Helping familiesOne Edgeley woman works from home, surrounded by photos of senators, governors, legislators and a sign monikered “Never, never, never quit.” And for such a work ethic, that woman was recognized nationally for her work with children and families with special needs. Donene Feist, state director for Family Voices, helps families navigate complicated health systems and insurance plans in order to find the best and most affordable care.
By: Katie Ryan, The Jamestown Sun
EDGELEY, N.D. — One Edgeley woman works from home, surrounded by photos of senators, governors, legislators and a sign monikered “Never, never, never quit.”
And for such a work ethic, that woman was recognized nationally for her work with children and families with special needs.
Donene Feist, state director for Family Voices, helps families navigate complicated health systems and insurance plans in order to find the best and most affordable care.
Feist was selected for the Community Health Leader Award for her work ensuring children have voices, said Janice Ford Griffin, national program director for the award which is presented by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Community Health Leader Award, which has been given to 10 individuals per year since 1993, recognizes individuals who improve health and quality of life for underserved populations, Griffin said.
Along with the recognition, Feist was awarded $105,000 to support a Family Voices project and $20,000 for for her personal use.
Family Voices is a national organization that advocates for the health care needs of children and supports partnerships between families and professionals. It was co-founded by Polly Arango, who nominated Feist for the award.
“Along the way I just became so impressed with her work,” Arango said.
Some of Feist’s accomplishments include helping develop the organization into a nonprofit, helping the organization receive annual grants totaling about $150,000 each year and helping advocate for and pass the Family Opportunity Act, which made North Dakota the first state to implement a state Medicaid buy-in for children with disabilities.
“North Dakota is lucky to have Donene Feist living there,” Arango said.
A mother of a special needs child herself, Feist was selected not only because she makes a difference, but also because she knows what other families are going through, Griffin said.
“There are things that she has had to overcome on a personal level that has given her insight,” she said.
At 2 1/2 years old, Feist’s son, Zach, was diagnosed with a hearing impairment that to treat and pay for exhausted and overwhelmed the family.
“We were really not pointed in a direction where you could find some assistance,” she said.
Even with a background in health care — Feist previously worked as a nurse at the Anne Carlsen Center — she said maneuvering through health insurance plans, health services and other treatments was complicated and time-consuming.
“It’s like listening to a talking head,” she said of the health care professionals and health care providers.
Today, Zach is 18 and a “studly little football player” finishing his senior year at Edgeley High School and completing college applications, Feist said.
Feist hopes for more children to receive health care and treatment so they can develop and succeed like her son.
And with the $125,000 she received, Feist hopes to do just that.
Feist said she’ll purchase a mattress, a recliner and a pair of bifocals, but the rest will go to the organization.
“That’s all I need,” she said.
With the money left over, Feist said she’ll use it to increase staffing in tribal communities and Fargo, enhance the organizations technology and increase public awareness.
“There’s some pretty significant needs for families,” she said.
The award surprised her, Feist said. She didn’t expect the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, which is based out of New Jersey, to travel to North Dakota to visit and interview her.
“It’s a good thing I was sitting down because I would have passed out, I know I would have,” she said, when she found out she was chosen.
Arango, though, said the choice was obvious.
“There would be no way on earth that they (the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation) could not give that award to Donene,” she said.
For more information on Family Voices, contact Donene Feist toll free at 888-522-9654 or fvnd@ drtel.net.
Sun reporter Katie Ryan can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at email@example.com