WIC Program Directors Share their Stories

Open Door Family Medical Center | Affordable nutritional health services


In honor of Breastfeeding Week, we would like to share two stories from our WIC staff.

Gina Devito:

The beauty of working at Open Door, says Gina Devito, is that she can often see the difference – both short- and long-term – she makes in her patients’ lives.

For nearly a decade, Gina has taken patients on transformational wellness journeys while working in multiple clinical and administrative roles.  This has included stints as a WIC nutritionist, Registered Dietitian, Director of Wellness Initiatives, and now WIC Director.

“I’ve gotten to see these changes through the whole lifecycle,” says Gina.  “Not isolated changes, but greater transformations. It’s not only about sustaining our patients’ lifestyle habits, but having them pass these lessons on to their families.  This is what has been most impactful for me.”

Take the case of one patient who faced multiple complications during her pregnancy.  Working closely with Gina, who was her dietitian, the woman started to take advantage of the various programs offered by Open Door to expectant mothers, including WIC and prenatal yoga classes.  Gina advised her on eating healthier for herself and her baby, made sure she came to appointments, and closely monitored her prenatal weight gain and blood glucose level.

As a result, and despite her difficult pregnancy, the woman had a healthy delivery. Since then, she’s continued with the WIC program, making health and wellbeing a priority for herself and her family. The program provides access to free nutrition education, referrals, breastfeeding support, counseling, and healthy foods to low-income families.

“She’s been utilizing all of WIC’s services and has said that without Open Door support she never would have gotten where she has,” says Gina.  “Being in classes with other people facing similar challenges creates a sense of community and helps support our patients in reaching their goals and sticking with the changes made.”

As a personal trainer and Ironman triathlete, health and wellness have long played a key role in Gina’s life.

“Wellness and nutrition are part of my identity and my life and to be able to utilize this and directly apply my passion to my work at Open Door is everything I could ask for,” she says.

“An integrated care model with wellness, nutrition and lifestyle changes at its core might be considered non-essential in some places.  But at Open Door, it’s an integral part of helping patients be well and healthy and prevent disease.”


Ellen Pospishil:

To Ellen Pospishil, a Registered Dietitian with Open Door’s WIC program, it’s the stories themselves that provide a snapshot into how Open Door impacts on the community.

There’s the new mother who during a return visit reminds Ellen of how the WIC team first helped her baby breastfeed.  Ten months later, the child has never yet tasted formula, says the mother, because of “the time you and your staff took with me.”

Or the little girl who tells Ellen when asked what she drinks, replies proudly, “I only drink water.  Never juice.”

Or the family that is about to be evicted from their apartment and face homelessness until WIC contacts an Open Door patient advocate who finds them a new home.

Ellen has spent over 25 years as a nutritionist, working with this underserved population and age group in what she considers a perfect fit for her.  “I love to provide the education for a mom and her child to understand, for example, the benefits of low-fat milk over whole milk or the health implications of breastfeeding to mother and child, and the interaction that helps us make changes that last a lifetime. Our explanations keep minds opened and more receptive to what they hear from us.”

This may mean, for example, telling a new family in America that some of the good practices they followed in their native country – using nutritious recipes and cooking healthy – should not necessarily be substituted for some of those favored by many Americans, which all-too-often may include a diet of fast food, processed meats, and sugar-laden drinks.  “I say to them, ‘Let’s talk about how you were fed, and what can we incorporate into your lifestyle in the U.S.’”

It often means supporting patients through the unique wraparound services available at Open Door.

“Through the connection we have with all departments at Open Door we can, for example, give a mother who has no place to live a roof over her head within minutes.  The fact that we have all the resources of Open Door at our fingertips affects our population immensely.”

What it comes down to, she says, is being a catalyst for change.

“We’re laying the foundation for the rest of our patients’ lives by teaching them how to eat properly and the importance of breastfeeding,” she says.  “When I hear these stories, I know we’re making a difference.  Stories like these bring tears to my eyes.  Life changes for these children forever.”

About Open Door Family Medical Center and Foundation
Open Door Family Medical Center provides health care and wellness programs to individuals and families in need throughout Westchester, Dutchess, Putnam and Ulster Counties. A pioneer Federally Qualified Health Center, Open Door provides more than 300,000 patient visits annually and serves 63,000 individual patients who might not otherwise have access. Open Door offers integrated services and a holistic approach to building healthier communities. Primary medical care, dental care, integrated behavioral health care, clinical nutrition, wellness programs, and chronic disease management are the foundation of its clinical programs. Founded as a free clinic in 1972, Open Door’s mission of building healthier communities through accessible, equitable, culturally competent health care has led to site and service expansions. Today, Open Door operates centers in Brewster, Mamaroneck, Mount Kisco, Ossining, Port Chester, and Sleepy Hollow, in addition to nine School-Based Health Centers in the Port Chester, Webutuck, and Ossining School Districts, a mobile dental van in Mount Kisco, and a dental practice in Saugerties, NY. Open Door is accredited by the Joint Commission and is recognized by the National Committee on Quality Assurance as a Patient-Centered Medical Home. Open Door achieves clinical results that consistently surpass national benchmarks for patient outcomes. For additional information, please contact Elisabeth Gilbert, Senior Director of Development, at 914-502-1417.

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