College friends Rebecca Onie and Tara Abrahams followed their passions to address healthcare and poverty. Just over a decade after graduating from Harvard, each with a graduate degree now as well, they are leaders in social enterprise and preventative healthcare, while also providing a path for hundreds (and soon thousands) of college students to engage in meaningful community service.
Rebecca Onie is the Co-Founder and CEO of Project HEALTH, that mobilizes volunteers to staff Family Help Desks at urban health centers to fill doctors’ prescriptions for food, housing, job training, or other resources–by connecting patients with key community resources. Last year, Project HEALTH’s volunteers connected over 12,000 children and adults in 6 cities (Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Providence, and Chicago) to the resources they needed to be healthy.
With the energy, drive, and sheer force of will of someone who has only just begun, Onie declared to me that “our goal is that 100% of clinics that serve substantially low income patients will screen and refer 100% of their patients to the services they need to be healthy.”
Tara Abrahams, now Director of the Foundation at Maverick Capital, founded Project HEALTH’s Harlem site in New York before getting her MBA at Harvard and joining the board of Project HEALTH. As the organization moves forward into a multi-million dollar growth phase–spurred by a recent $2 million investment by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation–Abrahams comments that “more than a decade after we started, we are now working on very different issues of strategic growth and expansion.”
As Onie explained to me, “the ultimate win will be systemic change, with healthcare practiced differently. We are proving that what we do works in helping poor people access the variety of social services they need in order to improve their health and their lives.”
An added value is that, in 2009, 90% of graduating Project HEALTH volunteers engaged in graduate study or work related to health or poverty following graduation, and 94% of them rank the relative importance of their Project HEALTH experience as “high” or “very high” in their selection of their post-graduate plans. This is the Teach for America effect, imbuing the next generation with a passion and the tools to create change.