PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from the Wesleyan Doula Project

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. Each grantee reports back with blog posts and photos. Here’s the first report from the Wesleyan Doula Project, one of the three 2015 winners. You can read other grantee reports here.

The Wesleyan Doula Project, a PCSE seed grant winner, is a student-run, volunteer collective that improves access to quality women’s health care. Pictured from left are Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin ’16, Julia Vermeulen ’15 and Zandy Stovicek ’17.

The Wesleyan Doula Project, a PCSE seed grant winner, is a student-run, volunteer collective that improves access to quality women’s health care. Pictured from left are Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin ’16, Julia Vermeulen ’15 and Zandy Stovicek ’17.

Winning the Patricelli Seed Grant has enabled us to imagine a whole new future for the Wesleyan Doula Project. Sure, we’re still committed to doing what we’ve always done– primarily, working with women’s health centers to provide support to hundreds of women terminating their pregnancies each semester. We still send teams of two doulas every Friday and Saturday (and the occasional Tuesday) to clinics in West Hartford and New Haven to work in the procedure and recovery rooms; we still participate in the quarterly conference calls with other organizations in the Full Spectrum Reproductive Support Network; we still struggle to find the time to get 35 busy doulas together for potlucks and movie night; and we still do our best to ignore the protesters lining the sidewalk as the weather gets nicer.

But while our day-to-day operations are humming along as usual, longer-term plans are emerging, and some of them are already being acted on.

Applying for the Seed Grant and pitching ourselves to a team of accomplished social entrepreneurs meant that for the first time, we were thinking about words like “donor base” and “triple bottom line” (We didn’t know what it meant either.).The process pushed us to communicate the impact of our project to people outside of the Reproductive Justice community and gave us permission to dream big and to ask ourselves, “what would the best version of the Wesleyan Doula Project look like?” The changes we envisioned were big and small, spanning clinic, community, and national levels–and the reality was, there was no way that we could act on all of them, at least not at the same time. So, once we got over our surprise and giddiness upon discovering we had won the grant, we pondered a different set of questions: First, “what is the most important goal for the Wesleyan Doula Project at this point in time?,” and second, “what do we need to do to achieve it?”

A semester of consideration and discussion with partners, alums, and mentors helped us figure out a set of short- and long-term goals, one of them being the eventual employment of a full-time Wesleyan Doula Project Fellow, who could work to achieve some of our bigger projects. With a fellowship on our horizon, we’ve wrapped up the semester and have a full summer planned, with campus-based doulas working at the clinic, our first-ever summer intern tackling grant opportunities, and a whole lot of planning for the coming school year. The Seed Grant spurred us into action, and we can’t wait to see where it will take us. But first, some highlights from what we’ve achieved this past semester:

  • We formalized the role of our Board of Advisors, and scheduled our first meeting for the end of the summer.
  • A group of Wesleyan students from the WDP and Clinic Escorts attended the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference at Hampshire College in April. And most exciting, Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin, co-coordinator of the WDP, presented as part of a panel on full-spectrum doula work. The CLPP conference is one of the largest reproductive justice conferences in the country.
  • In April, we partnered with ASHA (Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness) and the Wesleyan Clinic Escorts to host a well-attended WesFest film screening of an off-beat romantic comedy, Obvious Child (2014), and a quick introduction to the reproductive and sexual health work done by each of our projects.
  • In May, we were officially incorporated into Wesleyan’s Office of Community Service (OCS), a partnership that will give the WDP access to the structure, expertise, and resources of a community of civic engagement experts and student groups.
  • In May, we recruited and selected next year’s student coordinators of the WDP, a paid position through the Office of Community Service. The team will consist of two senior leaders–Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin and Jesalyn Ortiz– and one junior leader, Alexandra (or Zandy) Stovicek.
  • Zandy Stovicek is also the first-ever Wesleyan Doula Project summer intern (also paid, but with our Seed Grant money)! She will work to identify funding opportunities, design a long-term game plan for grant applications through the 2015-2016 academic year, and begin drafting prioritized applications. She will also develop a website for the project, which we hope will be an indispensible resource for prospective partners, donors, and volunteers alike.
  • Last, could the second ever university-based doula project be in the works?! We’ve gotten plenty of emails from people expressing interest in starting their own projects, but this spring we began conversations with what seems to be a promising and dedicated group from a nearby liberal arts school. We hope to offer the support and training they need to launch a successful project.

We are eager to meet the challenges ahead as we make the most of the amazing opportunity afforded us by the Patricelli Seed Grant.  Thanks to everyone who has helped us in the past year, but especially to Makaela Kingsley, for her unwavering enthusiasm and her honest and indispensable advice. We look forward to updating you all about our successes, stumbles, and new plans for the future of the Wesleyan Doula Project!

As a recent graduate with the Class of 2015, this is both my first and last blog post for the Wesleyan Doula Project. It has been an honor and a pleasure to co-coordinate this organization with Hannah Sokoloff-Rubin (Class of 2016), and I can’t wait to see how much farther next year’s group of doulas and their talented leaders will take this project.

–Julia Vermeulen