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2023 PARTNERS Spring Luncheon

Noted photographer focuses on women

Luncheon co-chairs Susan Distefano and Trish Greaser with Dean Diane Santa Maria and Annie Griffiths.

Knowledge and understanding are nurses’ greatest gifts to the world, said renowned photographer Annie Griffiths during her keynote address at the 2023 PARTNERS Spring Luncheon.

Griffiths, one of the first women to photograph for National Geographic, has worked in all 50 states and more than 150 countries. Time and again, she has witnessed nurses educating and empowering women about their own health.

Founded in 1994, PARTNERS (Providing Advancement Resources To Nursing Education, Research, and Students), raises vital funds for nursing scholarships and research at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston. The Spring Luncheon is PARTNERS’ largest annual event, this year raising more than $214,000. Griffiths spoke to an audience of 250 people on April 25 at the River Oaks Country Club.

Griffiths shared spectacular photos and told stories about women she has met in some of the least developed areas of the world. Their strength and ability to survive and innovate, no matter how meager their resources, inspired Griffiths to found Ripple Effect Images. The nonprofit collective of photojournalists and filmmakers supports women’s aid groups by providing images and videos to boost their fundraising efforts.

Rather than lamenting the plight of women in what Americans would consider harsh circumstances, Griffiths instead showcases successes and solutions that can grow from micro-investments and other seemingly small projects. For example, she explained how one training program in India teaches women to build solar lanterns as a part of establishing financial independence. In another community where children work in salt mines, they use the solar lanterns to study in night school.

“These women are not to be pitied. They are not to be condescended to,” Griffiths said. “The people who fix the problems and make lives better are women.”

The luncheon honored the John P. McGovern Foundation, which has funded two distinguished professorships at Cizik School of Nursing and established an endowed scholarship fund. Julia Mitchell, secretary of the foundation’s board of directors, spoke on its behalf, and Dean Emerita Patricia L. Starck, PhD, RN, FAAN, attended as a special guest.

PARTNERS members Susan Distefano, MSN, RN, and Trish Greaser chaired this year’s luncheon. Houston Public Media’s Ernie Manouse continued his years-long tradition of serving as master of ceremonies, and Kim Mabry of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston delivered the invocation.

Founding PARTNERS member Susan Cooley, PhD, RN, introduced Griffiths and recognized her with an honorary lifetime PARTNERS membership.

“PARTNERS has been part of our story for so long, it can be easy to forget just how rare it is for a nursing school to have this kind of support,” said Dean Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, MSN, PHNA-BC, ACRN, FAAN, in her welcome to guests. “No matter how much we achieve or how far we go, we will never take for granted what PARTNERS has made possible for the school or how fortunate we are to have such amazing volunteers as part of our community.”

Following the luncheon, Griffiths signed copies of her book, “Life in Color: National Geographic Photos.”

Learn more about PARTNERS at

(Banner image: Luncheon co-chairs Susan Distefano and Trish Greaser with Dean Diane Santa Maria and Annie Griffiths.)

PARTNERS support for Cizik School of Nursing adds up

  • $15M+ in direct and indirect contributions to nursing education and research
  • 200+ student scholarships
  • 4 endowed nursing professorships
  • $4M+ endowment provides ongoing scholarship and research support

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