Community Leaders Honored for Helping Americans Most In Need

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation® announces winners of the 2011 Community Health Leaders Award.

    • November 8, 2011

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is proud to announce today the recipients of its 2011 Community Health Leaders Award, honoring 10 individuals who have overcome daunting odds to improve the health and quality of life for disadvantaged or underserved communities across the country.

"These individuals represent the best of America," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and chief executive officer of RWJF. "Each of our 2011 Community Health Leaders identified a dire need in their community and took personal and professional risks to address that need. They are helping the people in their communities to live healthier, better lives."

The 2011 Community Health Leaders Award recipients are helping to provide vital health services to residents in their own communities—people with disabilities, children growing up in public housing, frail seniors who do not speak English, the uninsured working poor, and those in need of health services who live in remote, rural areas.

Now in its 18th year, the Community Health Leaders Award elevates the work of the leaders by raising awareness of their extraordinary contributions through national visibility, a $125,000 award, and networking opportunities.

The 2011 Community Health Leaders will be named today at an awards ceremony at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards.

The 2011 Community Health Leaders are:

Jamie Boyd, PhD, nursing assistant professor and health programs coordinator, University of Hawaii at Windward, Kaneohe, Hawaii. She is the University of Hawaii's first Native Hawaiian with a PhD who is also a registered nurse. Boyd created Pathway out of Poverty, a program based on cultural values to train Hawaiians and other disadvantaged students in nursing careers. A former foster child and teen mother, Boyd's vision is to reduce poverty, increase the representation of Hawaiians in nursing, and train more empathetic nurses who will improve the quality of health care. She has worked to generate tuition assistance for nurse's aide students who do not qualify for federal financial aid, and to guide students toward nursing careers with living wagesâ¿¿improving their own lives while helping others.

Im Ja Choi, MS, founder and executive director, Penn Asian Senior Services (PASSi), Jenkintown, Pa. When Choi's mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer, Choi quit her work to care for her mother full time. She soon discovered that she needed help in this role, but it was nearly impossible to find a home health care aide who could speak Korean. After hearing from other families who faced similar challenges, Choi founded PASSi to train and provide Korean-speaking home health aides. Choi has created 260 jobs and has expanded PASSi's reach to include Chinese, Vietnamese, and other languages, growing her organization's client base by nearly 50 percent each year.

Naomi Cottoms, MA, executive director, Tri-County Rural Health Network, Helena, Ark. Living in a community positioned near the bottom of the national rankings on health indicators, Cottoms decided to develop a unique approach to ensuring that the poorest residents of her rural community could access health care services. She started Community Connectors to help people obtain essential health care and prevention resources. The largest component of the program is connecting Medicaid-eligible seniors and adults living with disabilities to home and community-based health resources as an alternative to institutional care. According to a recent study, seniors who had been assisted by Community Connectors were more likely to remain in their homes than to go to a nursing home, thus resulting in Medicaid savings. Cottoms now collaborates extensively with service providers and researchers, all working toward the goal of eliminating health disparities.

Lisanne Finston, MSW, MDiv, director, Elijah's Promise, New Brunswick, N.J. Finston believes that good food should be a right, not a privilege, so she has worked to overhaul the traditional approach to food banks and soup kitchens for the hungry and homeless. She has taken the local soup kitchen and developed a catering business, and a pay-what-you-can café that provides delicious meals to hundreds of families in the New Brunswick, N.J., region every day. Finston also has worked to create initiatives that help break the cycle of poverty. She created a culinary school that has trained more than 500 people in cooking and catering skills, and has led an effort to push for minimum nutrition standards for food provided at food banks and soup kitchens.

Zane Gates, MD, medical director, Altoona Regional Partnering For Health Services, Altoona, Pa. Despite his humble beginnings in a public housing project, Gates successfully completed medical school, but then found something was missing in his life. He moved back to his hometown and started his own free clinic for the working poor—those who cannot afford to buy private coverage but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Later, Gates founded Partnering for Health Services, which provides access to free health care to about 3,500 people a year in the Altoona area. With eight volunteer doctors and a handful of paid staff, Gates' clinic provides care and medications, and allows patients to purchase hospital-only insurance coverage for $99 a month to receive surgery and inpatient care at Altoona Regional Health System hospitals. He also founded the Gloria Gates Memorial Foundation, in honor of his late mother, to provide academic enrichment and mentoring to children in three Altoona public housing projects, including the one where he grew up.

Chrysanne Grund, project director, Greeley County Rural Health Network Inc., Wallace, Kan. When the nearest cardiologist is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, accessing health care can be a challenge. That does not stop Grund, who believes that "rural" should not mean having to do without health care in the Kansas farm belt. So Grund wages a constant battle against the bureaucratic red tape that is often a stumbling block to providing care in a rural area. She helped win a "frontier exception" to legislation that had made it impossible to provide dental care in her community, and started a health care foundation to help local families battling cancer. She also played a key leadership role that led to the construction of a new medical clinic in Wallace County, one of only a handful of counties in Kansas without a hospital.

Andrea Ivory, founder and executive director, The Women's Breast Health Initiative, Miami Lakes, Fla. After Ivory was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, she realized that having access to early detection and treatment had saved her life. To reach women without access to these vital services, Ivory founded an organization that knocks on nearly 500 doors each week to educate women about breast cancer, early detection, and how to receive low- or no-cost mammograms. Then her organization circles back to neighborhoods with a mammography van to provide free breast cancer screenings. On behalf of the Women’s Breast Health Initiative, a volunteer coordinator visits every college campus in the South Florida area to oversee some 4,000 volunteers. The organization recently launched the b4pink.com campaign to inform all women about the importance of healthy eating, exercise, and other steps to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Deb Jastrebski, founder and chief executive officer, Practice Without Pressure, Newark, Del. Jastrebski, whose son has Down syndrome, was appalled to find that health care providers would often sedate people with disabilities or put them in in a straitjacket during routine medical exams. Her son's fear of dental exams prompted him to scream until the blood vessels in his face broke; ultimately, this led to missed medical visits and health problems. Jastrebski resolved to find a better way for people with disabilities to receive care. She created Practice Without Pressure to help prepare people with special needs to handle health care appointments calmly and without sedation. In 2009, her approach saved the state of Delaware from having to pay $260,000 in costs for sedation. Today, in addition to working with hundreds of individuals and families, Practice Without Pressure trains health care providers on how to compassionately and safely treat people with disabilities.

Richard Nares, MFA, founder and executive director, The Emilio Nares Foundation, San Diego, Calif. After the Nares family lost their only child, Emilio, to cancer before his sixth birthday, they channeled their grief into providing support and guidance to families facing the same overwhelming journey. In 2002, Nares founded the Emilio Nares Foundation in their son's memory. The foundation provides a variety of life-enhancing programs, including "Ride with Emilio," which helps transport children battling cancer to their medical visits. Healthy snacks are offered to the young cancer patients, and the foundation also provides support groups where caregivers can knit, sew, and create artwork. A resource center and computer lab is available to families, as well as bereavement and burial support. The Foundation also conducts bone marrow registry recruitment campaigns.

Gabriel Rincón, DDS, founding executive director, Mixteca Organization Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. In the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Rincón spent part of his dental residency caring for AIDS patients. At that time, according to Rincón, little information was circulated in Spanish about HIV in New York City's Mexican American community, where taboos surrounded the topics of sex and gender roles. So, Rincón developed a culturally sensitive presentation to educate Mexicans and other Latinos about HIV, its symptoms, how it is spread, and how it can be prevented. He later started Mixteca Organization, which provides a broad scope of health and education programs—literacy and computer classes, English-language courses, and after-school programs—to thousands of Hispanic New Yorkers each year. Meanwhile, Rincón continues to practice dentistry and is working on tackling another taboo among Hispanics: domestic violence.

About the Community Health Leaders Award

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established the Community Health Leaders Award to recognize individuals who overcome daunting obstacles to improve health and health care in their communities. Today, there are more than 190 outstanding Community Health Leaders from nearly all states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. For more information, visit www.communityhealthleaders.org.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For nearly 40 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org