Claudia Swafford Haltom ’73, a judge and nonprofit founder, says her trajectory through the legal world to founding a nonprofit wasn’t necessarily planned. But backed with the confidence from GPS to leave a lasting impact on the community around her, Haltom has been unstoppable. She honors the potential of all women through the work of her nonprofit.
After graduating from law school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Haltom hoped to find work in Chattanooga. She was dismayed at the job opportunities she was offered, typical of that era, paying far below what state attorneys made. She recalls going to an interview for a legal position and being met by a surprised and embarrassed secretarial manager; women were typically relegated to supporting roles. But a clerk position for the court of appeals judge in Memphis brought her west, and another position with the Shelby County attorney's office kept her there.
She handled legal cases for the county’s health department and schools, a position that put her at the cross section of data regarding birth information and poverty. She saw firsthand the impact having a baby would have on a woman’s future—many were unable to continue their education and best prepare and plan for their future. She then became a magistrate in the Memphis and Shelby County juvenile courts, where she witnessed further the impact of unplanned pregnancies on women.
“The era we are living in is the first time in history that women have been able to plan when they get pregnant, and it changes the trajectory of everything—women can plan their careers, their married lives, and their families,” Haltom says. She was eager to make those options accessible to everyone.
Bridging the Gap for All Women
The clinics young women were going to did not easily offer the most effective forms of birth control, and Haltom recognized a need for young women to be better informed about the impact motherhood had on their lives and the most effective birth control methods, including long-acting reversible contraceptives.
After serving in the juvenile court system, Haltom opted to retire early and establish A Step Ahead Foundation with the goal of making free, long-term reversible birth control an option available to all women.
“It’s all for women to be able to achieve their hopes and dreams,” Haltom says. “GPS was instrumental in helping me move forward with that vision.”
A Step Ahead now has affiliates across the state providing these methods of birth control free to women. Affiliate offices are located in Chattanooga, Jackson, rural west Tennessee, Nashville, Knoxville, and the Tri-Cities. Free transportation is available in most areas, and each affiliate’s call center enables women to quickly get an appointment, something that is often not immediately available going through an OB-GYN office or a community clinic.
“In eight years we’ve gone from founding to being statewide,” Haltom says. “The critical part is the data—teen pregnancy has dropped by one-third in Shelby County. The young women who wait to have a baby are also the ones who will graduate, obtain job training, start a post-graduate program if that is her desire. The abortion rate has dropped by 39 percent.”
While many agencies work on the same goal, A Step Ahead actively promotes women completing their education first—and to live out their hopes and dreams and anticipate what they want to do in life.
A Prevention-First Approach
In founding A Step Ahead, Haltom evaluated the barriers to make the most effective birth control available to every woman, regardless of financial background. The prevention approach to the organization enables women to prioritize themselves while pursuing their dreams.
Haltom says her time at GPS showed her that there were no limits placed on her ability to succeed. She loved the go-for-it attitude.
“What I learned from GPS is that when you see a problem, don’t just fret over it, but identify a possible solution, then research the solution, and test it,” Haltom says. “GPS gave me the confidence to follow up and to implement a solution that can have a great impact, not just for one or two women, but for an entire community, state, and for generations. Don’t limit your vision or dream.”