Elyse Lewis was born in Dallas, then moved to Abilene as a child when her dad got a job at First Financial in Abilene. She’s been a resident of Abilene ever since, attending Wylie High School, then Hardin-Simmons University. She graduated with a marketing degree in 2009 and started working at Hendrick Health where she now leads the Community Initiatives department.
Along with being a wife and mother to a two-year-old, Elyse stays busy serving on and volunteering with multiple community boards: United Way, the Junior League of Abilene, the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council, the HSU Academic Foundation, the Abilene Police Foundation, the Abilene Chamber of Commerce Leadership Abilene program, and the Laura Bush Institute for Women’s Health. When she’s not busy volunteering, she’s usually reading a fiction or non-fiction book while drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea.
WHAT KEEPS YOU IN ABILENE?
It’s family and opportunity. When I graduated, it was 2009, I was trying to figure out my next steps. The post recession job market was daunting, so I was happy to get a job at Hendrick. Shortly after, I met my husband who is also from Abilene. My parents are here, and my husband’s parents are here. Living in Abilene is such a great opportunity to do life with family nearby. As newlyweds my husband and I briefly considered moving elsewhere. Pretty quickly we realized, we have everything we need right here in Abilene.
WHAT DOES YOUR DAY LOOK LIKE?
I do my best thinking on 8 to 10 hours of sleep. On weekdays, I wake up at 6 a.m. and savor about 30 to 45 minutes alone. During that time, I’m usually reading, starting my first cup of tea, going over my day, and finishing any work that has to be done before I get to the office. Then my two-year-old wakes up and the real fun begins. I get to the office about 8 a.m. I start my workday by dedicating at least 45 minutes to answering email. Then I start working through all my projects. My creative energy hits around 2:30 p.m., so I save my creative thinking projects for late afternoon. About 5:30 p.m. I’m out the door and headed home to spend time with my family. Once my son is in bed, I have time to spend with my husband and dedicate to other projects or community work.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN COMMUNITY INITIATIVES AT HENDRICK?
It’s working to connect our community with Hendrick services and programs. For example, right now Hendrick community health goals include: improving access to
healthcare, health education, and mental health. Community health is a team sport, so much of our work is finding ways to demonstrate that we as a health system want to listen to our community and then help them. Some of our health initiatives have started with conversations with just one individual person. One of my favorite women’s health projects started six years ago with a community member who was at Hendrick getting her mammogram. Her mother had died of late-stage breast cancer due to a lack of early screening and detection. She said, “I want to do more.” Her mother’s experience is something our data had shown, too. So we started working on: how can we stop this and educate people about the importance of breast cancer screening? How can we make them aware of Hendrick and community resources? Improving community health is about creating relationships and building trust with the community we serve.
WHAT MAKES ABILENE UNIQUE?
The way that the Abilene community – individuals, nonprofits and businesses – has an eagerness to work together. When looking for ways to move forward with meaningful change in Abilene, the Abilene community is usually looking for a way to do it together. For example, Hendrick, Betty Hardwick, Abilene Police Department all operate with very different missions but they all came together to bring better response to mental health issues through Abilene’s Community Response Team program launched in 2019. Being in a place like Abilene, if you want to volunteer and show up, you don’t get lost. In larger cities, you might be doing things, but you don’t have the opportunity to work with community leaders. If you want to be part of the change or get involved, you can just do it. There aren’t barriers like other cities have. You can show up and volunteer.
WHAT IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT ABILENE IS FACING?
My first thought goes to health. One of the biggest challenges that will continue is access to healthcare. Many in our community don’t have a primary care physician. This
challenge is compounded in our surrounding areas as rural hospitals struggle to keep their doors open.
WHAT COULD THE AVERAGE PERSON DO ABOUT THAT?
I encourage everyone to get established with a primary care provider. This is someone who can meet most of your physical and mental health care needs like prevention and wellness, treat chronic conditions and provide acute care. Look for that one touch point for your medical care. If you aren’t sure where to start, contact Hendrick Clinic to get established with a physician. Other community resources available include Abilene Community Health Center and the Presbyterian Medical Care Mission. Making the decision to seek out primary care is the best place to start. It’s saying ‘I know I don’t have these resources, but I’m going to take charge of my circumstance and seek out care.’ There are quite a few resources available in Abilene, we just need awareness.
WITH NONPROFIT WORK, WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
My primary motivation is the health and well-being of women and children. After becoming a parent, it’s become even more important to me. How, in this world where things are crazy, can we make things as good as possible for children in the future? I feel my nonprofit work reflects that sentiment. The Laura Bush Institute for Women’s Health focuses on women’s health and community impact. United Way funds programs that impact education, health and financial stability. One focus of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council is children’s literacy. We know reading has the potential to change a child’s life. I developed a love for reading at an early age, so that’s my motivation in wanting to pass that on to others.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ENCOURAGE SOMEONE TO VOLUNTEER?
If you have an interest in a cause, just go volunteer. Something I appreciate about Abilene is the ample number of volunteer opportunities. The Chamber of Commerce Abilene Young Professionals does a great job identifying nonprofit board opportunities and helps young people find their place in Abilene. If volunteering is where your heart is, you can’t make a difference until you get out there and do it.
CURRENTLY READING: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
PODCAST: Planet Money
DRINK: Earl Grey tea
By Haley Laurence