Person of the Week
Leslie Sude: Serving Children, Preserving Nature
Dr. Leslie Sude, a Yale pediatrician, volunteers her time to StreetCred and the Madison Land Conservation Trust, where serves as a board member and heads the Rettich Preservation Committee. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
“Health is wealth,” as the saying goes.
But to Dr. Leslie Sude, a Yale pediatrician, the opposite may also be true: Wealth is health.
“I’ve been in different practice settings throughout the years, but most of my time has been treating children who live with economic adversity. And so, in recent years, I have actually taken an interest in the health and the mental health issues that impact children who grow up in poverty,” she says.
A medical doctor for more than 30 years and longtime Madison resident, Leslie says that a health-wealth connection points to how economic stability brings about better health and wellbeing. She also reasons that since the lack of money is one of the greatest sources of stress, it follows that wealth, or at least financial stability, favorably affects health.
“When I work with families to try to address some of the issues that they’re facing, these things kept emerging that presented as barriers to their treatment, and all of them related to economic factors: lack of resources to provide programs, access to good child care, secure housing, and good quality food,” she continues.
“I think that social researchers, economic researchers, and public health people have for many years understood the health-wealth connection. But it’s only recently that doctors are paying attention to those connections and doing something about it,” she points out.
Leslie is one of those doctors focusing on how wealth affects the health of families, particularly children.
It’s the same logic put forth by StreetCred, a program launched in 2016 by Dr. Michael Hole, a pediatrician then based in Boston.
Dr. Hole believed that helping his patients’ families get more money in their pockets improves their health and wellbeing more than a single standard check-up can. With Dr. Lucy Marcil, he founded StreetCred, which uses medical clinics as trusted and confidential venues for free tax filing services to help low-income families.
Leslie became an early proponent of StreetCred and introduced it to Yale to help the underserved families in the New Haven area.
“I read an article about them [Drs. Hole and Marcil] in a pediatric journal and I sent them an email shortly after I read the article,” Leslie recalls. “They called me back the same day they got my email, saying, ‘We’re ready to take this outside of Boston. Let’s talk.’ And so, we did. Yale New Haven is one of the first sites to adopt a StreetCred program outside of Boston and we’re about to go on our third year.”
Leslie says that StreetCred helps low-income families access the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a tax refund for working poor families. Considered one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs, the EITC is associated with improved infant and maternal health, higher employment rates of single mothers, improved K-12 school performance, and increased earnings when children reach adulthood.
But access barriers prevent some 20 percent of EITC-eligible families from receiving the credit. In addition, some families who file for the EITC do so using commercial tax preparation services.
Leslie says that the goal of StreetCred is to serve the 20 percent who don’t file and offer the 80 percent who do file a free service.
“What StreetCred seeks to do is narrow that gap, increase awareness about the EITC, and offer a free tax preparation service in a convenient, frequented, trusted space. And it’s specifically aimed at those 20 percent of people who don’t file their taxes because they’re not aware of the fact that they should,” she explains.
According to the IRS, the maximum amount of credit for Tax Year 2018 is $6,431 for filers with three or more qualifying children, $5,716 for those with two qualifying children, $3,461 with one qualifying child, and $519 with no qualifying children.
For low-income families, these amounts can mean the difference between purchasing a basic item and going without.
One success story from the StreetCred website involves a grandmother raising her three-year old grandson in Boston. She was earning an annual salary of $7,000 working part-time jobs at fast food restaurants. She paid $400 for a private tax preparation, an amount representing 17 percent of her tax credit. With StreetCred, she received $2,400, her entire tax credit, which she said allowed her to buy items for her grandson that previously seemed exorbitant: toiletries, fresh produce, winter blankets, and a nightlight.
Leslie has her own StreetCred success story.
Her team now includes attorney Alice Rosenthal, who co-runs the program with her; several StreetCred volunteers; and a number of site coordinators. In the two years the program has been at Yale, she and her team served 54 clients the first year and 104 the second, for a total of 160 clients benefiting from $400,000 returned tax credits and saved commercial tax preparation fees.
It’s an accomplishment recognized by the New Haven Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Coalition for the greatest improvement in numbers between the first two years.
So what drives Leslie to focus on children’s health, and particularly the health of underserved youth?
“For me, pediatrics was compelling because I felt that by working with kids and treating kids, I’m taking care of the future. Healthy kids, healthy world, healthy future for everybody,” she says.
Working on Land Conservation
That same sentiment to ensure the future for children is what drives Leslie to also be involved with the Madison Land Conservation Trust (MLCT).
She has been part of the MLCT for about 12 years and enjoys walking the trails with Paul, her husband of 25 years. Together, they have two daughters, Clara, 22, and Tillie, 17.
She volunteers her time with the MLCT as a member of the board, a member of the Land Acquisition Committee, and the head of the Rettich Preserve Committee.
The Rettich Preserve is a recent addition to the MLCT that resulted from a generous donation from the Rettich family, which wanted the land to be preserved as open space.
Leslie led the effort to prepare the land for public use: assessing the safety of the buildings within the property and tearing down those that were unsafe, clearing overgrown brush, pulling up invasive species, and opening up the views to transform the preserve from a former working farm into a safe preserve for the public to enjoy.
Leslie says that her volunteer work has become a joy because it all stems from her desire to preserve the land and to address the health issues of children in low-income families.
“Twenty years ago, I would have never guessed I would be writing grants to conserve land in a town called Madison and I didn’t know anything about taxes…But if you follow a passion, those endeavors become really easy to accomplish,” she says.
“It’s rewarding because in terms of the land trust, you’re leaving a legacy of conservation. And as far as StreetCred goes, if you can make a difference in one family and one child’s life, that makes all the effort worthwhile.”
For more information or to volunteer for StreetCred or the Madison Land Conservation Trust, contact Leslie Sude at email@example.com.
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