Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Barb Thayer of Candor Health Education Is Helping To Change Our…

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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Barb Thayer of Candor Health Education Is Helping To Change Our World

There is nothing more important than caring for oneself. It’s like the oxygen mask on the plane. You must take care of yourself so that you have the energy to care for others. I am still dealing with some minor inconveniences associated with my cancer diagnosis, but I am blessed that my cancer was caught early and treated swiftly. I feel the whole experience was a huge wake up call to me to prioritize my health and my relationships as much as my career.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Barb Thayer.

Barb joined Candor Health Education in 2011 and currently serves as the organization’s Executive Director. Previously, she held several positions at Candor Health Education including Chief Operating Officer where she led the development of a long-term strategic plan for the organization. Barb has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana. She is thrilled to be part of an organization with such a rich history and looks forward to making Candor Health Education more impactful to families in the Chicagoland area and beyond.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I spent the first thirteen years of my career in the retail industry. I stopped working after my third child was born. When my kids were in school full-time, I created a small business as a Professional Organizer. This allowed me the flexibility my family needed. One thing led to another, and I took a consulting role with Robert Crown Center for Health Education which later was renamed Candor Health Education.

I was offered a permanent part-time position as a Special Event Coordinator at RCC. While this was never my career goal, the opportunity allowed me to do something I enjoyed, while working close to home with a wonderful organization in my own community.

In 2013 a full-time position as Director of Operations was offered to me. The timing was just right. In 2017, I became Executive Director of RCC and in August of 2020 we rebranded to Candor Health Education.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but I think schools have been one of the hardest hit segments. Since we are an organization that works directly with schools, we have also been heavily affected by the pandemic. We had to pivot from in-person delivery to a virtual format almost overnight. We did so quickly and efficiently but lost many of our school clients in 2020 because they were not prepared for virtual delivery. We had to continue to reassess how best to serve our clients and eventually developed two virtual formats to meet the varied needs of schools. The silver lining for us is that because we were thrown into this virtual environment so quickly, we now can deliver programming to students anywhere and are not restricted by geography.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I became Executive Director at a time of great transition for our organization. We sold the large building we had taught in and owned for 43 years, moved to 100% in-school delivery, and had a complete reorganization which included the elimination of several key administrative positions. I tried hard to make sure that everyone was OK with the transition and that all their fears and concerns were addressed, but I know that there were still individuals who were not comfortable with the reorganization.

Finally, I decided we needed a ceremony to stop talking about the old conversations, challenges and difficulties and to focus on the new opportunities we had before us. I planned a “funeral” for all the negative things that we were holding onto from our past and wanted to get rid of as an organization and had everyone on our team write those thoughts down on paper. I bought a small wooden coffin during Halloween from a craft store, and we put the pieces of paper into the coffin. Then we dug a big hole and buried the coffin and all the old problems and issues with it. Next, we bought some houseplants to decorate our new space and wrote positive words on plant stakes and put them into the plants to represent our future growth. What I learned from this whole process is that everyone handles change differently and that you can’t possibly make everyone 100% happy or comfortable, but if you stay positive, your team will come along and follow your lead.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Candor Health Education’s mission is to positively impact the physical, social, and emotional health of young people with innovative education programs in partnership with parents, schools, and communities. We want to ensure that all young people have the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that they need as they face difficult situations regarding sex and drugs. By helping young people avoid pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and drug use, we can help to ensure that they stay in school, graduate from high school, and become productive members of society.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We capture data from students who participate in our programs and hear wonderful feedback from them as to how our educators and our programs make a difference in their lives. The students are often apprehensive about the content in our sex education programs but our goal is to make them comfortable so that they can learn and ask questions about their bodies. In every program I have observed, I have heard one of the students say, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.” Getting young people comfortable with difficult conversations about sex and drugs is critical to their ability to care for their bodies.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We know that parents don’t do a great job of talking to their children about sex and drugs. The topics are uncomfortable, and parents don’t necessarily have the knowledge that they need to have an informed conversation with their child. The first step for communities is to acknowledge that there is a need for sex and drug education in their schools. These conversations need to start early with children. We begin our programs in fourth grade so that we meet these children before they are faced with some of the difficult challenges of adolescence. We talk to our students about trusted adults who they can go to when they have questions about these difficult topics. Parents need to be open and honest with their children so that they become an “askable adult” who their child is comfortable approaching with their questions. Parents also need to be knowledgeable about these topics so they may need to take time to learn the information so they can help their children. Mandating drug and sex education programs in schools and funding the programs would be a great step in helping to address the issues of teen pregnancy and drug abuse.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is about inspiring others. This may be inspiring them to want to do their job most effectively so that the organization can be successful or by helping them to become the best version of themselves as that they individually can be successful. As a leader, I think it is critical to make sure the voice of everyone on your team is heard. Every person on your team, no matter what position they hold, can have a significant impact on the success of the group. Communicating and making sure everyone knows and understands the direction of the organization and why things are being done is critical to the success of the organization.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

When I became Executive Director, I attended a bootcamp for new non-profits leaders. Advice I received at that event was that each one of us needed an Executive Coach, a therapist, and a peer support group. At the time, I was full of energy and plunging feet first into my role as Executive Director. I had an Executive Coach that was provided to me by a local foundation. My coach was very helpful as I transitioned into my new role, so I would say that was great advice. I found a peer support group my second year as Executive Director and that group was of tremendous support to me as well. Sharing similar challenges with a group of peers is very helpful. I continue to work with many of them in a leadership circle.

I never had a therapist until I was diagnosed with Stage IIA breast cancer in August 2021. At that time every medical professional that I spoke with suggested that I get a therapist. While I had thought about beginning therapy prior to this time it never made it to the top of my to do list. When I was diagnosed, my focus shifted very quickly from work to my health. I was fortunate to have excellent medical care and to have a lumpectomy scheduled quickly and to complete my radiation treatments within four months of being diagnosed. What I quickly learned through this experience is that I did, in fact, need a therapist and should have had one prior to my diagnosis. During my treatment, I relied heavily on my therapist to help me gain perspective on balancing my work, my family, friends, and self-care. She helped me realized that I worked so hard and created undo stress for myself because I felt like I needed to prove myself. Our organization had grown in revenue 50% since the time I took over and we were thriving, so I realized that I certainly was good enough and did not need to push myself so hard.

I would also say I wished someone would have told me that advocating for myself is hugely important. When I took over as Executive Director the organization was not financially stable. I ended up bearing the burden of most of the work that had previously been done by the people whose positions were eliminated during the reorganization. I became so used to the frantic pace at work that I continued to push myself even after the organization was on solid footing. When I was diagnosed, I realized I had to push harder for additional support that had been denied to me by my Board of Directors previously.

Finally, there is nothing more important than caring for oneself. It’s like the oxygen mask on the plane. You must take care of yourself so that you have the energy to care for others. I am still dealing with some minor inconveniences associated with my cancer diagnosis, but I am blessed that my cancer was caught early and treated swiftly. I feel the whole experience was a huge wake up call to me to prioritize my health and my relationships as much as my career.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of the things that we have begun to discuss as an organization is “Period Poverty.” The number of girls and young woman who are unable to attend school because they don’t have menstrual supplies is staggering. While some of us may have heard of this issue in third world countries, it is very much an issue in communities all over the United States.

  • There are an estimated 16.9 million people who menstruate living in poverty in the United States.
  • A study involving college-aged individuals who menstruate reported that 14.2% had experienced period poverty in the past year. An additional 10.0% experienced it every month.
  • Research found that almost two-thirds of women in the U.S. with a low income could not afford menstrual products in the last year, while nearly half sometimes had to choose between buying food or menstrual products.

At Candor Health Education, we want all young people to understand their bodies so that they know how to care for them. If we could pair our programming and provide young people with the menstrual supplies that they need so that they can attend school even when they have their periods, I think that would be the perfect solution for many young people in under resourced communities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” -Leo Buscaglia

When I was in 6th grade, I received a perfect score in health class, which the teacher mentioned had never happened before. I was curious and loved learning about the human body. At that time, I wanted to be a teacher, but my family discouraged me from going down that path, so I followed a path in business. While I had some jobs that I enjoyed that utilized some of my strong organizational skills, I really wasn’t fulfilled. When I began working for Robert Crown Center for Health Education, now Candor Health Education, I was able to pair my interests in health and education with my strong organizational and leadership skills for a cause that really meant something to me.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to meet Michelle Obama. I read her autobiography recently and was so impressed with her on her own merits. Serving as the First Lady of the U.S. must be a huge challenge much less doing so as the first black First Lady is amazing. She and President Obama got married in Chicago the same day as my husband and I, but on opposite sides of the city. I secretly have wanted to tell her that for a long time. Very rarely do you find anyone who was married on the same exact day as you!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Barb Thayer of Candor Health Education Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.