Women who are making a difference in Springfield

The diversity of Springfield and its residents’ willingness to work together toward strengthening it are what make the city a great place to work and live, local women in leadership say.

Throughout the city, women work daily to enact positive change, build partnerships and fill the needs of their neighbors.

The Springfield News-Sun is highlighting a small portion of the extraordinary women leaders in our community this week starting with today’s profiles.

Here are several of the many women making an impact in health care, housing, law enforcement, human services, food security and more in the city of Springfield.

Dr. Yamini Teegala

For the chief medical officer of Rocking Horse Community Health Center, there’s just something different about Springfield.

Dr. Yamini Teegala was born in India, moving to the U.S. with her husband years back to further their education. She previously worked at the New York Hospital in Queens and later found herself in the Dayton-area for a small community family practice residency program at Wright State. The opportunity opened for her to take a pediatrics elective at Rocking Horse, and within a few weeks there, she was in love with the clinic.

Fifteen years later, the clinic has grown past pediatrics and now serves thousands of area patients. Teegala has seen a lot of progress in her years at Rocking Horse. The clinic mobilized to respond to the many needs that sprouted from the COVID-19 pandemic, but has strengthened its capacity for extending “holistic” services to people to meet their social needs.

The sense of community and partnership in Springfield is what drives Teegala’s love for the city: she can reach out to any of the contacts she’s made over the years and get help on a project or initiative any given day.

“I’m very proud of what the efforts have been in the past five years,” she said. “To make [Springfield] a better place, how people that can contribute are trying to put effort into the city.”

Rocking Horse has become a site to train future health care workers in a variety of fields, too. The health center has partnerships with Wright State University and other area schools for social work, where students can come to the center to gain experience in patient advocacy.

Teegala said she loves working with students, as younger professionals often bring fresh ideas and big dreams with them into their workplaces. Teegala described herself as a dreamer, and she said she encourages people working in Rocking Horse to bring big ideas to her so they can turn them into reality.

The center has also gone through the process of becoming an Ohio Board of Nursing certified community health worker training site, where they train community health workers from various local organizations. The goal of the training is to equip people to address all of the social determinants that impact overall health: housing status, access to nutritious food, and more, Teegala said.

“My passion is to address health holistically, which means that we have to address more pressing needs, which are the social needs, so that our work can rise to the priority,” she said.

Allison Elliott

The second-ever female captain in the Springfield Police Division is proud of her roots, returning to the area years ago to give back to her community.

Allison Elliott was promoted in July, another accomplishment in her 16-year career with the Springfield Police Division. Her SPD career began after she returned to the area while studying forensic psychology at SUNY Buffalo to take on an internship at her hometown police department.

The rest is history, she said.

“Springfield is home. This is where I grew up, where I was raised,” she said. “Being able to serve my community that I grew up in has been a blessing.”

Her strong family roots in the area also encouraged her as she entered into a male-dominated field.

“I grew up in a family where I was very strong, independent women who taught me how to manage and maneuver through situations,” she said “They shaped me into how I am today.”

The role of a police force captain, which ranks above lieutenant and below the force’s chief, varies day by day. Elliott said some shifts she works to coordinate training for employees, while others she responds to calls and attends community meetings, among other responsibilities.

Elliott said she has multiple passions in her capacity at the police division, one of which being recruitment and retention. Nationally, police forces have experienced obstacles in recruitment as officers retire or seek careers in other fields, and she and others at SPD have been working to boost recruitment and retention efforts.

“To be able to serve our community to the best of our ability and to provide the best service that our community deserves, we have really made sure we’re focusing on recruitment and retention as a big focal point, to be able to provide our community with the officers to serve them,” she said.

Elliott said she is also passionate about police and community relations. In-person community events for the police force to have opportunities to interact with people were limited due to the pandemic, but face-to-face interactions are beginning to bounce back. Elliott said she was very proud of the community outpouring of support this year during the National Night Out in downtown Springfield.

Elliott said she is also helping to boost more opportunities for SPD to connect to youth in the community, to encourage the continued growth of communication and collaboration among law enforcement agencies and emergency personnel in Clark County, and to spark more conversations surrounding mental health and wellness among police, part of which is happening through the incident stress management team.

“That’s been a big focal point,” she said. “The toll that law enforcement can have and just seeing crises and being involved in very critical situations can definitely take a toll on officers and have a major impact.”

Tyra Jackson

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Second Harvest Food Bank executive director Tyra Jackson said that area organizations are working to break down barriers that exist for people to access basic needs and create a more equitable tomorrow.

“So many times we don’t realize that we’re afforded opportunities, and many, many people that just don’t have the opportunity to do certain things,” Jackson said.

Jackson has worked in social services for most of her career, formerly working at Project Woman and YWCA in Dayton. Prior to then, she also worked as a teacher in the city.

Springfield’s food bank serves more than 50,000 people annually throughout Clark, Champaign and Logan counties, with more than 8 million meals distributed, Jackson said.

The food bank in recent years has formed partnerships with local organizations to bring more basic needs to people, meeting them where they are.

The food bank operates more than 20 pantry sites in Clark County, and a mobile food distribution bus.

Food insecurity is known to impact health status, including putting individuals at a greatest risk for chronic diseases. Second Harvest surveyed people who used their services last year, and more than half of respondents indicated that they had “fair” to “poor” health and that they have a current health condition that needs medical attention. The survey was part of an effort to better understand what tools and resources people need locally.

Part of the food bank’s efforts, under Jackson’s leadership, has also been to form community partnerships to better access resources for people with obstacles in their way. The food bank recently teamed up with Rocking Horse Community Health Center to bring a health bus to food distribution sites in order to give people easy access to medical screenings and other primary care services, for instance.

“I will always do whatever we can to help people but I also want people to feel empowered to make choices and have the ability to make choices for themselves, so they can get to a position in their life where they’re comfortable and where they’re happy,” she said. “It’s not my decision to decide what that happiness looks like, but to be able to help them find the tools and the resources to get to that place where they feel as though they’re comfortable and that they’re satisfied with their lives.

About our series

The Springfield News-Sun is highlighting how women leaders are making an impact in the city this week. Today’s story features three women, and the newspaper feature another woman — Laura Baxter of Project Woman, Elaina Bradley of Sheltered Inc., Betty Grimes of Springfield, and Dr. Jo Alice Blondin of Clark State College — each day through Thursday, Sept. 15.

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