Gay G. Evans
As the founder and former director of The Health Education Project (THE Project) at El Rio Community Health Center (CHC), Gay G. Evans RN, MS, FNP has been a leader in working to empower women and assist all to improve their health.
Gay's interest in health education goes back to her early years after graduating from the Oklahoma Baptist University School of Nursing in 1959. Working as a public health nurse with migrant workers in Bellglade, Florida, she learned the value of teaching others how to take care of their own health and the health of their family.
Her desire to do more to help led her to receive a Master of Science degree from the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health in 1965. She then taught nursing students for three years in San Francisco.
Moving to Tucson with her husband Art, son Ross and daughter Kristna in 1974 gave her the opportunity to earn her Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) certification at the University of Arizona, College of Nursing. In 1977, she began working as an FNP at El Rio CHC.
When El Rio CHC received a federal contract to provide health services to the homeless, Gay asked to become one of the nurse practitioners providing direct patient care to the homeless. Gay believed that if homeless and/or abused women living in shelters could learn positive health practices, they could improve their own lives and teach their children good health skills, which would start them on the path out of poverty. This conviction led her to develop The Health Education Project.
For nine years, she divided her time between direct patient care and leadership for The Health Education Project, becoming the fulltime Director in 2002. The heart of The Health Education Project is the highly skilled volunteers who teach at shelters using the well-researched instructional packets that are designed so that volunteers can teach classes effectively. One of Gay's greatest strengths has been her ability to recruit a wide range of volunteers, not only to teach classes but also to create and revise the educational packets, to assist with office work and to serve on the Advisory Council. Gay retired in January 2009, after 32 years with El Rio CHC.
Gay has been widely recognized for her exemplary work. In 1992, she was one of Maxwell House Coffee's '100 Real Heroes' on their 100th anniversary for her leadership in establishing THE Project. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners named her Arizona Nurse Practitioner of the Year in 1993. In 1998, she was honored as one of Tucson's Fabulous Fifty Nurses by the Fabulous 50 Nurses Foundation. Oklahoma Baptist University awarded her a Profile in Excellence Award in 2002, recognizing her leadership with THE Project. Even in retirement, Gay continues to advocate for social justice and accessible health care for all; therefore, in 2009, Gay was recognized as the Community Volunteer of the Year by the Southern Arizona Volunteer Management Association.