HARRISONBURG — When Yvonne Frazier received an email with “Congratulations” in the subject line, she had no idea it was informing her she was a recipient of a 2019 Governor’s Honor Award.
“That was a good sign that maybe I should pay attention,” Frazier said with a laugh about the unassuming email.
Frazier recently received the Enhancing the Prosperity and Quality of Life in Rural Virginia award, which is one of the 12 Governor’s Honor Awards given to Virginians across the Commonwealth for achievements such as public service or heroism.
Frazier is the program manager for Healthy Families Page and Shenandoah County, a service that works with families from pregnancy to when a child is 5 years old.
The program is part of James Madison University’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, which offers advantages to the program, Frazier said.
“We just happen to be one of the only programs that is completely off campus and working with the community,” she said.
The JMU connection brings students into the countryside to see how rural communities are different than urban communities, according to Frazier.
Working families in rural communities face different challenges, such as transportation and access to care, compared to urban areas.
For example, Page Memorial Hospital and Shenandoah Memorial Hospital do not have birthing centers to deliver babies, so many families have to travel for prenatal care and labor, according to Frazier.
Many areas in the counties of Augusta, Page, Rockingham and Shenandoah are considered child care deserts, where affordable child care is hard to find, according to data from the Center for American Progress.
“There are a lot of challenges for child care providers too,” Frazier said. “Trying to make that a viable business is very expensive and yet parents can only afford to pay so much.
“Our goal there is to really help parents to be able to work and maintain employment knowing that their kids are safe and well-cared for and being prepared for school,” she said.
Workers who know their kids have good care make for better employees as well, Frazier said.
“Businesses will be successful if they can maintain employees. Employees will be successful if they can maintain child care, and children will be successful if they can get an early education,” she said.
Frazier helped to start the Community Care and Learning Center in New Market, a nonprofit using grant money to offset costs and provide affordable child care.
And the Community Care and Learning Center is not the first time Frazier has funded projects with grant support, she said.
Frazier, a Shenandoah County native, has worked for grant-funded social services over the last 30 years, starting with child protective services after graduating from James Madison University.
“Each job that I had over the years, I was working with families earlier,” Frazier said.
Some things have improved in helping rural families, while new difficulties have also surfaced, according to Frazier.
However, other things have been improving in the rural community development sector. According to Frazier, community support groups have increasingly formed stronger partnerships.
“I think we’re realizing more and more that partnerships are the way to make things work,” Frazier said.
Parents are also furthering their education to acquire higher paying jobs to better support their family, she said.
“We have definitely seen people take advantage of career workforce development and community colleges, which I also think helps people to do better,” Frazier said.
Wednesday’s award is the first statewide recognition Frazier has received, she said.
“I hope that this will continue to shine a light on rural communities and what we have to offer and the unique way of life we can continue to enhance and share with others,” Frazier said.