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Noted photographer focuses on women at 2023 PARTNERS Spring Luncheon

Pictured (L-R): PARTNERS Spring Luncheon Chairs Susan Distefano, MSN, RN, and Trish Greaser with Dean Diane Santa Maria and keynote speaker Annie Griffiths.
Pictured (L-R): PARTNERS Spring Luncheon Chairs Susan Distefano, MSN, RN, and Trish Greaser with Dean Diane Santa Maria and keynote speaker Annie Griffiths.

Knowledge and understanding are nurses’ greatest gifts to the world, said renowned photographer Annie Griffiths during her keynote address at the 2023 PARTNERS Spring Luncheon. 

Griffiths, one of National Geographic’s first women photographers, has worked in all 50 states and more than 150 countries. Time and again, she has witnessed nurses teaching women things they didn’t know about health or even their own bodies. 

Founded in 1994, PARTNERS (Providing Advancement Resources To Nursing Education, Research, and Students), raises vital funds for nursing scholarships and research at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston. The Spring Luncheon is PARTNERS’ largest annual event, this year raising more than $214,000. Griffiths spoke to an audience of 250 people at River Oaks Country Club on April 25. 

Griffith shared spectacular photos and told stories about women she has met in some of the least developed areas of the world. Their strength and ability to survive and innovate, no matter how meager their resources, inspired Griffiths to found Ripple Effect Images. The nonprofit collective of photojournalists and filmmakers supports women’s aid groups by providing images and videos to boost their fundraising efforts. 

“If my pictures can help move the needle and make a difference, that’s all I want to do,” Griffiths said. 

Rather than lamenting the plight of women in what Americans would consider harsh circumstances, Griffiths instead showcases successes and solutions that can grow from micro-investments and other seemingly small projects. For example, she explained how one training program in India teaches women to build solar lanterns as a part of establishing financial independence. In another community where children work in salt mines, they use the solar lanterns to study in night school. 

“These women are not to be pitied. They are not to be condescended to,” she said. “The people who fix the problems and make lives better are women.” 

The luncheon honored the John P. McGovern Foundation, which has funded two distinguished professorships at Cizik School of Nursing and established an endowed scholarship fund that supports five graduate students annually. Julia Mitchell, secretary of the foundation’s board of directors, spoke on its behalf, and Dean Emerita Patricia L. Starck, DSN, RN, FAAN, attended as a special guest. 

PARTNERS members Susan Distefano, MSN, RN, and Trish Greaser chaired this year’s luncheon. Houston Public Media’s Ernie Manouse continued his years-long tradition of serving as master of ceremonies, and Kim Mabry of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston delivered the invocation. Founding PARTNERS member Susan Cooley, PhD, RN, CPNP, introduced Griffiths and recognized her as an honorary lifetime PARTNERS member. 

“PARTNERS has been part of our story for so long, it can be easy to forget just how rare it is for a nursing school to have this kind of support,” said Dean Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, RN, FAAN, in her welcome to guests. “No matter how much we achieve or how far we go, we will never take for granted what PARTNERS has made possible for the school or how fortunate we are to have such amazing volunteers as part of our community.” 

Over the years, PARTNERS has contributed more than $15 million dollars directly and indirectly to nursing education and research. PARTNERS has awarded more than 200 full-tuition student scholarships, 63 research grants, and four endowed nursing professorships, with an endowment fund totaling more than $4 million dollars that provides ongoing support for the school. 

Providing a testimonial to PARTNERS’ impact was Assistant Professor M. Mitzy Kobeissi, DNP, RN, FNP-C, a leader in the field of telehealth delivered by advanced practice nurses.

Kobeissi enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Cizik School of Nursing in 2013 and almost withdrew after her first semester because of financial struggles. A PARTNERS Scholarship enabled her to complete her studies without debt and to start her own telehealth business before many providers entered the field. As an “early adopter,” she was well prepared to help patients isolated by Hurricane Harvey and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I didn’t know how much I would be impacted by the PARTNERS scholarship,” Kobeissi said. 

Following the luncheon, Griffith’s signed copies of her book, “Life in Color: National Geographic Photos.” 

A photo album of the event is available on Flickr.

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