New LeadSafeCNY Coalition Director Brings Energy and Expertise to Target Lead Poisoning

Giving Voice Spring 2024: Grantee Story

LaToya Jones, a mother of three, grew up in Syracuse watching relatives work at Catholic Charities, PEACE, Inc. and the Southwest Community Center. “We were part of the community, and we as kids were taught to take care of our own by volunteering and serving the community.”

Her grandmother, who worked at Catholic Charities, “was like a grandmother to all the children on Lynhurst Avenue on the city’s Southside. If you were hungry, she fed you.” Her mother, Pearl, “introduced me to public health as a child through her career caring for seniors, and continues to inspire my work.”

As the first director of the LeadSafeCNY Coalition, Jones has embraced her family’s influences, sharing her professional skills and passion to serve the community she loves. Jones, a Corcoran High School graduate, began her career as a licensed practical nurse. Since then, she’s earned a master’s degree in public health and has worked on numerous important public health issues, including mental health, sexual health, immunizations, COVID-19 and lead poisoning.

“This allows me to match the theory of public health to my community,” said Jones, who started her new position at United Way of Central New York in late March. “I will be able to focus on where I thrive, with my partners in the community, and make a difference on an important community concern.”

A $150,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation supports the coalition’s director position at the United Way. Jones will coordinate programs working to end childhood lead poisoning in Syracuse.

In 2018, we launched the LeadSafeCNY initiative by committing $2 million to address the alarming rates of lead poisoning that affects Syracuse children’s development and health. In addition to supporting testing and education, programs include replacing windows and doors, constructing safe and affordable rental units and safe lead paint removal. In fall 2022, a coalition of public and private stakeholders convened to share resources and maintain momentum in efforts to eliminate lead paint poisoning. This collaboration resulted in the formation of the LeadSafeCNY Coalition.

“The ability to bring LaToya on as director is like having a conductor to run the orchestra,” said Nancy Kern Eaton, United Way president. “Her medical and public health background can help people understand the
issue. It’s an ongoing process of continuing to monitor public health and educate people on what they can do themselves and what resources are available.”

Eaton points to the success of coalitions convened by United Way and Community Foundation partnerships to address housing/ homelessness and literacy — complex community challenges that threaten the ability of Central New York children and families to thrive — as the model for the LeadSafeCNY Coalition. “We now have the ability to bring on this professional to keep all these lead efforts on track and connect people and drive future strategies,” she said.

Jones is enthusiastic about the approach. “I’m here to lend what expertise I have and help the organization grow and continue the work they have been doing,” she said. “We’re better working together.”

A priority, she said, is “to take us to spaces and rooms where we may not be yet.” Lead poisoning is “one of those issues not talked about in households and communities of color. People may not recognize that it may have had an impact on their family.”

She points to her deep community roots as an asset in gaining access to and trust from underserved communities. “I’ve always been a person that feels the need to make sure people are OK and that their social determinants of health can be addressed early in life,” she said. “The only way we are going to change some of these generational issues is to get involved. If it does not affect you, it affects someone you know.”

Jones is eager to include more family voices and personal stories in the coalition’s work. She hopes to increase lead testing, help the community become more intentional about health decisions and strategize advocacy efforts.

“I hope to pour my energy into a coalition that already is doing good work and expand that reach,” she said. “I want us to have healthier children that can function at school and at home and not worry about these adult things.”

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