Child Development

Remembering Joanna: The “Heart” of Help Me Grow

By: Paul H. Dworkin, MD

With great sadness, I share my reflections on the passing of our dear friend and beloved colleague, Joanna Bogin.

Joanna was the first manager of the Help Me Grow (HMG) National Center, leading our HMG dissemination efforts even prior to our evolution to an organized structure. When we were fortunate to secure funding to begin to provide technical assistance to jurisdictions that desired to build HMG systems, I conscripted Joanna from her role at the Connecticut Children’s Trust Fund, the agency serving as the backbone organization for HMG in Connecticut. I knew Joanna well from my friendship with her and her beloved pediatrician husband, Fred, whom I had “recruited” from New Hampshire to Hartford.  (In reality, Fred recruited us.)  Little did I realize that Fred’s hiring would yield such bountiful rewards.

Joanna Bogin at the 2018 Help Me Grow Annual Forum
in Seattle, Washington.

In her leadership of our fledgling efforts to offer technical assistance on HMG implementation, Joanna was critical to our success. Her impeccable interpersonal and relationship-building skills, her unparalleled capacity for empathy and sensitivity, and her keen ability to carefully listen in an open-minded and non-judgmental manner enabled Joanna to quickly garner the trust and respect of potential collaborators across the nation. Joanna’s ability to transform professional relationships to deep personal attachments was legendary, as evidenced by the long list of HMG affiliate leads who became life-long friends and confidants. Joanna was, in so many respects, our spiritual leader – our HMG National Center version of a non-denominational mother superior, priestly confessor, and rabbinic sage. She cared for and took care of all of us. 

When, some five years ago, Joanna decided to retire to spend more time with her rapidly growing family, travel with her similarly retired husband, lend volunteer support to children in the welfare system, and more actively pursue such personal interests as golf (both in joining Fred as his partner in league play and tolerating occasional rounds with interlopers such as myself), we celebrated Joanna’s accomplishments and shared our joy in anticipating her many years of future happiness and fulfillment.  None of us were prepared for the cruel irony of her cancer diagnosis, which was so ironically foreshadowed by some nagging concerns she shared at our 2016 Annual HMG Forum.

Despite the devastating news and the all-too-obvious implications of a chilling diagnosis, Joanna, in true fashion, immediately turned her attention to what she could do to make the very best of her challenging situation. She embarked on a treatment regimen that somewhat miraculously allowed her years of well-being, full activity, and engagement. In fact, she continued to regularly participate in our annual forums as our unofficial goodwill ambassador, greeting guests and renewing friendships with unencumbered enthusiasm seemingly devoid of self-concern. While always firmly rooted in reality, Joanna maintained an infectious, albeit cautious, optimism that engendered hope in all with whom she engaged.

Joanna Bogin addressing participants of the 2019 Help Me Grow Annual Forum in Buffalo, New York.

Even the recent, dreaded resurgence of Joanna’s illness could not overcome her appreciation for the unanticipated duration and quality of life she experienced through her treatment and the many memories that will sustain her family and friends at this most challenging time. Throughout this period, as throughout her life, empathy and concern for others reigned supreme for Joanna. A poignant example, shared by Fred, was her expression of concern as her oncologist delivered the bad news regarding her prognosis and the futility of future treatment. How typical of Joanna, upon receiving this information, to respond, “This must be so hard for you.” Her concern for others is an inspiration for us all.

I recall my comments at the final HMG Annual Forum preceding Joanna’s retirement. I described her as the “heart” of Help Me Grow. Indeed, she always will be. May our work together be a lasting legacy to the remarkable person that she was. May she rest in peace.    

Paul H. Dworkin, MD is executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s, director of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health and founding director of the Help Me Grow National Center. Dr. Dworkin is also a professor of pediatrics at UConn School of Medicine.  Learn more »

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