Reactions from the National WIC Association Conference in LA

NWA 2015 Conference Reach Them Teach Them Keep Them

Hello from downtown Los Angeles!

The 2015 National WIC Association Networking Conference wrapped up this week and we’re sharing our thoughts from the road. If you have anything to add, please use the comments below!

This year’s conference kicked off on Sunday May 21st to champion the cause of “Reach Them, Teach Them, Keep Them,” with the implied emphasis on “Keep Them,” a shout-out to WIC’s low retention of 3 and 4 year-old children. More on that later.

The conference launched on a strong note with heartfelt opening remarks from, among others, soon-to-be NWA Chair Emeritus Theresa Landau and NWA President Rev. Doug Greenaway.

Attractions on opening day included presentations from Dr. Sandra Hassink, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Dr. Noah Goldstein who shared his thinking on “Yes! Scientifically Proven ways to be Effective.” If you didn’t leave feeling empowered, check your pulse.

Westin Bonaventure Exhibit Hall

Over 1,000 WIC staffers, policy makers, and vendors filled this Westin conference hall. Worthy of note: the mammary-styled light fixtures, called out as “pro-breastfeeding” by conference organizers.


One pre-conference standout was NWA freshman Quinney Harris and Elisabet Eppes’ presentation on their grant-backed study of possible CDC-WIC policy coalitions. There are many unexplored synergies within the US public health system. Keep an eye out for this next generation of policy thinkers.

The USDA’s Town Hall Meeting premiered the next day, a novel Q&A format where USDA members took the hot seat for audience questions. The questions were hard-hitting and three WIC staffers used the microphones to voice disapproval. But while the mood in the room bordered on tense, the session was a success, especially in light of the last School Lunch Town Hall, which reportedly turned unruly.

Social Media session at the NWA 2015 Conference

The house is packed for @MassWIC’s Karan DiMartino talk on using social media to reach new moms.

No Monday recap would be complete without mention of Karan DiMartino’s charismatic session on how Massachusetts WIC (@MassWIC) is pioneering social media to reach new clients. With the most packed attendance we saw all conference, this session indicated that WIC staffers are both interested and uncertain about how to approach this new frontier. The presentation contained easy tips & tricks and fun audience participation.

As a counter to Karan’s talk, Tuesday’s most-attended session was the USDA-sponsored “Strategies for Increasing WIC Retention”. And here it is, the chart of the week:

WIC child enrollment shows a 62% decline in participation between infants and four-year olds

For each infant enrolled in WIC, over 62% will drop out before the age of four.

No one dared say it aloud, but this tells a serious story: WIC has a 60% program dropout rate. Three out of five families decide that using WIC is more hassle than it’s worth. So what bold vision could reverse this trend? The audience waited with eager ears, but the energy shifted from restlessness to dissatisfaction as proposed solutions stayed within the status quo. Unexplored was how will we modernize the program for the impending Millennial Generation? Will the wave of smartphone-moms tolerate 1970’s procedures? The room cleared in a hurry.

Despite this miscue, Tuesday was otherwise successful due to the afternoon’s captivating programming. First, we were treated to advocate Susan Linn’s indictment of the state of childhood play. Through ventriloquism (yes, really!) she showed us how beloved characters (ie, SpongeBob SquarePants) sell junk food to children.

Then, came the 2015 NWA Awards presentation ceremony, which blossomed into a celebration of passion, perseverance, and can-doism. On display was the unbridled gusto of Laurie True, the cup-runneth-over spirit of Mary Schulteis, the collaborative work ethic of Linda Yee, and the outstanding career of Theresa Landau. Our highest respect goes out to all award winners and nominees.

Tuesday closed with Dr. Edwin Nichol’s talk on cultural competency. Not every cultural group makes decisions the same way, a complicated concept that he illustrated with simple examples. We should all be so mindful.

Wednesday, we witnessed the passing of the gavel from Theresa to New NWA Board chair Janet Jackson Charles. Before adjourning the conference, Janet shared rousing words that got to the heart of WIC. There’s a lot of ways to spend a career, but not a lot of ways to make a difference. Here’s her single accompanying slide:

A venn diagram where purpose is the center of "you are great at it", "you love it", "the world needs it", and "you are paid for it".

An image from NWA’s new Board Chair Janet Jackson Charles’ closing remarks.

All in all, it was a content-packed week and I’m sure no one was left unaffected. In Theresa Landau’s opening remarks, she evoked Maya Angelou’s stirring quote:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

As the event take-away, conference first-timer Quinney Harris said, “When it comes to Reach them, Teach them, Keep them, my take away is that doing it right is about how we make families feel.” Here’s to the next 40 years of making families feel welcomed.

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