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Yes, We Are Grateful

Yes, We Are Grateful

By Vignetta Charles, PhD | November 20, 2017
Chief Executive Officer, ETR

My six-year-old son came home from school during the first week of November with an assignment to ask his family what we’re thankful for this year. I immediately rattled off the names of ten people, starting with his name.

He jumped in and clarified, “It can’t be people. You have to be grateful for a non-people thing.” I paused and then quickly gave him my heartfelt answer that couldn’t be people (I’ll tell you later what it was). 

As we asked folks at ETR for what they are grateful this year, we got a list of about 100—you guessed it—people. So I guess gratitude for the people in our lives and with whom we work is a part of the ETR way.

It’s not surprising that we are a grateful bunch, given our science-based approach to our work. Studies have shown that gratitude strengthens our immune systems, helps us sleep better, reduces stress and depression and can open the door to more relationships. Our commitment to workplace wellness extends to expressions of gratitude. Indeed, the list is so long that we are only providing snippets here. But if you want the full list, ask an ETRian for the “internal version” of this post to see the extent of the gratitude we have for one another.

Grateful for Our New CEO (Editor’s Note)

One of the most exciting developments at ETR this year has been the appointment of Vignetta Charles as our new CEO. Since she’s writing this post, she’s unlikely to sing her own praises. Our staff will sing, however. We are grateful for Vignetta! ETRians are thanking her for:
  • Bringing our mission forward.
  • Believing in the power of ETR’s distributed workforce.
  • Supporting our work here at ETR while encouraging individuals’ plans to continue their education and map their future careers.
  • Sharing her vision and leading this agency with a health equity lens.
  • Shepherding in a new level of excitement at ETR.

And my favorite:

  • Being our northern star.

Exceptional Partners

We work with extraordinary individuals and organizations all across the nation. There is so much amazing work going on to build stronger, healthier communities. This year, we are especially grateful to:

Heroes Everywhere

  • Directors, coordinators and health educators at agencies all over the country who are doing the important work of educating the next generation about their bodies, sex, reproductive health and relationships. For many youth, these are the only adults with whom they can have safe, open conversations about these topics. Thanks for your knowledge, compassion, positivity and warmth.

Federal and State People and Programs

  • Mary Schauer and Elizabeth Haller, from CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). They continue to be fierce supporters of the work ETR’s Professional Learning Collaborative team is doing on behalf of the CDC.
  • Carmen Ashley, also at CDC DASH, for her leadership in the integration of HIV and drug use prevention efforts aimed at youth who are at risk for negative health outcomes in their communities.
  • Our 30+ year relationship with the California Department of Public Health, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Division, supporting California’s teen pregnancy prevention efforts. We value our collaborations with Lissa Pressfield, Sarah Leff, Mary Campa, Jason Spitzer, Consuelo Bautista, Amy Austen, Laurie Fong, Tara Viswanathan, Maggie Tufts and the rest of their amazing staff in our collective efforts to improve adolescent sexual health.
  • All of our partners on the OAH-funded implementation and evaluation of Making Healthy Decisions, including Julie Downs, Amie Ashcraft, Anna Maria Berta, Pam Murray, Mandy Lanyon, Megan Chinukwue and Reesha Jackson. Thanks for your enthusiasm for and devotion to expanding teen pregnancy prevention program options for young people.
  • The staff at the California Tobacco Control Program, which continues to carry out some of the most forward-thinking, Big Tobacco-busting, health-focused programming and innovation in the nation. It is an honor to continue our longstanding partnership.

Universities and Beyond

  • Christina Bethell, Director of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative at Johns Hopkins. She is advancing a research and policy agenda that addresses adverse childhood experiences and promotes healthy, flourishing lives in our children.
  • The Adolescent Health Initiative at University of Michigan. Their generous praise of our e-Learning Team and their ongoing enthusiasm for our work are most appreciated.
  • Our longstanding partnerships with University of Texas at Houston Health Science Center and their investigators Drs. Susan Tortolero, Melissa Peskin, Christine Markham and Ross Shegog. They are committed to addressing health disparities through evidence-based practices. What a dedicated and creative group of colleagues!
  • The many years we’ve worked with The Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. Our science group’s opportunities to work with Drs. Claire Brindis and Mara Decker and their teams enriches our year. They are brilliant, dedicated and passionate about drawing on science to strengthen impact.
  • An enriching year working with Dr. Ahna Suleiman at the Center on the Developing Adolescent at University of California, Berkeley. Her commitment to and support in applying developmental neuroscience principles to sexual health education has helped us extend our work and share new insights with the field.
  • Dr. Stephen Russell from University of Texas at Austin College of Natural Sciences. He is a true leader in the movement to educate young people in ways that are inclusive of all youth, of any sexual orientation or gender identity.

Communities and More

  • James Walker, Aaron Hamilton and Duane Thomas, along with the mentors, Gents and parents of the Oakland Chapter of Omega Psi Phi, for partnering with us in work that elevates our thinking and refreshes our approaches to promoting healthy relationships.
  • Our work with FLASH authors Andrea Gerber and Kari Kessler. We are inspired by their passion for their work and their dedication to ensuring young people have access to high quality, comprehensive sexual health education.
  • Our partners at dfusion, including Regina Firpo-Triplett, Tamara Kuhn, Erica Marsh, Brittany Lucas, and Maddy Milroy, for their creative energy and unending support.
  • Our newer partners and their confidence in and support for ETR’s work. It has been a pleasure to work with Drs. Sylvie Naar, Jeff Parsons and Bonnie Stanton this past year on infusing implementation science into the Scale It Up project. This set of studies is developing, testing and bringing to practice self-management interventions that positively impact youth HIV prevention and care cascades.
  • Our work with Lori Rolleri, who helped us honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Douglas Kirby at the Kirby Summit, and shared her curiosity, energy and laughter throughout the year.
  • The leaders of the Future of Sex Ed (FoSE) for their dedication to promoting quality sexual health education across the lifespan.

 ETR’s About Us Healthy Relationships Study: Many Fabulous Partners!

ETR was awarded a grant from the Family & Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) to refine and evaluate a relationships-based program called About Us. This is one of those “extreme gratitude” situations. We appreciate the endless support of our partners on this new adventure to test the impact of the program. Some of the people and organizations who are contributing:

Particular appreciation goes to Itege Bailey, with FYSB. We are so grateful to her constant support in ensuring we are successful in launching the study. She guides us, inspires us and makes us laugh. Thank you, Itege!

An Extraordinary Summit

The Kirby Summit is an annual ETR event that brings together national experts in different areas of adolescent health and development. The Summit creates opportunities for transdisciplinary dialogue and collaborative action. Participants address research, programs and policies that can make a difference, especially in areas of sexual and reproductive health.

In 2017, the group examined the intersection of emotion, developmental neuroscience and adolescent sexual health. Great minds, good people—thanks to  every one of the outstanding participants.

Please be sure to read our 2017 brief (you can find the 2016 report at this link as well).

FYSB National Training & Technical Assistance Provider for PREP

ETR is also grateful for our longstanding collaborations with the Federal and National external partners who join with us to provide training and technical assistance in adolescent pregnancy prevention efforts in U.S. States and Territories.

Illuminating Interns

In addition to the work assigned for their internships, ETR’s 2017 interns were invited to write for our blog. Their posts help us learn more about the passion they bring to their study and their careers.

  • Love Odetala describes a program she developed in Senegal that has the potential to save the lives of girls who have dropped out of school. “We recognize,” she tells us, “that true peace is virtually impossible without good health.”
  • Selah Agaba, who has done work in Kenya, Uganda and the U.S., urges us not to forget the sexual health education needs of adolescents caught up in humanitarian crises.
  • Taylor Vandenbossche shares some powerful reflections about her work on an ETR project that uncovered “the thoughts and feelings, dreams and aspirations of young fathers.”
  • Dharmit Shelat helps us focus on some of the ways organizations need to plan and prepare for changes in leadership and staff.
  • Chris Connelly tells us how a student majoring in economics and political science made some distinctive contributions to a non-profit like ETR.

ETR’s Team

Here are just a few snippets of the gratitude spontaneously expressed by staff about some of our incredible team members.

  • Karin Coyle: “Always positive and encouraging. She brings exceptional intelligence and unparalleled grace to her work, sharing insight and support in virtually every interaction. How does she do it?”
  • Warehouse and Distribution: This crew works really hard to get our materials out the door in a timely, professional manner. They elevate ETR’s reputation in the field every day.
  • Michael Everett’s energy transforms the room, and his insights and passion transform the lives of everyone in his trainings. I am grateful every time I walk into a training space with him.
  • Lisa Edelman always say “yes,” followed by “It should be here tomorrow.”
  • Marcia Quackenbush creatively, tirelessly and humbly works with so many internal and external partners to generate content for our blog and newsletter, and does so with a positive attitude.

And a note from one staffer about our workplace overall:

  • I’d like to thank all at ETR for 17 years of a harassment-free work environment. Given current events, I have felt particularly grateful to work in an environment where gender-based harassment and biased treatment is not only not the norm; it is practically nonexistent. We all contribute to creating and maintaining this environment in our own way. I don’t take it for granted.

Yes, We’re Special

It is an indescribable honor to work with ETR, our impressive partners and the exceptional individuals who make up our staff. ETR is a great place to do good. By the way, we’re growing our team right now, so if you’re interested in working with some of our amazing folks, check out our Careers page.

I hope, as we enter this holiday season, that you also find much to be grateful for.

And, in case you’re wondering—the “non people” thing that I answered for my son’s assignment was, “I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do work that I love.”


Vignetta Charles, PhD, is Chief Executive Officer of ETR. Dr. Charles can be reached at

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