HEALTH LEADS Receives Grant from RWJF and Recognition from First Lady Michelle Obama

    • May 18, 2009

HEALTH LEADS, a national organization that mobilizes college students to improve the health of low-income patients, has received a $2-million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Funding, which starts June 2009, will provide critical support to build HEALTH LEADS' organizational capacity and enable its growth to expand the capacity of clinics to meet the resource needs of patients and become a national service model.

The organization was also recently highlighted by First Lady Michelle Obama during her keynote address at the TIME Magazine 100 Most Influential People gala in New York City on May 5, 2009. During this gathering of the world’s top thought leaders, Obama spoke about the power of social innovation in tackling complex social problems and referred to HEALTH LEADS as an example of "the kind of social innovation and entrepreneurship we should be encouraging all across this country." Obama stated: "Rebecca Onie is a social entrepreneur who founded HEALTH LEADS to help break the link between poverty and poor health."

Rebecca Onie, J.D., co-founder and CEO of HEALTH LEADS, cited the first lady's public support and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's grant to HEALTH LEADS as instrumental in promoting innovation in health care. According to Onie, "The Foundation's investment will enable HEALTH LEADS to grow our simple, effective model for expanding the scope of clinical care and, in doing so, inspire a generation of young people to tackle the most pressing health issues in their communities.

HEALTH LEADS mobilizes college students to provide assistance at urban hospitals and health centers. These students help connect low-income patients and their families to critical community resources, such as housing vouchers, supplemental nutrition assistance and educational support.

"HEALTH LEADS and its Family Help Desk model fit squarely with our mission to improve the health and health care of all Americans," says Nancy Barrand, special adviser for program development at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. As HEALTH LEADS works to systematically improve health care for low-income patients by using the clinic as a gateway to connect them to the resources they need to be healthy, it is also creates future health care leaders who understand that where you live, work and play has a powerful impact on one's health.


Founded in the Boston Medical Center Pediatrics Department in 1996, HEALTH LEADS envisions a health care system in which patients’ unmet resource needs are routinely and systematically addressed as a standard element of patient care.

In clinics where HEALTH LEADS Family Help Desk programs operate, physicians can prescribe food, housing, job training, health insurance or other resources for their patients as routinely as they do medication. Located in the waiting room and staffed by college volunteers, these Family Help Desks fill the prescriptions by connecting patients with key resources.

The Family Help Desk model expands the urban clinics' capacity to address their patients' needs, while building a pipeline of next-generation leaders—health care providers, policy-makers, and social entrepreneurs—with a foundational understanding of the social determinants of health. Currently, HEALTH LEADS operates 16 Family Help Desks in hospitals and health centers in Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, Providence, R.I. and Washington, D.C.