Meet Your 2020 Be Well Philly Health Hero Semi-Finalists

You can vote now for your favorite of the 2020 Health Hero semi-finalists.

The 2020 Be Well Philly Health Hero Semi-Finalists. | Photos provided, design by Meredith Getzfread.

We’re thrilled to announce that we now have our 10 semi-finalists for the 2020 Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge presented by Independence Blue Cross. Here at Be Well Philly, we constantly strive to highlight people who are helping others in the greater Philadelphia area live healthier and better lives.  The Health Hero Challenge is our way of honoring the incredible and often unseen work that people do every day, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

We set out at the beginning of this challenge looking for medical providers, nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, anyone really who’s making a difference in our community from a health and wellness perspective. And, you all delivered. You shared powerful personal stories of the heroes making a difference in our community, which led to to the nomination of these semi-finalists. Now, it’s time to move to the next round.

You can vote once a day from now until October 1st. Here are the 10 semi-finalists!

Meg DeBrito for Greensgrow Farms

Greensgrow Farms is a nationally recognized leader in urban farming and a non-profit dedicated to promoting social wellness through community green space. Greensgrow reconnects city dwellers with rural food producers and promoting the greening of Philadelphia’s homes and gardens, and cultivates social entrepreneurship and community greening in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

“I am motivated to make Philadelphia a healthier place because I believe that personal health and wellbeing comes from meaningful connection to our environment. The COVID-19 crisis has shown us how connected each of us are to one another. I believe this is the moment to shift the depth of perspective in Philadelphia to imagine a shared collective health.”

Sudan Green for Believe in Students

An estimated six million students struggle with basic living expenses, putting them at risk of leaving without degrees. This is a waste of talent and hurts the economy and our communities. Believe in Students is dedicated to ensuring that all students have their basic needs met so that they can learn and thrive.

“The motivation for me to try to make Philly a healthier place most definitely comes from the lack of healthcare the Black community receives, as well as the statistics of how many Black women are treated inside of almost all healthcare systems. My ethnicity and culture definitely fuel my want for a healthier Philadelphia,” says Green. “There should be free healthcare for all.”

Evan Harden for Tahirih Justice Center

Tahirih Justice Center is a multi-city organization providing a broad range of direct legal and social services, policy advocacy, and training and education to protect immigrant women and girls fleeing violence. They have served over 25,000 courageous individuals fleeing violence since 1997. Their model of service is now delivered from five locations, and committed to serving as many immigrant women and girls as possible.

“I was shot at 16. It was not until seven years later that I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself as a victim and take control. I discovered calisthenics in 2013 and haven’t lifted weights since. I have dedicated my days to pushing my mental and physical limits,” says Harden. “What motivates me to make Philly a healthier place is the love I have for the people in my community. When I began to see and understand the health conditions that plague African Americans and low-income communities, I knew I wanted to concentrate my energy on making a change. My mission is to help educate these very same people on how they can be more self-reliant in taking control of their overall health.”

Susanne Johnson for Project H.O.P.E

The mission of Project H.O.P.E.: Camden’s Healthcare for the Homeless is to improve the health and well being of homeless persons and others in need by providing primary, preventative, and related health services. Project H.O.P.E., Inc. serves the medical and social needs of the homeless population in Camden County. The City of Camden is the largest urban center in southern New Jersey, and is ranked as the most economically depressed city in New Jersey and one of the most economically depressed cities in the United States. For the past thirteen years Project H.O.P.E. has fulfilled its mission by assisting more than 11,000 homeless persons in their journey to permanent housing and self-sufficiency.

“I am motivated to try to make Philadelphia a healthier place because healthcare is a social justice issue,” says Johnson, “All persons deserve the right to access high quality, comprehensive primary care and preventive screenings. We live in a society that continues to place a premium on healthcare and our current system of managed care organizations is set up to serve a privileged few. Philadelphia is one of the poorest large cities in the United States with 22% of Philadelphians self-reporting their health as poor or fair, including 25% of Black residents and 32% of Hispanic residents reporting their health as poor or fair while only 20% of White residents report their health as such. Comprehensive, high-quality health care remains largely inaccessible to most Philadelphians.”

Asasiya Muhammad for Maternity Care Coalition

Since 1980, Maternity Care Coalition has assisted more than 135,000 families throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, focusing particularly on neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, infant mortality, health disparities, and changing immigration patterns. A family’s needs change as they go through pregnancy and their child’s first years and they offer a range of services and programs for every step along the way. The mission of Maternity Care Coalition is to improve the health and well-being of pregnant women and parenting families, and enhance school readiness for young children.

“I cherish Philadelphia as the place where I have had my most life shaping experiences; some high such as graduating college, becoming a mother, and raising a family to others that have left me feeling isolated, lost, and voiceless. As a Black mother, I have faced the feelings of fear and uncertainty many Black women in Philadelphia face by the haunting statistic that we are two times more likely to die during pregnancy or within a year of giving birth due to pregnancy related complications,” says Muhammad. “As a midwife, I understand that the majority of these complications are preventable and therefore made it my mission to build a community-based a practice that is committed to diminishing this disparity in Philadelphia. My practice is unique in that it has a wraparound care component that bundles nutritional counseling and fitness classes into standard midwifery care.

Char Nolan for Project Home

Since its beginning in 1989, Project HOME has been a leader in providing comprehensive and effective services to persons who experience chronic homelessness. Project HOME is a Philadelphia non-profit organization empowering individuals to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness through affordable housing, employment, health care, and education.

“We need to learn and do our best,” says Nolan, a plant-based chef who teaches nutrition and cooking classes to underserved communities around the city. “Meet people where they are, and provide examples. Serve as an advocate. Do not place unrealistic goals on people.”

Naomi Rosenberg for Mighty Writers

At Mighty Writers, more than 3,000 kids learn to think clearly and write with clarity every year. The program has been running since 2009. All of their programs are free to the children they serve, and since the coronavirus crisis, they have expanded a Food & Literacy Distribution Program in order to provide food for kids.

“For the health of an area, any area, it is critical that all people have access to high quality, affordable, and compassionate health care. This is not only the most humane system for America and its cities but also, ultimately, the most cost effective,” says Rosenberg, “At Temple we have started a new program in Narrative Medicine to help young doctors and others on the healthcare team more deeply understand stories of sickness, healing, injury and of health. I am anxious for young doctors to have more exposure to this work that I wish had been a part of my medical education. Patients need doctors who are better at listening. Books have given me friendship, company, peace, laughter, education, hope, and deep gratitude for as long as I can remember being alive. That said, the money should go to Mighty Writers. They are currently doing critical work keeping young kids reading and writing during a time of deep isolation.”

Vicky Borgia for Women’s Medical Fund

Racial justice and reproductive justice issues are intertwined.  In 1976, Congress banned federal Medicaid coverage for abortion through the Hyde amendment. Then, in 1985, Pennsylvania prohibited state Medicaid coverage for abortion. Since then, Women’s Medical Fund has provided funding to thousands of individuals struggling to get by and enrolled in Medicaid. Women’s Medical Fund has expanded their mission to include advocacy and community organizing.

“I believe that healthcare is a human right. I serve communities that have historically been medically disenfranchised because I can use my skills and education to make changes in a system rife with health inequities. I center access, inclusion and equity in my direct primary care practice, which enables me to take the time I need with my patients and give the care they deserve,” says Borgia, “Since it is well-established that racism and other forms of systemic oppression are major factors in increased morbidity, mortality, and generational trauma for all, my policy recommendations focus on dismantling systems of oppression in Philadelphia.”

Christy Silva for Aidan’s Heart Foundation

Aidan’s Heart Foundation is committed to providing awareness, education, and support to the communities of the southeast Pennsylvania region and its surrounding area to create heart-safe communities for youth regarding the prevention of, or response to, tragic instances of Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

“My motivation for wanting to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier place actually comes from a tragedy in my family. In September 2010, my seven-year-old son, Aidan, who had no prior health conditions, died without warning from sudden cardiac arrest, or SCA,” says Silva. “I had never even heard of SCA prior to his death. As I struggled with my grief and tried to understand why my seemingly healthy child collapsed one sunny Saturday, I plunged into research. I learned that, nationally, approximately one out of every 300 youth has an undetected heart condition that could cause SCA.”

Andre Wright for Give and Go Athletics

Give and Go Athletics was founded in 2009 when co-founders Andre and Caleb were working as Behavioral Health Therapists at Reynolds Elementary School in Sharswood, North Philadelphia. At this time, extra curricular activities for elementary and middle schools were cut from the School District of Philadelphia’s budget. The first Give and Go Athletics after school program was created to meet the needs of the city’s youth.

“The lack of physical activity because of the effects of COVID-19 and lack of programming are what inspires me to provide programs that promote public and mental health,” says Wright. “A policy I’d like to see in place is 60 minutes of recess in schools, and I’d like to see extra-curricular activities put back in schools to promote physical activity.”

Vote here to select your 2020 Health Hero!

Starting now, these 10 semi-finalists are live, and the voting period has officially begun. Vote now to narrow this list down to three finalists and later, finally, to the ultimate winner. Remember: the winner will be named the 2020 Health Hero and will receive a $15,000 donation to his or her charity of choice, and two runners-up will each receive $2,500 donations to the charities of their choice.

Vote HERE now. (Remember, you can vote once a day until October 1st!) Stay in touch with @bewellphilly and @phillymagevents and be sure to follow the challenge using #BWPHealthHero!

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