Taking charge of life isn’t always easy, especially when life has been hard. You need tools, skills, and resources—and the emme coalition has them. emme is a program offered through OPTIMUS that enables girls and women to make healthy choices and live healthy lives.
Director, Women’s Health Initiative
Dr. Garay holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Bridgeport in social sciences, a Master of Arts in adult development from Lesley University, an MBA in management and operations, and a Doctor of Health Science both from the University of Bridgeport. Dr. Garay has been passionate about uplifting, motivating, and educating women since she was a teenager. This seed was planted when she was faced with barriers that seemed impossible to break down. Dr. Garay came to this country from Chile at the age of 12. As an undocumented immigrant and adolescent of color, she struggled with understanding how to enroll for college, pay for it, obtain affordable health care while not having health insurance, and gain employment without documentation. She needed a program like emme—one that equips women and girls who face similar barriers with lifelong skills to reach their goals. Dr. Garay did not have emme; however, she was able to push through obstacles and achieve her dreams. At this point, she made a vow to herself that she would work tirelessly to prevent others from suffering the way she did. Dr. Garay is incredibly excited and humbled at the opportunity to pave the way for women and girls and provide them with a clear path to their goals.
University of Bridgeport, Lesley University
Coordinator, Women's Health Initiative
Samara holds a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Forensic Psychology and is working on her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of New Haven. She previously holds a certification as a Sexual Assault Counselor with the Milford Rape Crisis center. Her experience at the Milford Rape Crisis center has magnified her passion for empowering and educating women and girls to not only advocate for themselves but also recognize potentially unsafe situations and toxic relationships. Recently, Samara was promoted within emme from Community Health Worker to Program Coordinator. This role is critical to her because of the impact she can have on other Black women and women of color, on top of inspiring the younger girls to always strive for greatness. She hopes to empower and educate participants on a greater scale, for the overall betterment of the program. She is most excited about creating more opportunities for patient engagement and uplifting the values of emme within the Bridgeport community to reach more women and girls, in the hopes of helping them create the lives they want to live.
University of New Haven
Community Health Worker - School-Based Health Centers
Michelle is a twin born in the Bronx to a single mom of five. Being raised in the Bronx was not an easy task, but it helped shape her aspirations and it plays an important role on who she is today. Watching her mother struggle to put food on the table, keep clothes on their backs and keep a roof over their heads all while still showing unconditional love was an inspiration. Michelle’s mother built a strong foundation in her children by always pushing them to persevere even in the face of difficulty or challenges. That is why Michelle strongly believes that people should not allow their circumstances, like the neighborhoods they grow up in or the situations they are in, deter them from reaching economic success. Michelle has been living in CT and working at Optimus Health Care for 5 years, quickly growing as a front desk receptionist to a referral specialist and now a community health worker with the emme coalition. Michelle also currently attending Housatonic Community College working towards an associate’s in general studies degree. She is proof that it is never too late to pursue an education no matter where one is in life. Michelle is excited to have joined the emme coalition and even more ecstatic to be part of this life changing program for all girls and women. She hopes to coach the young girls of Fairfield County to be strong and motivate them to want to succeed.
Housatonic Community College
Community Health Worker
Massiel is Bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish, with a Bachelor Degree from Brigham Young University in University Studies with Minors in Marriage and Family Counseling, Communication and Entrepreneurship. She also holds an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts from Westchester Community College. Massiel immigrated to the US at 18 years old to a culture, school system and language strange to her. Despite being the youngest, Massiel is the first and only one of three siblings to attend and graduate college. Her previous work experiences include; Non-for- Profit Organization work as a Fiscal Intermediary serving IDD community, Teacher Assistant at an Early Childhood Education Center, Program Coordinator helping prepare Latino students to apply and stay in college, Teacher’s Aid for a High School, serving students with behavioral challenges. Massiel volunteers in the community as needed and is always seeking to share knowledge to help better others’ life experiences. She strongly believes that women can better their lives and their families through community programs that provide the tools to empower themselves. Massiel is excited to support the emme coalition in any capacity needed.
Brigham Young University
Community Health Worker
Wanda holds an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration in Human Resource Management from Housatonic Community College. She is also a Registered Medical Assistant, and a Certified Application Counselor through Access Health CT. Wanda moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico 28 years ago seeking career opportunities to create a changed future for her family. She worked in retail banking for 14+ years as a Branch Operations Manager, where she educated her clients about the importance of understanding financial choices. Yet, she had a deeper longing and passion for healthcare and helping the underserved community. Wanda has been an Optimus Healthcare Staff member since 2016 and has had the privilege to serve in different capacities gaining a deeper appreciation in serving the families of the community and surrounding towns. She believes that her experiences will help build community relationships and trust and will assist participants in reaching their maximum potential and healthcare goals. As she embarks this new journey as an emme Community Health Worker, her goal is to continue building relationships, empowering and educating women and girls, by generating a desire within them to succeed. Helping them “look beyond where everyone else looks to see the horizon no one else sees”- author unknown.
Housatonic Community College
Community Health Worker
Ariana is a hard-working single mom, currently attending college trying to attain her associate degree in higher education. She has lived in Connecticut for her entire life doing her best to make sure that her child has all that he needs. Learning how to advocate for her son Ariana has also learned how to advocate for herself, raising a young boy alone for most of his life, Ariana has found that there are many difficulties on a day to day that she has witnessed along the way. Building her foundation on her faith keeps her grounded and growing in many ways. The opportunity of working for Optimus Health Care as an Accounts Receivable Specialist has opened the opportunity to learn about the emme coalition that she is so proud to be a part of now as a Community Health Worker. Ariana is a strong believer that people should not let their circumstances define them. Just like the women that she surrounds herself with she looks to help others in their journey to becoming successful in all aspects of their lives. The same way that Ariana has people around her that support her goals she wants to provide that to the women that she helps to coach in the Bridgeport community.
Community Health Worker
Destiny holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health from Fairfield University and she plans to continue her education. Her experience as an intern for the Quality and Transformation Department at Optimus and as a volunteer for the emme coalition has helped her see the various health disparities that are present in vulnerable communities. This has helped fuel her interest to act as a catalyst for change, promote social determinants of health within our health care system, and provide holistic care for vulnerable communities such as young women of color. Through the role of a CHW, she is able to help patients overcome the various barriers that impact their health, well-being, and lives by connecting them to the resources they need to thrive. As a public health professional, she is aware of the various social determinants of health that needs be addressed and incorporated into our health care system in order to help improve patient health outcomes. In this role, she has the opportunity to apply her public health skills to address these factors and help provide holistic and comprehensive care for her participants. Through emme, she hopes to make a positive impact on the health and wellness of young women and help her participants achieve their personalized goals.
The newest signature investment of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Fund for Women & Girls, the emme coalition is a one-stop wellness hub that improves the mental, physical, social, and financial well-being of women and girls. This research-driven program delivered by OPTIMUS puts women and girls in the driver’s seat of their lives as partners in their own care. From optimizing job prospects to making better choices to promote health and wellness, emme empowers participants by providing them with holistic services and tools to enable them to reach their full potential.
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Fund for Women & Girls engages philanthropists to create and support sustainable solutions that lead to economic security and improved health outcomes for women and girls throughout the region. Founded in 1998, it is New England’s largest women’s fund, investing in research-driven programs and awarding more than $800K annually in grants to support women and girls.