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Howell Foundation diversifies and expands for broader impact on women’s health research

Marla Black, executive director of the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research
Marla Black, executive director of the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research, hopes to expand the organization’s reach in 2022.
(Dave Siccardi)

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Operating under the phrase “Grow and prosper,” the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is poised to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a wider reach for spreading awareness.

In 2022, the Howell Foundation aims to blend the webinars begun in 2020 with more in-person events, according to Executive Director Marla Black.

Black took on her role in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic triggered widespread restrictions on activities.

She steered the foundation away from its pre-pandemic quarterly luncheon lectures at the La Jolla Country Club into Zoom webinars. The foundation presented six such virtual lectures in 2020.

Black continued the webinars into 2021. On Nov. 5, the foundation reintroduced in-person events with a presentation on meditation and mindfulness at the Morgan Run Club & Resort in Rancho Santa Fe.

The workshop introduced participants to Kelee meditation under the guidance of UC San Diego doctors, Black said.

The Howell Foundation held an in-person event on mindfulness and meditation Nov. 5.
(Courtesy of Howell Foundation)

The foundation will continue sponsoring a yearly event in late January or early February focusing on “the top women’s health issues from the prior year and what is being done about it,” Black said.

The Howell Foundation also furthers its mission by supporting scholars focused on women’s health.

The foundation supplies 24 scholars per year with research funding, Black said, choosing both male and female scholars from UCSD, the Cal State University system and the University of San Diego graduate school for nursing.

Most of the time, Black said, the scholars’ research focuses on a specific issue designed to positively impact women’s health.

The chosen scholars speak about their projects for a few minutes at the foundation’s lectures, events and board meetings, Black said, following her initiative to “bring the mission to the people.”

“We give them a platform to speak to our donors and constituents,” she said. “That’s a great way to get our word out and keep our conversation going at the universities.”

Next year, the Howell Foundation plans to relaunch its community engagement initiative, which went dormant during the pandemic since “it involves doing physical work in the community,” Black said.

Past projects of the initiative include one on homeless women and breastfeeding, she said, incorporating “research on the ground in addition to in the clinical lab.”

Through the organization’s endeavors, “we’ve been able to advance not only the science but advance the awareness of women’s health and how important it is,” Black said. She added that in keeping virtual webinars, the foundation is able to extend its reach across the country and globally.

The foundation was established in 1995 by Soroptimist International of La Jolla — an organization devoted to improving women’s lives — in honor of pediatric hematologist and oncologist Dr. Doris Howell, a La Jolla resident who died in 2018.

The Howell Foundation has worked since its inception to raise awareness “that so much of health research was done on men,” Black said. Women “need to be more important in the research world,” she added.

“Women’s bodies are very different than men’s and respond and present with health challenges differently,” she said, such as in heart, diabetes and reproductive issues.

Since women “tend to be the health providers in the family [and] are the ones that keep the family together and are also very important in the workplace,” research to improve women’s health is crucial, Black said.

“Because of the initiatives of the Howell Foundation, we’re actually guaranteeing the emphasis on women’s health,” she said.

Black added that “one of the things I am really proud of is that we expanded our board [to be] much more diverse” in terms of gender and ethnicity.

The board also now includes past and present Howell Foundation scholars.

Having diverse board members with a mix of scientists and community volunteers “brings a whole new realm of conversation around what we should be doing and how we should be doing it,” Black said.

“I want us to continue to expand, to grow our research,” she said. “The way we do that is through funding.”

Most of the foundation’s funding comes from individual and family donations, but Black said she would like to “expand that to include more opportunities with our local corporations.”

For more information, visit howellfoundation.org.

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