To celebrate our 10th anniversary, Partners for Health Foundation awarded 10 Community Impact Awards, and grants totaling $100,000, to recognize nonprofit organizations and individuals making a significant difference in the health and well-being of local communities. The awardees were selected from 65 nominations that cited contributions in areas such as hunger, homelessness, chronic disease prevention, oral health, and mental health.
The awards were presented on November 29, 2018 at a celebratory event emceed by Jim Axelrod, Senior National Correspondent for CBS News.
It is with great pleasure that we share the 2018 Partners for Health Community Impact Awards recipients!
As a young boy, the unthinkable happened to Dr. Mario Szuchman: he was separated from his family in Cuba and sent to the United States by himself. As a child refugee, he dreamed of becoming a doctor so that he could help immigrants have a better life. Dr. Szuchman followed through, obtaining his medical degree and, today, treating pediatric patients who otherwise could not have quality healthcare. In addition to his private practice, Dr. Szuchman works at Zufall Health Center in West Orange, where all patients receive services, regardless of their ability to pay. Dr. Szuchman and the Zufall staff provide multi-lingual support to patients who struggle to navigate the healthcare system because of education and language barriers.
Dr. Szuchman recognizes that many of the children he treats have complicated lives. Often, parents work in minimum wage jobs and would forfeit wages to see a doctor. Others can’t access transportation, so he readily speaks to them by phone. He also schedules office hours on Sundays. At Zufall Health, Dr. Szuchman has seen his childhood dream come true, providing care and ongoing chronic disease prevention to more than 15,000 low-income children. In his words, “there is nothing more gratifying than to see these children grow up to have a better life.”
Dr. Nicole McGrath, dentist, mother of three and founder of KinderSmile Foundation, envisions a world where all children have access to quality dental care regardless of their socioeconomic status or zip code. Over the past decade, she has been making that a reality through KinderSmile Foundation, which has provided more than $6.5 million of in-kind services to 18,000 low-income families in New Jersey and in 12 developing countries.
Oral disease is the number one chronic illness affecting low-income children, yet it is the most preventable. That’s why KinderSmile Foundation’s mission is focused on Education, Intervention and Prevention. KinderSmile started when Dr. McGrath was volunteering at a local Head Start programs, providing monthly oral education to children. One day, a little girl arrived in her office with no dental records and a dangerously abscessed tooth. The girl’s family could not find a dentist who accepted Medicaid and the tooth had been festering for three months. Dr. McGrath treated her with antibiotics and decided at that point to take on the larger children’s dental crisis.
KinderSmile Foundation’s approach works because it combines treatment with community education and collaboration. Dr. McGrath says, “No one can do this alone, and our results are proving that increased access to oral health is possible. We’re getting people to understand that no child has to live with dental disease.”
Counselor, mentor, educator, and leader, Wally Weikert, LCSW, LMFT has devoted 43 years of his professional life to Family Service League, serving as its clinical director for the past 20 years. Wally treats all his clients with the upmost dignity and respect and imbues his work with a passion for the therapeutic process and a deep compassion for his clients. No one has ever been turned away because they cannot pay for counseling.
Every day, Wally and Family Service League’s therapists help clients deal with tough issues like anxiety and depression; marital and parent/child conflicts; drug and alcohol abuse; domestic violence and sexual assault. He also employs bilingual therapists so clients can use their own native languages. In addition to the clients’ lives he’s touched, Wally has made a significant impact on the professional development of numerous therapists, staff clinicians and interns.
“I believe that therapy helps people develop their voices in such a way that they can have an effective say in the world. At Family Service League, we provide an environment where the voices of the marginalized and traumatized can be heard,” said Wally. “I’m proud of the work we do to make the world a safer place where individuals, couples and families can truly thrive.”
One notable area is Family Service League’s exceptional quality of services pertaining to sexual violence, whether its preventing sexual violence through education and advocacy or through its rape care center, SAVE of Essex County.
In June, 2017, Mary Rossettini, LCSW retired as President and CEO of a nonprofit supportive housing agency.
A trip to Clifton City Hall to renew dog licenses provided an unexpected opportunity. While there, Mary’s wife started a conversation with the Director of the City’s Health Department and discovered a need for a consultant to assist in managing a growing homeless population. She knew Mary was just the person who could help. The Director quickly agreed that Mary, who had once been homeless and had experience advocating for homeless individuals during her career, would be a great fit.
As the new Clifton Homelessness Consultant, Mary educated City leaders about the gravity and impact of homelessness on the community. Within a month, she formed Clifton’s Homeless Task Force and organized Clifton’s first ever Point in Time Homeless Count. As a result, Clifton became eligible to receive County funding for homeless prevention and street outreach. The grant enabled the City to address its homeless problem without raising taxes or cutting spending.
“Most people don’t want to acknowledge that homelessness exists in their community, but it does. Rather than close their eyes to it, I encourage people to see the homeless as their neighbors and support them in their struggle,” said Mary. “Basic human decency can help a person – or a family – stay alive.”
Mary’s work has now extended deeper into the community. She supports St. Peter’s Haven, a healthy food pantry and family shelter that offers a safe and caring place for men, women and children. St. Peter’s also provides short-term housing for homeless and at-risk families until they can find a stable home.
The Community Impact Award grant will be made to St. Peter’s Haven Food Pantry in Clifton in Mary’s honor
When Vanguard Medical Group physicians started making house calls to their geriatric patients, medical issues weren’t the only things their patients were struggling with. They also needed hot meals, warm clothing, help with Medicaid applications and, most of all, human interaction.
Moved by their plight, and understanding the crippling effects of social isolation, Medical Director Dr. Thomas McCarrick founded Connections at Home in 2012. The nonprofit transforms seniors’ lives through an unexpected solution: technology. It puts computers, tablets and laptops into patients’ hands to connect them with medical, community and social services. They use them for weekly Skype sessions with social workers, to look at family members’ Facebook pages and, in short, to interact with the world.
“Technology might seem counter-intuitive for older individuals, but we found that with proper training, most participants took right to it,” said Dr. McCarrick. “This cost-effective solution has dramatically improved outcomes for isolated seniors. Something as simple as putting technology into their hands makes them happy and enhances their quality of life.”
Connections at Home has successfully touched the lives of more than 300 seniors and Dr. McCarrick continuously seeks ways to improve. His vision includes virtual experiences so the plugged-in seniors can participate in community events; a long-term strategy to recruit more volunteers; and the introduction of more advanced technologies like Amazon’s Alexa. Connections at Home proves that technology doesn’t just solve an array of medical and social needs, it also brings seniors together, even when they can’t leave their homes.
This award goes to three individuals working together to address aging in place Montclair: Katie York (Lifelong Montclair), Ann Lippel (Montclair Senior Citizens Advisory Committee) and Carolyn Lack (Aging in Montclair).
Since Katie York became involved with Lifelong Montclair, an aging in place initiative to transform Montclair into a great place to grow older, she has spearheaded programs that are energizing Montclair’s seniors, while giving them transportation they need to participate in community life.
A gerontologist by training, Katie knew that seniors want to learn, be entertained and engage with like-minded people. Enter the Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning, or MILL, a collaboration of local institutions, including The Montclair Art Museum, Montclair Public Library and Montclair State University, among others.
In its first year, the MILL saw 1,311 registrations for 48 classes and had a 422-person waiting list. MILL has since expanded its programming and uses technology to reach seniors who can’t leave home.
Transportation is a daunting challenge for many seniors. To get it right, Katie convened a Senior Bus Roundtable to guide development of an effective system that included a reservation-based EZ Ride program on the Montclair Senior Bus. The Lifelong Montclair Guide to Public Transportation also debuted to showcase all resources available.
“Lifelong Montclair is living proof that our communities grow stronger when we support seniors in all aspects of their lives,” said Katie. “Moving the responsibility from one person to a broader community makes a better aging experience for everybody.”
As testament to her support of better aging, Katie successfully applied to the World Health Organization, resulting in Montclair’s recognition as an age-friendly community. Her action plan, which was developed in collaboration with partner organizations and seniors, was also recognized by the group.
After Ann Lippel “graduated” from a successful 30-year career in college administration, she started a second career advocating for senior citizens struggling to achieve healthy, stimulating and secure lives while coping with transportation, medical issues and housing.
It started when a friend introduced her to the Montclair Senior Citizens Advisory Committee. Ann’s skills in project management, advocacy and public education were a perfect match. Being a senior herself, she could emphasize with the challenges seniors face.
Ann resolved to raise the visibility of seniors and to educate the community – and legislators – about their needs. She championed a benchmark survey of 800 seniors, collaborated with a variety of community partners and recruited seniors to volunteer with the Senior Advisory Committee.
Ann helped persuaded the Town Council to support development of a comprehensive Senior Center. The Senior Advisory Committee also launched the Life Transitions for Seniors program, which provides free case managers to counsel seniors on financial, health care and housing matters. The group also helped to implement Seniors in Taxis, an initiative that provides door-to-door transportation for hundreds of residents.
Ask Ann what the future holds and she’ll say a vital, comprehensive Senior Center with stimulating classes, health services and social activities. She envisions an age-friendly Montclair, where people at all life stages socialize, support and learn together.
If you’re one of the more than 500 seniors whose lives have been changed by Aging in Montclair, you can thank Carolyn Lack. Ninety years young, she lit the spark behind the volunteer organization just a few years ago, and her group has been helping Montclair emerge as an ideal place to age ever since.
Carolyn was long involved in community issues and increasingly became interested in aging. As she became more knowledgeable, she realized the Township needed more services specifically dedicated to meeting older people’s needs. Validated by a new study revealing gaps in senior services, Carolyn, with a handful of
volunteers, formed Aging in Montclair. The grassroots initiative quickly took hold and awakened others in the community who wanted to be more engaged.
“My vision isn’t just about aging in place, it’s about thriving in place,” said Carolyn Lack, “Through Aging in Montclair, we are helping to build a community where older people are empowered and our voices are heard. We advocate for seniors’ needs, including transportation, social activities, housing, education, information and more.”
Aging in Montclair is not just run for seniors, it’s run by seniors. Through a program called Hear Our Voices, AIM made personal phone calls to all members, listened to their concerns about aging and urged them to get involved. The organization also works in partnership with other groups with similar missions, particularly the Montclair Senior Citizen Advisory Committee and Lifelong Montclair.
What’s next for AIM? Carolyn has a dream of a comprehensive Senior Center in Montclair. She’s confident that with the help of like-minded organizations, it will become a reality.