What is the distinction between helping individuals and helping entire communities? In this episode of Add Passion and Stir, Debbie Shore talks to Michellene Davis, Esq., Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for RWJBarnabas Health, and celebrity chef Rahman “Rock” Harper about hunger, healthcare, and the vicious cycle of poverty. Both guests see the importance of thinking outside traditional provision of service. Davis works to make structural changes to healthcare delivery in America. “It is not just about the patients and the families that we treat in our hospitals, it’s also about the communities that we serve and vulnerable populations within those communities,” she says. Chef Harper served on the Board of DC Central Kitchen, which provides culinary job training programs along with meals to the community. Harper notes that the 80% job placement and greatly reduced rate of recidivism in their trainees begins to break the cycle of poverty. “It’s fulfilling work, because … when you see the breakthrough, the liberation, that’s when you feel great…to know you can affect another human being’s life and in turn they can affect yours. We can change the world if we apply that viewpoint,” says Harper.


Davis is helping to transform the way RWJBarnabas – a major health care system located in New Jersey – thinks about health outside of just healthcare. “[Healthcare] such a small component of a person’s experience. What about the places where people work, live, play, age? Are we ensuring that folks are living in environments that are sustainable and healthy?,” she asks. She highlights some of the programs and commitments her organization is making to ensure healthy communities. For example, they had an urban greenhouse initiative coupled with a community wellness center that was not immediately successful. After analyzing the situation, they realized the initiative was in a community that relies on the SNAP program but did not accept SNAP vouchers. “That’s like placing it in the heart of their home but saying ‘don’t touch this,’” she says. As a result, not only did they became the first hospital-affiliated greenhouse in the country to accept the vouchers but they worked with policy-makers to set up a system where urban greenhouses and farmers markets would automatically enroll people in WIC and SNAP. “This is a platform issue for us because it affects the health outcomes of these children for generations to come.” Chef Harper is impressed with RWJBarnabas’ approach. “When an organization can ask themselves these tough questions or be 100% objective, that’s extremely valuable,” he says.


Hear about the powerful personal stories of these two change-makers, as well as their ideas about working at the intersection of helping individuals and strengthening communities to help them succeed.

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