These Delaware Nurses Strive to Improve Their Communities

Two trailblazing nurses are redefining entrepreneurship statewide with innovative programs that support underserved communities in Delaware.

In the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion, Michelle Drew, D.N.P., M.P.H., A.P.R.N., C.N.M., F.N.P.-C., F.A.C.N.M., and Oluyemi Awodiya, D.H.A., MBA, R.N., stand at the forefront of Delaware’s nursing industry. These two remarkable women, equally committed to their respective causes, have pioneered innovative programs within their communities. While Drew focuses on delivering crucial reproductive health services to underserved populations, Awodiya is dedicated to furnishing quality resources for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Together, they represent a powerful force driving transformative change in healthcare—one that addresses unmet needs at the grassroots level.

For Drew, founder of the Ubuntu Black Family Wellness Collective in Wilmington (ubuntucollective.org), the problem in her north Wilmington neighborhood was obvious. “I saw that even in my own home state, the statistics weren’t great,” she says. “We had a high rate of unplanned pregnancy. We had a disproportionately high infant mortality rate. At the highest, Black babies were seven times more likely to die in their first year of life than white babies.” The double-board-certified nurse asserts that income and education level did not account for this disparity, but preterm birth and birth weight did.

At first, Drew took matters into her own hands while working in the ChristianaCare OBGYN practice and residency program. “In triage, we’d hear the different barriers that mothers had to getting care,” she says. “People needed diapers, so I had diapers in my car. [If] someone needed a car seat, I was spending my own money on these things.”

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Drew quickly realized that it was crucial to mitigate the hindrances to what are now considered the social determinants of health. “[I] started out bringing things to my workplace to help [but then] converted one of the old Sunday school rooms in our church building to a clinical space where people could come in and get health advice—people who maybe hadn’t even gotten into prenatal care yet.”

Oluyemi Awodiya, D.H.A., MBA, R.N., founded TOBOLA Health Care Services Inc. in Dover to provide residential services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Adobe Stock.
Oluyemi Awodiya, D.H.A., MBA, R.N., founded TOBOLA Health Care Services Inc. in Dover to provide residential services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Adobe Stock.

Today, the Ubuntu clinic offers a full range of reproductive health services, from family planning to STD testing to prenatal and postpartum care. Along the lines of community outreach services, Drew organized a diaper bank and a food pantry, which offers fresh, frozen and nonperishable canned and dry goods for those in need.

Meanwhile, Awodiya, president and CEO of TOBOLA Health Care Services Inc. in Dover (tobolainc.com), who began her career as a nurse midwife in Nigeria, recognized a pressing need for support among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When a neighbor expressed that caring for her daughter had become overwhelming, Awodiya sprang into action. “At that moment, I knew I needed to do something. If TOBOLA can be the agency that cares, we will start that.”

Currently, the program houses two to three residents in each of its nine homes between New Castle and Kent counties. “Our goal is not to have a facility-like place. We want it to be their home,” Awodiya says. “We supply staff to support them, help with their daily activities, coordinate care with doctors, help them with appointments [and] administer medications. We believe that disability is not inability, and whatever way we can find to help them live their best life, we will.”

This year, Awodiya plans to move back to Sussex County, where the organization had a foothold before COVID-19. While she also hopes to expand to daily habilitation services, Awodiya says TOBOLA is currently working toward accreditation. She hopes to make the company name synonymous with quality care—not just for participants but for employees too. “My goal is to be the place where people want to work.”

“So many movements and so much that has happened in our society started at the grassroots—from the ground up, not the top down. With love and concern and care for each other, we can make this better.”

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These nurses’ entrepreneurial ventures not only reflect the diverse spectrum of healthcare demands in Delaware but also underscore the vital role nurses play in driving positive change and enhancing access to quality care for all residents. In Delaware’s bustling nursing industry, these two extraordinary women have emerged as catalysts for change, driven by a fierce determination to tackle the overlooked issues plaguing their communities. Their stories epitomize resilience, innovation and a relentless pursuit of change in the face of adversity.

“So many movements and so much that has happened in our society started at the grassroots—from the ground up, not the top down,” Drew says. “With love and concern and care for each other, we can make this better.”

Related: Concerns Many Face When Caring for Elderly Parents

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