New program officer finds calling in Kansas City, Health Forward

New program officer Leigh Quarles meets with Cori Stites, program associate.

“There is no place like home” L. Frank Baum – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The idea of home is an interesting one for me. Inevitably when you meet a new person, one of the first questions you generally ask is where they are from. This has always been a difficult question for me to answer succinctly, since so many places have been home throughout my life.

If you have asked me this question, you have likely gotten a longer answer than anticipated, and it usually goes something like this: I was born in Birmingham, AL, but moved to Durham, NC, as a baby. Even though I grew up in Durham, we made many trips back to Alabama to visit family, and although I didn’t live there long, my Alabama roots are deep.

Durham is where I grew up, but I moved to western Massachusetts for college  While South Hadley, Massachusetts, was only my home during the school year, my time there taught me that home is often made by the people around you.

During my senior year of college, my parents moved to Kansas City. I followed them after graduation. I spent three years in Kansas City (and met my future husband), before moving to New York City for graduate school.

I lived in NYC for six years. As many people who live there, but aren’t “from” there know, NYC is a difficult place to make your permanent home. During our sixth year in NYC, my husband was offered the opportunity to relocate to Conway, AR, and we jumped at it. It was there that we bought our first home, got a dog, then another dog, and had a baby.

After three eventful years in Arkansas, we decided it was time to move back to Kansas City, a place that my husband has always considered home, and a place that I have been excited to make my home again.

After reading that long list of my “homes” over the years, maybe you all can understand why I have a hard time with that question.

Living in so many places has allowed me the opportunity to learn about different communities, and what makes them home for the people living within those communities.

Kansas City holds a special place in my heart, not just because I met my husband here, but also because this is where I began to learn about and discover my passion for public health.

As the daughter of a physician and a nurse, health care has always been central to my life, but it was my first stint in Kansas City that opened my eyes to how where and how we live, and how systems impact our overall health.

I worked with middle, high school, and college-aged students interested in pursuing primary care careers in medicine, nursing, and dentistry. I also saw first-hand the health professional shortage, and worked to connect organizations to students who would eventually become employees. This work took me around the KC metro area, visiting with community health centers, federally qualified health centers, community dental clinics, and schools in both rural and urban areas.

These experiences helped guide me to my current career path – I was moved to pursue further education so that I could positively impact these systems. My career in nonprofit and academic research settings has allowed me to further explore ways to improve the health and overall well-being of the communities I live in.

I am honored to have found my new work home in the Health Forward Foundation and with the safety net team. I am excited about the work that Kansas City is doing to improve the health of our community, and that I get to be a part of supporting this work in my new role as program officer.

Health Forward

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006