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Family Tree Clinic: a reproductive care shelter

One of Lynelle Wood's roles is helping women to feel more comfortable about having a pelvic exam. "We can spend time with [patients], not feeling rushed. I tell them what to expect and suggest questions they might want to ask - to put them at ease - rather than going straight from the waiting room to the exam room, undressed and with their feet in the stirrups."

Wood has been volunteering as a patient educator at Family Tree Clinic in St. Paul for nearly 30 years. When she moved to the Twin Cities from Indiana after graduate school, not knowing anyone here, she thought that volunteering seemed like a good way to get connected in her community.

When she saw an ad for volunteers at Family Tree, she said, "It intrigued me. I called, and the rest is history."

Over time she realized that the work of affordable sexual and reproductive health care access and her interests were well-matched.

"It is everything I so personally believe in, Wood said. "It is so aligned with my personal values."

Patient educators receive about 40 hours of initial training on topics such as adoption agencies, prenatal care and abortion providers. They shadow experienced educators before beginning their three to four hours a week of volunteer time.

With a recognition that every case is different, Wood begins each patient conversation by listening. She asks, "What are you here for today?"

"Sometimes people don't want to tell the front desk, so I don't want to make assumptions. I ask, 'What can we help you with?' and make sure I know," Wood said.

The conversation might be about birth control, insurance bureaucracy, HIV testing or cervical cancer screening, among other topics. Sometimes patients will say they can't afford three tests and will ask which one they should have. "We don't tell them what to do, but we give them choices and options," Wood said.

Why the name Family Tree? When the organization was founded in 1971, there was a recognition that many women needing services already had families and that they wanted to have control of their reproductive lives and have healthy families, executive director Alissa Light said. It was a "way of honoring the network of families needing reproductive services," Light said.

The meaning has grown over time to include a range of high-quality reproductive services. With Family Tree's leading edge work in the LGBT community, the concept of family has included a family of choice.

For Wood, Family Tree means "taking care of the uninsured and underinsured, an emphasis on total nonjudgmental care and compassion."

FFI: www.familytreeclinic.org

To learn about volunteering: Kyle Meerkins, volunteer coordinator 651-523-0171, ext. 105 kmeerkins@familytreeclinic.org

To make an appointment: 651- 645-0478

Where do you see women connecting and making change in your world? Send me your story, magnuson@womenspress.com


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