next question. How do you ensure that NHPS programmatic work is well integrated and achieves a high level and sustainable impact on children?”

G.A: ‘Well, that's a little hard to answer, because the organization itself no longer exists. Nemours reorganizes about every two years and they constantly kind of revamp how they approach prevention and health promotion. So the programs that they put in place don't exist at this point. But I do want to put one caveat on that, they really drew attention to the whole issue of childhood obesity in a very dramatic way, and so to that extent, they laid the groundwork, the foundation for a lot of things that are happening today. In terms of the focus on healthy eating, physical activity, they weren't the only ones doing that. The Public Health division and their courses were extremely instrumental in that area and have really kind of continued the work in that area but I think some of the work that we did through NHPS was part of laying the foundation for them.”

IN: “How do you use your background in food science, nutrition, urban affairs and public policy to help children and young people achieve their potential?”

G.A: “You have some really good questions. You have done a good job! You have definitely read my resume. Um, how do I use that? I have an expression that I frequently use which is “information is never lost on me” because I travel in a lot of different circles. I use that information to inform conversations and I have done that pretty much all of my career. The background that I had when I was in college, I guess laid the foundation for my interest and what I pursued over these many years. It's always been about kids. It's always been about how do you change the bad policies that are out there and replace them with good policies that really help promote kids. They break down the barriers that exist in programs. How those programs operate. How those programs are funded. When you're in school, you're getting the theory, you're getting the history of working in the area that you've chosen, but it isn't until you go into the world of work, and you have opportunities to put that knowledge to use. Do you really own that knowledge? No, not until you're able to help someone else understand something that you've learned. In other words, when you put it into practice that's when you really own knowledge. That's when it’s kind of embedded in who you are and how you operate.”

N.B.: “I totally agree. What advice would you give someone who would like to walk in your shoes or want to help children? What advice would you give them? What are the challenges of your job, the solutions, what makes you feel better at night?”

G.A: “Well, one piece of advice I would give them is don't ever give up. Be persistent, be nice but be persistent and usually persistence wins out because a lot of people are not persistent. If they have run into bumps in the road trying to achieve a goal, they might stop. They might shift their attention to something else. But if I really believe in the goal that I'm pursuing, and that's generally how I operate, I don't do things that I don't believe in for the most part unless I'm directed to by somebody else. I think it's being able to not give up. To not take no for an answer. To find different ways to kind of get at what you really need to know, what you really need to have done. Be creative, but always be

nice. Always be professional. I always treat people with respect. Realize that their reality is not your reality and they are entitled to their viewpoints. And what you're trying to do is you're trying to find the common ground. You're trying to find what is it that we can agree to that can kind of help us move forward. So that would be one kind of important piece of advice. I think another piece would be don't ever stop learning. I have an expression, “You

do because you can and you can because you do,” which means you keep moving, you keep learning, you don't stop because when you stop, then you start to lose your own capabilities. That's why I always encourage young people to continue their education in any way shape or form that they can.”

N.B.: “Yes, I definitely agree. I feel like you can never receive enough knowledge. Your knowledge can always grow no matter what. You can always learn more. For our last question, what are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced during your careers and what has made it all worth it for you? What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated to help these children and help the community you know and just continuously be the great person that you constantly are?”

G.A: “You're way too kind. You're very generous in your comments. I think that the challenge is, as my mom always used to say, “When one door closes, God finds another door and he opens it.” I have always believed in that, so what might look like a setback…give yourself a minute and think about it. And then say, okay, what is God trying to tell me now, where's the opportunity and how should I move forward? And, I really have tried to practice that. I'll go back to Nemours as an example. I said Nemours reorganizes every couple years. After working from Nemours for probably about 12 years maybe, they were going through another major downsizing and that's when they really started downsizing NHPS. I was one of the people that lost their positions during that time, but I didn't really see it that way because I was ready to do something else and I used that as an opportunity to start my own business. And seven years later, I'm still here. The test of a small business is when you can still be in business after five years and I’m on number seven. The people at Nemours really did not want me to be one of the first that was cut, but they really had no choice because of what was happening from above them in the organization. But I was okay and I said, “Do not worry, I will be alright.” Within days I had a contract to work on the Wilmington Community Advisory Council with Henry Smith. And as the saying goes, the rest is history. I've had the good fortune of working with United Way on some wonderful projects including Adult Racial Justice Collaborative. I've had an opportunity to be a part of the creation of some incredible initiatives in Delaware that are still here. I mean, Delaware Kids Count is one of those. The Delaware Community Foundation is another. I'm way back in the history books of those organizations. They don't talk about that but I was a part of helping get those started. The most recent is the Equity Counts Data Center, I'm so proud of that and its potential, it's just starting and the potential is just enormous. It's changing those policies and those practices and putting things in place that can really help. Those are the building blocks; they give people the information and the tools that help them to help kids. What keeps me going on all of this is working with wonderful people like Erin, Cierra, Henry and Michelle, Taylor and Rayna Allen and Wolfie Chambers, and the list goes on and on and on. I'm so blessed to work with some of the most amazing people on this Earth. I'm so thankful for this opportunity.”

N.B.: “Thank you for your time today. I appreciate it, and I agree because I'm a firm believer myself that everything happens for a reason. So I feel like if it was meant for you, it would be for you, and now look where you are and how far you’ve come. And that was our last question for today. I just want to thank you so much for your time. I’m so glad that I got to meet you and learn so much more about you. Have a great day.”

G.A: “Thank you! I wish you the very very best! And if there’s anything that I can do to help you, let me know. Reach out.”

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