Staff Spotlight: Ronni Byrth

When her daughter Kyrah was a toddler, Ronni Byrth discovered Parents as Teachers (PAT), a home visitation program that provides parents with child development knowledge, parenting support, and social support for families with children from birth until age 5. She liked the program so much she went to work for PAT for 14 years. Now, Ronni has come full circle as a program manager in several PRC-affiliated research studies that collaborate with PAT in which she trains educators to help parents create a home environment that promotes nutrition, activity, and healthy weight.

“I train people to do what I used to do,” she says. “Educators always ask me why I’m so good.  I was a parent, then worked for the organization.  Now, I help families to understand the value of research. They tell me ‘You get it, you understand us.’”

The projects, led by Debra Haire-Joshu, who directs the Center for Obesity Prevention and Policy Research, and the PRC’s Rachel Tabak, focus on diabetes prevention for obese and overweight mothers and mothers-to-be.

“I absolutely love to see people take ownership of their own health and to see their progress,” she says. “I appreciate the conversations about their habits, attitudes, and patterns about their own health but most importantly I get to hear about their progress toward behavioral changes. They say it with such pride.”

She’s also hoping to dispel some of the suspicions about research in the Black community. “We’re meeting families where they are,” she says. “ As an African American woman, I was afraid of research.  Oftentimes when going to homes, families will say ‘If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t participate.” I would tell them that I’m leading by example. I now participate in research and want you to open up their mindset and understand it’s important for us to be valued in research,” Our research provided each participant with health and nutrition tips that can be implemented into their daily lives. For example, we created booklets for participants to fill out on topics such as meal-planning and self-monitoring.”

Given her experience, it’s not surprising that the PRC tapped Ronni to co-chair (with Renee Parks) the PRC’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. She said it’s a learning experience.

“It’s been challenging and emotionally draining, but valuable,” she said. “Learning about the culture of the center in addition to the operations, has been very eye-opening. I wanted to see the inner workings of the PRC, especially for someone that looks like me.  Do they make me feel like I belong here? Do they hear me? Do they see me?  Do they value what I do?  It’s a work in progress.  There’s still much work to be done.” When she’s not working, Ronni, a native of St. Louis, enjoys concerts (e.g., Beyonce, Usher, Pink, Celine Dion) and self-care. “I’m a spa person, I love to be pampered,” she says. She’s an avid member of her church community and looks forward to family cookouts, where her PRC experience has influenced her potluck offerings. “Everybody knows: She’s going to come with healthy stuff!”

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