Difference Maker: Cynthia Dean provides education, advocacy for underserved communities

Cynthia Dean (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

For Cynthia Dean, service is a way of life. With nearly 30 years of experience in the not-for-profit world, Dean has made a lasting impact on underserved communities who have a need for education and resources.

As the current director of the Missouri Bootheel Regional Consortium, a not-for-profit organization that provides training, education, events and personalized services for families in the Bootheel, Dean works hard to provide the community with care that impacts lives for generations.

A main focus for Dean is the prevention of maternal and infant mortality. Dean said many of the causes of these high mortality rates can be prevented through education and training for mothers and families.

She works to plan community baby showers, create informational workshops and develop marketing strategies through the use of billboards and digital messages.

“I think the biggest opportunity that we have [in the Missouri Bootheel Regional Consortium] is when we network with our community members that we serve in many of our programs,” Dean said. “It gives us an opportunity to connect with people.”

Dean also finds diversity in support programs to be an important component and said many families in the Bootheel feel as if they do not have a voice. She works to ensure each individual is heard and has a place in important decision making.

During her 10 years as the regional director of cardiovascular health for the Missouri Department of Health’s Southeastern District, Dean worked with individuals from 26 different rural counties to provide educational resources about obesity, tobacco and cancer prevention.

“It gave me an opportunity to see how important it is, regardless of where a person lives, that if you give them at least some knowledge about things, they are willing to make some small changes, [and] there [will be] some time leading to big changes,” Dean said.

Although Dean often focuses on mothers and infants, she said giving fathers a voice in the Bootheel is also important.

“I'm a big advocate for our fatherhood programs, because many of our programs target women and infants and babies. And they do not acknowledge the importance of a man in a child's life, and the end and the impact of the absenteeism of fatherhood,” Dean said.

Dean’s advocacy also expands to providing realistic support to families in the Bootheel. She said understanding what resources families have available is key to making a change in their lives.

“You have to be realistic about what's there [for these families], and what's not there. [We need to think about] how we can close those gaps and provide different programs and services that may enhance opportunities,” Dean said.

Every day of work is enjoyable for Dean. She said she loves working with the community, as it provides her with energy and a sense of accomplishment.

“I still do it as long as I have, because I really care about the people that we serve. And I think that they should always feel empowered to do what they need to do for themselves and their families,” Dean said.

Seeing the results of her aid to the community has also provided Dean with benefits of her own.

“Serving people is the best reward that you can get,” Dean said. “Because it gives the power back to the person that you are.”