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VOL. 133 | NO. 2 | Tuesday, January 2, 2018

AWA to Honor Haltom at Annual Event

By Michael Waddell

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After 30 years working with Shelby County government as a practicing attorney and a Juvenile Court judge, the Honorable Claudia Haltom retired and turned her focus to creating something that would make a difference.

CLAUDIA HALTOM

She formed the A Step Ahead Foundation in 2011, and today the organization partners with 22 community clinics in Memphis to provide long-acting, reversible birth control to women free of charge, including free transportation.

On Jan. 16, the Association for Women Attorneys (AWA) Memphis Chapter will honor Haltom, CEO of A Step Ahead, with the Marion Griffin-Frances Loring Award for outstanding achievement in the legal profession.

The 38th annual AWA banquet will be held Downtown at 409 S. Main St.

“Claudia is such an inspiration,” said Diana Comes, outgoing AWA president and attorney with Butler Snow LLP. “She saw a need in her community for better access to birth control to give more women more opportunities to succeed. She has worked tirelessly to address that need, and her work has had a real impact in Shelby County and across the state. I can think of nobody more fitting to honor with our Marion Griffin-Frances Loring Award.”

The AWA chapter also will recognize deserving scholarship recipients from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, induct the 2018 board officers and committee chairs, and preview upcoming events at its annual banquet. The AWA presidential gavel will pass from Comes to Eileen Kuo, an attorney with Jackson Lewis PC.

The 200-member AWA is a bar association of Memphis and Shelby County founded in 1979.

“It’s very humbling to be honored by the AWA,” said Haltom, who has been a member of the organization since she moved to Memphis after law school in 1980. “It’s such a great organization. The women in the AWA, we’ve all faced the same challenges and the same speed bumps in life, so it’s especially great to get this from them.”

Her first 12 years of practice were with the Health Department, Shelby County Schools and Juvenile Court, and much of her work dealt with children and families.

“When I look back on it, I think the Health Department probably gave me the best education because that’s where I learned about data, big data, and statistics and how you can predict the future based on what the data shows,” Haltom said. “Then I went to Juvenile Court, and that was a whole other level of seeing entry-level poverty.”

She saw a pattern of cases where young people who were doing well had babies before they were able to take care of them.

“It just created ongoing poverty, ongoing conflict within relationships, and put people in circumstances that they couldn’t get out of,” she said. “Seeing that, it became so significant to understand if young women and men were able to wait to have babies until after they were more prepared and after they graduate, then the “Graduate First” motto that we use would make all the difference in their lives. And the trajectory of their lives would change.”

A Step Ahead Foundation does community outreach via events and conversations to educate women about how much they can accomplish if they wait to have children, and where they can get the most-effective birth control.

“Being able to offer these methods, which are very expensive and not available in community clinics, we will reimburse the clinic for the cost of it,” Haltom said. “There are a lot of circumstances that people are in where we are the payer of last resort. It is something that changes lives. It prevents families who are in fragile circumstances in the beginning from having even more difficult circumstances.”

The foundation also sees rapid, repeat pregnancies that can result in premature births and health complications for the mother.

The foundation, which moved its offices into Crosstown Concourse in June, has never received any government funding, instead getting grants from other local agencies like the Plough and Hyde Family foundations along with private donors.

“Memphis is such a generous city,” Haltom said. “What we’re really about is enabling women to graduate first so they can get ahead both physically and emotionally and then they are better able to get a job and support themselves.”

Since getting through college or technical school can be a challenge, A Step Ahead provides scholarships to underserved women. To date, the foundation has given out more than $500,000 in scholarships. It also has assisted in paying for birth control for more than 5,700 women.

“The numbers are showing a significant decline in abortions and teen pregnancies,” she said.

The program’s success has helped it grow statewide into Jackson, rural West Tennessee, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville.

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