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FOR RELEASE: August 27, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

Oklahoman Awarded Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leadership Award

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced this month that Oklahoma State Department of Health employee Melanie Spector of Tulsa is being awarded one of 10 national Community Health Leadership awards for 2002. She is being recognized for accomplishments and work with women in prisons in conjunction with the Tulsa Community AIDS Partnership, a program she created.

Because of her efforts, the program will receive $120,000, of which $15,000 is a personal stipend award. However, Spector is donating her personal stipend to the program.

“I congratulate Melanie for her outstanding job performance and dedication to the cause of improving public health in Oklahoma, even for those who are incarcerated. Her efforts have touched the lives of many women and their families in a positive way while dealing with the very difficult issue of health education in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. “She is a fine example of the type of state employees that work in the field of public health,” he added.

Spector developed a model of peer education in her efforts to expand and improve prison outreach programs for high-risk women. Oklahoma incarcerates more female offenders per capita than any other state and prison inmates are six times more likely than other Americans to have AIDS.

The program allows female inmates an opportunity to earn college credit for completing an HIV prevention course and becoming a peer educator. Inmates help design the 16-hour course, produce the materials, instruct fellow inmates, and recruit future educators and participants. It is designed to address the root causes of HIV disease in women as domestic violence, chemical dependency and a lack of education.

To broaden support for the program, Spector pulled together a partnership that includes the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Tulsa Community College, Oklahoma City Community college, Tulsa CARES, United Way, the Tulsa Community Service Council, and the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Spector will be recognized in Washington, D.C., at a September 24th ceremony. She was selected from a field of 463 nominees for this year’s honor.

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