Meet the First Half of Semifinalists for the 2024 Health Hero Challenge

Learn how these five local wellness leaders are working to help Philadelphians live healthier lives, and what charities they’re supporting.

be well philly health hero challenge 2024

Meet the first five semifinalists for our 2024 Health Hero Challenge

Last week, we announced the 10 semifinalists for this year’s Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge presented by Independence Blue Cross.

To give you a better sense of who they are and the charities they’re supporting, we’ll be posting some more information about all 10 semifinalists over the next two weeks. That way, you have a glimpse into how they are working to help Philadelphians live healthier lives and why they’re advocating for their selected nonprofits.

You can vote once per day, every day through July 29th for who you’d like to see in the final round. The winner will not only be crowned the 2024 Health Hero, but will receive a $15,000 donation to their charity of choice. The two Health Hero runners-up will each receive a $2,500 donation to their selected charities, as well.

This week, we’re highlighting half of the 10 individuals who are in the running! Below, meet five of this year’s Health Hero Challenge semifinalists.

Who: Amy Federer, director of operations at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Nonprofit of choice: The National Alliance on Mental Illness, which advocates for mental-health-related public policy, raises public awareness to help fight the stigma of mental illness, and provides free educational programs and support groups for those living with mental illness and for their loved ones.

What motivates you to improve the lives of your community members?
“Everyone in our community motivates me to improve the lives of those living in it. We all struggle with our mental health at times. I love that I’m able to give back to the community because I needed (and still do need to) receive services on any given day. Our community is in need of help and support in all aspects. We all struggle sometimes. But the best thing about Philly is the resilience. We don’t give up.”
2024 health hero challenge

Who: Jamie Colleen Miller, founder of Veracity Self-Defense. Colleen is a professional MMA fighter, a survivor of domestic abuse, and an advocate for women’s safety and empowerment.

Nonprofit of choice: Women Against Abuse, a Philadelphia-based domestic violence advocate and service provider. Since 1977, Women Against Abuse has operated safe havens — emergency shelters for survivors of domestic violence. They also help provide legal support, transitional housing, a 24/7 hotline and community education.

What motivates you to improve the lives of your community members?
“I chose to support Women Against Abuse because I’m a survivor and former client of the organization. Ten years ago, I fled an abusive relationship that left me homeless as a single mother. Fortunately, I secured a bed at an emergency shelter, which allowed me to rebuild my life powerfully and on my own terms. The programs and support at the safe haven were crucial to my recovery. From the 24/7 hotline to the legal center and childcare, each resource played a pivotal role in helping me reclaim my life.

“I have witnessed how crucial compassionate assistance and a nurturing environment are in helping individuals rebuild their lives. My journey taught me the importance of self-respect, discipline and resilience, and now I am dedicated to sharing these lessons with others. The moment I discovered who I needed to be, I realized that the light and salvation I had been seeking were already within me. Recognizing that I was the beacon I needed and beginning to trust my own heart marked the true beginning of my transformation. Sometimes, we just need a gentle reminder that we already have everything necessary to reclaim our lives.”


2024 health hero challenge

Who: Daniel Taylor, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. In his two-plus decades at St. Chris, he has worked on community outreach projects, including co-directing their Reach Out and Read program, his nonprofit of choice. Taylor also developed the Cap4Kids website to help link families in need with social services.

Nonprofit of choice: Reach Out and Read, a national organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness by integrating children’s books into pediatric care. At every well visit, kids receive brand-new developmentally appropriate — and culturally and situationally relevant — books. Taylor serves as co-director of the program at St. Christopher’s Hospital, which is situated in an area of Philadelphia that he tells us “has some of the highest poverty rates and one of the largest book deserts, in Pennsylvania.” Taylor explains, “This nationally recognized model has been shown to help children and families have more exposure to reading aloud, infants to have improved language skills, and gives children a vital school readiness skill as they start kindergarten.”

What motivates you to improve the lives of your community members?
“I am a life-long Philadelphian and pediatrician for two decades in a part of Philadelphia where the life expectancy of children raised in the zip codes surrounding our hospital are 20 years lower than those just a few miles away. This is a stain on the city I love, and an inequity that demands innovative health initiatives to reduce this immoral gap in life-expectancy. Every dollar raised for this program goes directly into the little hands of the children we serve, as a book, and a message that you are seen and loved.”

2024 health hero challenge

Who: Mary Ciammetti, founder and president of Don’t Stall, Just Call

Nonprofit of choice: Don’t Stall, Just Call, an alcohol poisoning education program for university and high school students. Mary was inspired to start the nonprofit after her son Christian died at age 20 from complications of alcohol poisoning due to binge drinking. “I knew I had to do something to try to save other families from a similar fate,” Mary says, explaining that alcohol poisoning can turn fatal because those who could call for help “don’t know what to look for.” Don’t Stall, Just Call provides students with alcohol education, anxiety reduction strategies and wellness opportunities as healthy alternatives to drinking. The organization has also established an annual scholarship for students at Temple University, where Mary’s son was a student.

What motivates you to improve the lives of your community members?
“If we can help save one life, spare one family the pain of losing a loved one, empower one high school or college student to make healthy choices, then I feel I’ve met my purpose. The education Don’t Stall, Just Call offers is lifesaving. Sorority sisters, frat brothers, college athletes, high school juniors, you name it, email me and say, ‘Thanks to you, I knew what to do.’ Some have lost family or friends to alcohol or drug addiction. After presentations, many young people approach me for a word, a hug, or to grab a t-shirt or hat from our table. They will say they’ve been afraid at parties, seeing a friend overindulge. Having the tools to help is empowering, as is knowing the strategies to keep themselves safe: hydrating, eating a meal before a night out, being each other’s keeper.”

Who: Marci Schankweiler, founder and CEO of For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation

Nonprofit of choice: For Pete’s Sake, which provides transformative respite experiences for adult (ages 21 to 55) cancer patients, their caregivers, and their children, through both travel to Woodloch Resort and at-home staycation care packages. These experiences allow families to “take a break from what life with cancer has become” and create new memories and strengthen their relationships. FPS also offers families seminars, in-person events and online communication in a follow-up program called Respite Reinforced. Marci founded FPS in honor of her late husband, Pete, who lost his battle with testicular cancer at the age of 30. Marci explains, “Our program is structured to effectuate meaningful change following a model for family health. This model includes seven health pillars: family, mental, physical, psychosocial, emotional, spiritual, and financial health.  When one person gets cancer, the entire family gets diagnosed.”

What motivates you to improve the lives of your community members?
“When Pete was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 29, I learned that if we were not healthy as a couple, and if we did not receive support from our community to improve our mental health, treatment would be near impossible to adhere to. I honored Pete’s last wish to start a nonprofit that would provide Respite Experiences for adult cancer patients, their caregivers, and their children.

“We are living in such a fragmented time and community is often overlooked. Cancer touches us all; FPS unites families through respite and gives them a community to grow with, lean on and learn from, forever. I want to amplify the message that we all need each other and that it’s crucial to take care of our family health during any challenging journey.”

Vote for your 2024 Health Hero once per day, every day, now through July 29th!