Project Health

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Project HEALTH
P h web.GIF.gif
Founded: 1999
Recognition: Community Impact
Membership: ~60-70
Executive Board: 2 Campus Coordinators; 2-4 Program Coordinators/program
Category: Community Service

PH Columbia Website
CI website

Contact: Project Health--Columbia

Project Health (PH) is the Columbia University site of a national nonprofit, Project HEALTH [1], that has locations at universities in Boston (Harvard, BU), Providence (Brown), Washington, DC (GW), Baltimore (Johns Hopkins, UMBC, Loyola), New York City (Columbia, NYU), and Chicago (UChicago).

Project Health at Columbia is a community service student organization recognized by Community Impact; it mobilizes approximately 60-70 volunteers per semester to "break the link between poverty and poor health" through its three Family Help Desks. The organization is almost entirely student-run, with some support from full-time local staff in New York and national staff in Boston.

History and Programs

Project Health at Columbia was founded in 1999. Project Health historically ran one help desk and five youth programs--HCRC/FHD, UJIMA, STRIVE, FitNut, Asthma Swim, and TIDES. In spring 2008, Project Health National restructured to focus only on the Family Help Desk programs. Most former youth programs were transitioned to other nonprofits and independent Community Impact recognition. As of 2010, Columbia Project Health runs three Family Help Desks: Harlem OB/GYN, Harlem Pediatrics and Columbia Presbyterian Washington Heights Family Clinic.

FHD Harlem (Pediatrics)

Nationally, Project Health’s 22 Family Help Desks (as of 2009) are located in pediatric outpatient, adolescent, and prenatal clinics, newborn nurseries, pediatric emergency rooms, health department clinics, and federally qualified health centers. They reach over 4,000 families annually. FHD volunteers recognize that the health of families is not only linked to access to medicine, but also social and economic barriers. Nutrition, employment, childcare, education, housing conditions, etc. all affect the health outcomes of families--a child with asthma cannot stay healthy even with medication if he/she does not have proper meals because his/her parents are unemployed and they live in an apartment with mold and peeling paint. As Harvard FHD alumna Mia Lozada, now a University of Chicago medical student, observed: “My classmates think you write a prescription, and you’re done. I ask, can the patient read the prescription? Does she have health insurance to fill it? Does she need transportation to the pharmacy? Does she have food at home to take with the prescription?” [2]

The Harlem Community Resource Center (HCRC), was the first program created at Columbia in 1999 and is the flagship program of Project Health at Columbia. In 2007, the HCRC was renamed The Family Help Desk at Harlem Hospital to match the names of sister programs at other sites. The catchment area of FHD Harlem is primarily Harlem and the Bronx with a large African-American population, Hispanic population, and many French-speaking Caribbean and West African immigrants.

The FHD operates in the Pediatrics Clinic in the Ron Brown Pavilion of Harlem Hospital on 135th and Lenox. After distributing flyers and explaining the function of the desk to patients in the clinic waiting room, patients approach the desk and volunteer fill out an intake form to gather personal information, contact information, family composition, and the psychosocial needs of the patient. After completing the intake form, the volunteer will connect or give referrals to the client for resources including, but not limited to: food stamps, food pantries, school meals, childcare, afterschool care, summer camps, GED/ESL classes, legal assistance, cash assistance and public benefits, healthcare, job training, job placement, housing advocacy, and housing search. This information is communicated to the patient on-site, and through extensive follow-up phone calls until the patient's needs are met. Additionally, FHD volunteers also receive referrals from clinic physicians, nurses, social workers, and even outside community organizations. FHD Harlem Blog

Volunteers on shift at Harlem Hospital in 2008.

FHD Presbyterian

The Family Help Desk at Columbia-Presbyterian ("FHD Pres") was founded in 2008 at the Washington Heights Family Health Center affiliated with NY-Presbyterian Hospital on 181st and St. Nicholas, and first shifts began in 2009. It has the same program model as all FHD programs of connecting patients to socioeconomic resources in order to improve patient health. The catchment area of FHD Pres. contains a large Spanish-speaking and Latin American illegal immigrant population.

Volunteers flyer both the pediatrics and adult clinics in the Health Center to attract cases, as well as receiving referrals from physicians and social workers. Volunteers cover a similar range of issues, but urgent cases involving housing, domestic violence, food stamps, legal assistance, etc. are referred to or worked on in collaboration with social workers.

FHD Harlem (OB/GYN)

In September 2010, Project HEALTH Columbia opened a new Family Help Desk in Harlem Hospital's OB/GYN clinic.


Project HEALTH’s STRIVE program is an afterschool intervention that provides low-income teens with sickle cell disease with the mentoring, peer support, academic assistance, and disease management education they need to manage their condition effectively and realize their full potential. It is the only program of its kind in the country. Adolescents with sickle cell disease (SCD) – an incurable genetic blood disorder predominantly affecting African Americans and Latinos – are among this country’s most at-risk youth. Prolonged hospital stays cause these teens to miss school frequently and disrupt their social networks, compromising their academic achievement and causing social isolation that contributes to low self-esteem. Each customary challenge of adolescence – academic and social pressure, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and drug/alcohol use – is amplified by both their poverty and their illness.

The STRIVE program at Columbia was founded in XXXX (will fill out later) and program began in XXXX (will fill out later). Initially the program was based in Harlem Hospital but has since moved to the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital on 168th and Fort Washington. Volunteers work with participants to lift the barriers of poverty and chronic illness through: tutoring and college preparation to minimize the effect of missed school days on educational attainment; peer support and one-on-one mentoring to build self-confidence and reduce the social isolation; education on skills and knowledge about how to care for their health and facilitate the transition to adult care; and providing opportunities to reduce stigma by educating their classmates and school officials about their disease.


The Girl's Fitness & Nutrition was a former PH Youth Program that is now affiliated with the Healthy Schools Healthy Families initiative launched by Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital and the Division of Community Pediatrics of Columbia University, and recognized as a separate group by Community Impact. The group formerly ran program at P.S. 125, and now runs at P.S. 4 on 161st and ST. Nicholas.

When it operated under Project Health, FitNut promoted healthy eating and exercise in middle-school girls who were overweight and obese. In weekly meetings, the program offered culturally appropriate nutrition education, hands-on food preparation activities, and physical fitness sessions (including swimming, African dance, and yoga) in a safe, supportive environment. Volunteers also mentor participants individually to help them and their families set and achieve personal healthy lifestyle goals.

Asthma Swim

The Asthma Swimming Program was a former PH Youth Program that is now affiliated with Healthy Schools Healthy Families. It has been renamed Asthma Gym, having ceased its swimming program due to liability and insurance concerns, and is recognized as a separate group by Community Impact. The program formerly ran at P.S. 125, and now runs at P.S. 4 on 161st and St. Nicholas.

When it operated under Project Health, Asthma Swimming Program provided asthmatic children ages 7-11 with the opportunity to learn the science underlying their asthma, develop the skills that control their disease through medication and lifestyle changes, and engage safely in cardiovascular exercise through swimming workouts.


The TIDES (Type- I Diabetes Education and Support) program was a former PH Youth Program renamed Berrie Buddies and now affiliated with The Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center, and is recognized as a separate group by Community Impact. Berrie Buddies now runs program at the Berrie Center at 168th and St. Nicholas.

While under Project Health, the TIDES program focused on diabetes education and management for diabetics ages 10-14 from Washington Heights, Harlem, and the Bronx. Through a network of peers and mentoring relationships, the TIDES Program aimed to provide a supportive environment in which participants could develop healthy habits and maintain positive attitudes about their lives. Past programs included interactive cooking and carb-counting activities, guest speakers, plays, Yankees games, and America's Walk for Diabetes.


Ujima was a former PH Youth Program. Though not affiliated with a new nonprofit, independent tutoring and support for former youth participants is still coordinated by the program's former physician mentor.

Ujima was an after-school enrichment program run by Project HEALTH volunteers at Harlem Hospital. Ujima sought to provide a fun, nurturing, loving, supportive and positive experience for youth, primarily adolescents, infected and affected by HIV, offering each participant the educational and emotional support necessary to reach his or her true potential. Volunteers provided participants with mentoring, homework help, peer group activities, and the opportunity to develop life and social skills in a safe group setting. Past activities included projects such as murals, filmmaking, and cultural activities such as trips to the Natural History Museum and the Harlem Dance Troupe.


Clients and Participants

The FHD refers to their families as 'clients' to reflect the professional attitude taken toward ensuring they receive the resources they require. Often, volunteers develop close relationships with their clients at the initial intake and subsequent phone conversations. FHD clients approach the desk after receiving a flyer, call the desk phone or voicemaill, are referred by their physician, are referred by social workers and other clinic staff, or are referred by an outside organization.

STRIVE participants are generally screened to join program by the program's nurse practitioner mentor and the same group regularly attends program. Because STRIVE volunteers engage in one-on-one tutoring, they often develop personal friendships with the kids and their families.


Each FHD program has 20-25 volunteers at one time, and STRIVE maintains 10-15 volunteers. New volunteers are recruited at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters. The acceptance rate for new volunteers, after an application and interview, is generally 40-60% of applicants, depending on program needs that semester. Accepted volunteers sign up for a minimum 2-semester commitment, though exceptional second-semester seniors have become new volunteers in the past. Columbia Urban Experience (CUE) and, interestingly, the dance group cuBhangra, have served as major volunteer pipelines into Project Health.

After recruitment, volunteers attend Training Module 1, an introduction to Project Health history, the theory of change, and a simulation of PH's role in the lives of our clients. STRIVE volunteers receive training with their Program Coordinators (PCs) and the nurse practitioner at Columbia-Presbyterian and FHD volunteers attend jointly-run two days of training with their PCs on campus, and sometimes at NYU.

FHD volunteers go on shifts in groups of 2-3 at the clinics once a week, and also independently work on cases and follow-up with clients. STRIVE volunteers run program for their participants one of two days each week. Additionally, all volunteers attend weekly Reflection Session (RS) in which volunteers and PCs debrief, discuss curriculum and logistics, and provide mutual support or advice on cases or participants.

Despite the involved application process, extensive training, and sometimes demanding work, many volunteers self-select into Project Health because of the rigorous atmosphere and community of shared work ethic, often after having experienced lackluster motivation elsewhere. Most volunteers stay on after their one-year commitment.

Program Coordinators

Each program has 2-4 student Program Coordinators that, in addition to volunteering, oversee training, logistics, Reflection Session planning, curriculum development, volunteer support, resource binder updates, and perform other tasks essential to program operation. Program Coordinators from all programs meet biweekly at PC Reflection Session (PCRS).

Dedicated volunteers are encouraged to apply to become Program Coordinators when vacancies arise, and the current PC team selects the new PC.

Campus Coordinators

Two campus coordinators, either juniors or seniors, are responsible for the overall coordination and support of Project Health at Columbia. The CCs will attend CI Retreat, report to Community Impact, meet with potential new partners and existing clinical and community partners, organize PC Retreat and recruitment, work on logistics, plan PH-wide events, attend PC meetings and plan PCRS, attend RS, and perform other tasks necessary for Project Health operation. Campus Coordinators generally serve for one-year terms before recruiting and selecting their successors.

Other Student Roles

Former Campus Coordinators sometimes become one-year Student Board Members on Project Health's national board of trustees. Project Health has also had special coordinator positions for special event-planning, resource collection, etc.

Volunteers and coordinators may apply for the Project Health Summer Fellows Program at PH's Columbia and Harvard sites. Summer Fellows in New York go on FHD shifts at Harlem Hospital, and engage in program development activities to prepare for the following year. In the past this has included "working groups" on curriculum development for STRIVE, PH/FHD expansion post-youth programs, research on community and city resources, etc. In addition, Summer Fellows live together (usually in a Nussbaum suite) and attend weekly reflection sessions and community dinners.

Columbia Summer Fellows in 2008.


Most day-to-day functions are completely student-run and students at every level of leadership have significant opportunities for changing and shaping their programs. However, Project Health also employs an Executive Director with responsibilities of program oversight, resource development, exploring site strategy, financial oversight, and organization development, in order to support the work of student leaders. The current Executive Director for the New York site (including Columbia and NYU) is Chinwe Onyekere.

Project Health also receives student and staff support from Community Impact. Project Health's current CI Staff Adviser is Katy Saintil. CI website

Awards and Recognition

At the April 23, 2009 Community Impact Volunteer Appreciation Dinner, Project HEALTH received Columbia University's highest honor for community service student organizations, the CI Programming Excellence Award, "awarded to the Community Impact program that has best fulfilled the Community Impact and its own mission." Overall, Project HEALTH was a finalist for seven awards spanning program, coordinator, and volunteer categories.

On May 5, 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama gave the opening remarks at the Time 100 Gala, a celebration of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. Among other service organizations, she praised Project HEALTH: "Rebecca Onie is a social entrepreneur who founded Project Health to help break the link between poverty and poor health. I remember meeting Rebecca when I was at the University of Chicago and I was very impressed with her. Rebecca organizes college students to staff Help Desks in urban medical centers, universities and community centers. Students then connect low-income families to other critical community and government resources such as housing vouchers, supplemental nutrition assistance, and educational support. This year, 600 college volunteers will dedicate 100,000 hours to connect over 15,000 low-income children and adults to the resources they need to be healthy." [3] [4]

On September 22, 2009, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded one of twenty-four $500,000 "genius awards" to Rebecca Onie, the founder of Project HEALTH at Harvard University in 1996. [5]

In 2009, Project HEALTH received a grant from Oprah's Angel Network. The website calls Project HEALTH a "prescription for change" and notes: "Project HEALTH currently recruits on 10 university campuses in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Providence and Baltimore. The recruitment and training process is rigorous—in past years, only 10 percent of the applicants were accepted. Last year 600 students committed to a minimum of six hours of service a week for one year, with many working far more than the minimum. Project HEALTH taps college students for several reasons. Besides being a readily available workforce, they bring technical expertise and tenacity to tracking down information for families—whether it’s as simple as Googling directions to a food bank or navigating a family through a bureaucratic maze of paperwork to apply for food stamps." [6]

In September 2010, Project HEALTH and Rebecca Onie were featured in Oprah Magazine's "2010 O Power List" of twenty inspiring female leaders. [7]

Coordinators: Past & Present


Email Project Health--Columbia to reach the current Campus Coordinators.


  • Campus Coordinators: Sahil Vora (CC '11) and Thomas Sun (CC '11)
  • Fall FHD Harlem OB/GYN: Salomeya Sobko (CC '12) and Jenn Leyva (CC '12)
  • Fall FHD Harlem Pediatrics: Dan Schwartz (CC '12) and Dylan Kotliar (CC '12)
  • Fall FHD Pres: Leah Goodman (CC '11), Carlos Plata-Martinez (CC '12) and Zoe Sansted (CC '12)
  • Spring FHD Harlem:
  • Spring FHD Pres:


  • Campus Coordinators: Elizabeth Lamoste (CC '10) and Lekha Menon (CC '10)
  • Fall FHD Harlem: Kate Lovely (CC '11) and Sahil Vora (CC '11)
  • Fall FHD Pres: Thomas Sun (CC '11), Leah Goodman (CC '11), and Carlos Plata-Martinez (CC '12)
  • Spring FHD Harlem: Kate Lovely (CC '11), Dan Schwartz (CC '12), and Sahil Vora (CC '11)
  • Spring FHD Pres: Thomas Sun (CC '11), Leah Goodman (Cc '11), Carlos Plata-Martinez (CC '12), and Zoe Sansted (CC '12)


  • Campus Coordinators: David Yin (CC '09) and Amanda Parsons (CC '10)
  • Fall FHD Harlem: Alexandra Woodward (BC '10), Elizabeth Lamoste (CC '10), and Ravi Singh (CC '09)
  • Fall FHD Pres: Adriana Klompus (CC '10) and Thomas Sun (CC '10)
  • Fall STRIVE: Katie Goble (BC '09), Priya Bhardwaj (BC '09), Eric Huh (CC '10), and Cara Buchanan (CC '11)
  • Spring FHD Harlem: Elizabeth Lamoste (CC '10), Ravi Singh (CC '09), Kate Lovely (CC '11), and Sahil Vora (CC '11)
  • Spring FHD Pres: Thomas Sun (CC '11), Leah Goodman (CC '11), and Carlos Plata-Martinez (CC '12)
  • Spring STRIVE: Priya Bhardwaj (BC '09), Eric Huh (CC '10), Cara Buchanan (CC '11), and Lekha Menon (CC '11)


  • Campus Coordinators: Rina Mauricio (CC '09) and Vivek Mukherjee (CC '09)
  • Fall FHD Harlem: David Yin (CC '09), Sonia Sekhar (BC '08)
  • Fall FitNut: Adriana Klompus (CC '10), Ashley Nieves (CC '10), Julie Taylor (CC '10)
  • Fall STRIVE: Katie Goble (BC '09), Priya Bhardwaj (BC '09), Lauren Gerchow (CC'10), Lekha Menon (CC '10)
  • Fall UJIMA: Celine Sparrow (BC '09), Susanna O'Kula (CC'10), Dominic McClure (CC'08)
  • Fall TIDES: Anna Ahn (CC '09), Beth Kaplan (CC '09), Didi Carrau (CC '09)
  • Fall Asthma Swim: Amanda Parsons (CC '10), Cindy Cai (CC '09)
  • Spring FHD Harlem: David Yin (CC '09), Sonia Sekhar (BC '08), and Alexandra Woodward (BC '10)
  • Spring FitNut: Adriana Klompus (CC '10), Ashley Nieves (CC '09), Julie Taylor (CC '10)
  • Spring STRIVE: Katie Goble (BC '09), Priya Bhardwaj (BC '09), Lauren Gerchow (CC'10), Lekha Menon (CC '10)
  • Spring UJIMA: Celine Sparrow (BC '09), Susanna O'Kula (CC '10), Dominic McClure (CC '08)
  • Spring TIDES: Anna Ahn (CC '09), Beth Kaplan (CC '09), Didi Carrau (CC '09)
  • Spring Asthma Swim: Amanda Parsons (CC '10), Wendy Chi (CC '09)


  • Fall Campus Coordinators: Kapil Verma (CC '07) and Akhila Vasthare (CC '07)
  • Spring Campus Coordinators: Akhila Vasthare (CC '07) and Neeti Doshi (CC '07)
  • Fall FHD Harlem: Daniel Simhaee (CC '07), David Yin (CC '09), and Yarl Balachandran (CC '08)
  • Fall FitNut: Sonya Thomas (CC '07), Molly McGraw (CC '08), Amy Woods (GS '07)
  • Fall STRIVE: Katie Goble (BC '09), Priya Bhardwaj (BC '09)
  • Fall UJIMA: Sankalpo Ghose (CC '07), Dana Swanson (BC '07), Rina Mauricio (CC '09)
  • Fall TIDES: Laura Kleinbaum (CC '07), Stephanie Rosales (CC '07), Neeti Doshi (CC '07)
  • Fall Asthma Swim: Emily Msall (CC '07), Cindy Parra (CC '07), Gavin Kuangparichat (SEAS '07), Cindy Cai (CC '09)
  • Spring FHD Harlem: David Yin (CC '09), Yarl Balachandran (CC '08), and Sonia Sekhar (BC '08)
  • Spring FitNut: Sonya Thomas (CC '07), Allie Gips (BC, now Brown '10), Adriana Klompus (CC '10)
  • Spring STRIVE: Katie Goble (BC '09), Priya Bhardwaj (BC '09)
  • Spring UJIMA: Dana Swanson (BC '07), Rina Mauricio (CC '09)
  • Spring TIDES: Laura Kleinbaum (CC '07), Stephanie Rosales (CC '07), Vivek Murkherjee (CC '09)
  • Spring Asthma Swim: Cindy Cai (CC '09), Amanda Parsons (CC '10), Hannah Shaw (GS-JTS '09)


  • Fall Campus Coordinators: Rachel Rosenberg (CC '06) and David Goldin (CC '07)
  • Spring Campus Coordinators: David Goldin (CC '07) and Kapil Verma (CC '07)
  • Fall FHD Harlem: Daniel Simhaee (CC '07), Akhila Vasthare (CC '07), and Stephanie Lee (CC '07)
  • Fall FitNut: Mikaela Bradbury (CC '07), Nicole Johnson (CC '07)
  • Fall STRIVE: Rhea Ittoop (BC '06), Hyemin Yang (CC '06), Ananth Eleswarapu (CC '06)
  • Fall UJIMA: Jessica Lee (CC '06), Rachael Oxman (CC '06)
  • Fall TIDES: Shriji Patel (CC '06), Josephine Kim (CC '06), Diana Arnold (CC '06)
  • Fall Asthma Swim: Emily Msall (CC '07), Cindy Parra (CC '07), Gavin Kuangparichat (SEAS '07)
  • Spring FHD Harlem: Daniel Simhaee (CC '07), Akhila Vasthare (CC '07), and Stephanie Lee (CC '07)
  • Spring FitNut: Mikaela Bradbury (CC '07), Nicole Johnson (CC '07), Molly McGraw (CC '08)
  • Spring STRIVE: Rhea Ittoop (BC '06), Hyemin Yang (CC '08), Ananth Eleswarapu (CC '06)
  • Spring UJIMA: Rachael Oxman (CC '06), Gillian White (CC '07), Dana Swanson (BC '07)
  • Spring TIDES: Shriji Patel (CC '06), Josephine Kim (CC '06), Neeti Doshi (CC '07)
  • Spring Asthma Swim: Cindy Parra (CC '07), Joe Lazar (CC '07), Gavin Kuangparichat (SEAS '07), Jessica Weston (CC '06)