Tisch Prize Reception Remarks

On June 22, 2011 Jonathan Fanton announced the recipients of the 2011 Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. Awarded by the Hunter Foundation, the prize recognizes an individual or nonprofit organization in the New York metropolitan area for outstanding accomplishment in the field of urban public health.
As Chair of the Selection Committee of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize let me begin by saying what a pleasure and honor it has been to serve in this capacity.

From my time at The MacArthur Foundation, I have a special appreciation for how awards can elevate the importance of a field by honoring outstanding people and organizations.  The field of Community Health deserves our recognition and respect.

Before I announce the recipients, let me tell you about the process and criteria for selecting these two outstanding awardees.

The 8-member Selection Committee was comprised of Hunter faculty from the Schools of Public Health, Social Work and Nursing, and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning as well as external health policy experts. The Committee did not have an easy task. We received 55 nominations in total—23 individuals and 32 organizations.

Thank you to all of the nominators and references for engaging in the process and introducing us to such worthy candidates.  The quality and range of work was breathtaking, representing all parts of our city and many approaches to improving community health.  For example:  a substance abuse program for the homeless in lower Manhattan, a Bronx HIV/AIDS prevention initiative for LGBT youth, a social services organization in Downtown Brooklyn working to decrease health disparities for at-risk children and their families, and an environmental health coalition in Harlem.

We used three main evaluation criteria in reviewing the nominees. The first was Achievement, defined as outstanding accomplishment in the development and implementation of a community-based public health initiative in an urban setting. The second was Imagination, or demonstrated originality, creativity and innovation in tackling an urban public health problem.  And the third was Impact—positive and lasting improvement in health, well-being and community life for a significant proportion of the target population, and potential for replication in other communities.

We found it difficult to compare individuals to organizations so we asked whether we could make an award in each category.  We are grateful to the Tisch family for making this possible.

While we struggled to select one winner in each category,  we want to acknowledge that there are many other highly qualified people and organizations doing great work.  So there are more inspiring stories to cover in future years.  Today’s recipients are emblematic of many heroic individuals and organizations that work to make New York more just, humane and a healthy place to live.

I know I speak for all members of the Selection Committee when I say that this was a very enjoyable—and uplifting—assignment.  Thank you President Raab for giving us the opportunity and the responsibility to help define this new prize and set the standards.  Thank you to Joan Tisch for inspiring this award and to your children for honoring you in this way.

And now I am pleased to announce the inaugural recipients of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize—

The “organization” recipient is Union Settlement Association.

The reach and broad impact of Union Settlement Association in addressing the health and social service needs of a vulnerable East Harlem population make it an exemplary inaugural recipient of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.  In the words of Union Settlement’s nominator, Dr. Sebastian Bonner, a research investigator for the New York Academy of Medicine,  “With its range of programs from childcare and Head Start to senior services, from after-school programs to mental health services, and through its leadership in improving services for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS—Union Settlement is a lifeline to one of the city’s poorest communities and is a leader among local agencies in its efforts to reduce the crippling health disparities faced by East Harlem families, who suffer from disproportionally high rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and HIV/AIDS.”

Of it’s pioneering work in pediatric asthma surveillance and coordination of care, Jacqueline Fox-Pascal of the New York City Health Department said in her letter of reference that, “Union Settlement’s leadership and staff represent everything we seek in a community partner: creativity, ingenuity and dedication among both its leadership and its ground-level staff, which is essential for bringing about real change in asthma management, awareness and prevention.” Another reference, Johnny Rivera, formerly of Mount Sinai and now with Harlem RBI noted, “Their programs foster healthy lifestyles, independence and leadership, and most importantly they help urban residents envision and take steps towards bright futures for themselves.”

Union Settlement Association represents an organization with deep roots in the community, a “can do” attitude, and a stellar record of leadership and achievement in improving health for at-risk populations, making it eminently worthy of the inaugural Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. I now ask David Nocenti, Executive Director, to come forward to accept the award on behalf of Union Settlement Association.

The first “individual” recipient of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize is Dr. Melony Samuels, Founder and Executive Director of Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger.  Dr. Samuels stood out immediately for her grassroots efforts to address hunger, poverty, and health in the Brooklyn communities of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill and Brownsville, an area that constitutes a “food desert” where access to healthy and nutritious food is limited.  As a result, many residents suffer from obesity and related chronic diseases.  Kathy Armstrong, Board member and Vice President at Banco Popular who nominated Dr. Samuels, noted that she and the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger “…led the early response to these troubling poverty and nutrition-related health problems with a wide range of successful initiatives, particularly a community garden program that attacks these issues from all angles.”

References Joel Berg from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and Carlos Rodriguez from the Food Bank for New York City said that,  “Dr. Samuels’ work has made dramatic strides in helping eliminate hunger and food insecurity in Central Brooklyn”, and she “provides some of our neediest citizens with good nutrition, improving their health and overall well-being.  New York City is one of the richest cities in the world but food poverty and nutrition–related poor health is around every corner.”

While Dr. Samuels helps to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition, we were most impressed by the extent to which her organization has gone beyond the traditional role of a food pantry—offering education on health-conscious food choices, food preparation techniques, exercise and healthy lifestyles to a client base that is nearly a quarter diabetic. Her vision, resourcefulness and grassroots activism make her an ideal recipient of the inaugural Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.  I now ask Dr. Melony Samuels to come forward to receive her award.