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Tracey Paul's career transforms during 28 years with Catawba County Public Health

Hickory Daily Record - 9/18/2017

HICKORY - As leaves begin to fall and autumn rolls into Catawba County, the monarch butterfly will make its way into Western North Carolina as part of its natural migration.

But before the journey begins, the monarch butterfly will undergo a metamorphosis - a process similar to Tracey Paul's 28-year career with Catawba County Public Health (CCPH).

Paul, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) outreach specialist and farmers market manager, began her metamorphosis in 1989 as a health educator.

"My husband and I were living in Charlotte, and my job brought us here," Paul said.

She moved to Catawba County in 1990, and within a year of starting, she was given more responsibility.

"This (has been) my one and only health education job," said Paul, who earned a public health education degree from the University of North Carolina.

In the early 1990s, Paul transformed into something CCPH had never seen before.

"I created our first and only childbirth educator position," Paul said. "I (was) Lamaze certified and taught childbirth classes for almost 20 years, before I even had my children."

As a childbirth educator with no children at the time, Paul tackled criticism head-on.

"There was always the question of how can I teach childbirth classes if I had never had a baby. Well, lots of (male) doctors deliver babies, and they can never have babies," she quipped.

Paul believes her personal inexperience with motherhood actually was a benefit to her teaching.

"There is always the teacher who wants to focus on her experience all the time, and every pregnancy, labor and delivery is different, and the teacher is not there for personal sharing," she said.

Soon after, Paul's CCPH role would change again after her supervisor left to care for her own child.

As the new health education supervisor, Paul kept her sights on informing the public.

"One of my struggles in working here has been letting people know what we do here at public health," she said. "Unless you are directly impacted, a lot of people have no clue what all we do. Sometimes, it's a little confusing for people to really understand (what) our role is."

After supervising three health educators tasked with health promotion and disease prevention, Paul started working closely with the health director.

Over the years, Paul and the health director promoted initiatives like tobacco-free policies on school campuses and county offices, and also fought against the dwindling amount of school nurses.

"We did second-grade tours; it was a really big project for many years where we brought in 2,000 second-graders for interactive tours," Paul said. "At one point in time, we did not have a lot of school nurses, so that was one way we would stay involved with the schools."

Soon, Paul's path crossed with an intern at CCPH, Lindsey Lawhon.

"I have known Tracey for my entire professional life, and that started in 2008 with my internship at public health," Lawhon said. "I helped organize the second-grade tours during that time.

"It was a lot of work for just one person, but Tracey managed to coordinate practically everything."

After her internship, Lawhon was offered a full-time position at CCPH in 2009 and continued to work closely with Paul.

"Tracey had so much experience with public speaking and developing relationships with the public, and I feel like everything I learned during that time was learned from her," Lawhon said.

Lawhon also attributes the public speaking skills to helping in her career as the development specialist for the Council on Adolescents in Catawba County.

"Tracey really does live and breathe public health," Lawhon said. "She is an outstanding professional and incredibly passionate about what she does."

After the success of second-grade tours and an increase in school nurses, Paul's metamorphosis concluded with outstretched wings over the farmers market.

"We are impacting all kinds of folks in the community now," Paul said.

After Paul's almost three-decade-long career, she serves as WIC outreach specialist and farmers market manager.

"I am the one that makes sure everyone and everything gets off the ground every Thursday for the farmers market and all the stuff during and after," Paul said.

The CCPH Farmers Market has been held in public health's parking lot for five years and attracts about 230 visitors each week.

After realizing many WIC participants were not utilizing the farmers market vouchers, Paul and her team set out to make a change.

"We decided that if we were going to provide these vouchers to people that we needed them to be able to actually use them," she said.

Paul, with the help of others, energized CCPH to become pioneers with its farmers market.

"We were the first county in North Carolina to do this, and since then, we have been able to help other counties come up with their version of a farmers market as well," she added.

Since the creation of the farmers market, Catawba County has been in the state's top three counties for highest redemption rates of the WIC farmers market vouchers.

CCPH Community Outreach Manager Zack King can attest to Paul's hard work in not only the farmers market, but with everything public-health related.

"Tracey is a public health educator by heart, making sure that babies, mothers and families are living the safest and happiest lives they can," said King, who started in 2015. "I look up to her a lot, and she has been an incredible mentor."

In just a couple of years, King said Paul has already left an impression on him.

"The biggest thing that I have seen in Tracey is her belief that every single person in our community is as important as the next," King said. "She will treat the homeless person in need of our services just as well as a council member coming to visit."

He also said Paul is known for her voice, laugh and a smile that's infectious to all she meets.

"She has always stepped up to the plate no matter what," King said.

Although most folks who have been able to work with Paul count themselves lucky, Paul is quick to consider herself just as lucky.

"The blessing, to me, has been able to work with such dedicated staff over my 28 years," Paul said. "They truly care about what they do and the people they serve, and the farmers market is just one example of how we all come together.

"It's a labor of love - lots of hard work, but lots of payoffs as well."

Paul said she needs the farmers market as much as it needs her; it's safe to say, after 28 years of transformations, Paul has blossomed in her career.

 
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