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Ward Infinity Program Helps Foster Community-Driven Solutions to DC Health Issues

Ward Infinity Program Helps Foster Community-Driven Solutions to DC Health Issues

Sibley Memorial Hospital supports innovative teams with $25,000 grants, entrepreneurship training.

Johns Hopkins Medicine and Sibley Memorial Hospital have announced the 2021 grant winners of their Ward Infinity program. The program aims to improve community health in Washington, D.C.’s underinvested neighborhoods by inviting community members to propose solutions to ongoing challenges. Each year, Sibley Memorial Hospital considers dozens of applicants and selects five for further financial investment.

Sibley Memorial Hospital will provide each team with a $25,000 grant, as well as ongoing support and entrepreneurship training.

Marissa McKeever, Sibley Memorial Hospital’s director of government and community affairs, helped establish Ward Infinity in 2017 to make Sibley a more active partner in addressing local population health issues — such as environment, education and affordable housing — particularly in the district’s Wards 7 and 8.

“We wanted to set up an initiative that would create community-driven solutions,” says McKeever. “By listening to the community and not just coming in with our own agenda, we are fostering real collaboration and encouraging people to be change agents. And this year’s applicants are more than up to the task.”

The hospital asked 2021 applicants to focus on three main areas: increasing access and availability to fresh food, strengthening bonds and emotional well-being, and shaping healthy environments. The five winners are:

  •  Healthy Home Pediatrics: Healthy Home Pediatrics believes that when families are truly supported, they thrive. The practice supports families through house calls, telemedicine, care coordination and lactation services. Its Ward Infinity project focuses on supporting families through challenging transitions during the fourth trimester (last month of pregnancy and first three months of life).
  • Dynamic Solutions for the Aging: Dynamic Solutions for the Aging noticed that in the East of the River neighborhood, home health aides are undervalued despite increased workforce demand. They are overworked, inadequately trained and receive poverty wages. Dynamic Solutions wants to develop a home health care model that provides high-quality care with livable wages that allow home health aides to feel inspired, valued and supported.
  • Wassup Té: Wassup Té is a health and wellness platform designed and focused on using art and relationships to bring reliable and relatable education and resources to redlined communities.
  •  Infinite Possibilities International: Infinite Possibilities International implements innovative environmental programming and provides opportunities for underserved communities to connect with nature, learn and heal in green spaces. Through partnerships, the organization develops innovative approaches to introduce communities to nature and engage and empower their role in environmental stewardship.
  • Medici Road: Team Medici Road envisions a world where Greater Deanwood residents have equitable access to a range of food options that promote health and support economic opportunity. They envision a refresh of Greater Deanwood’s vibrant, locally based food ecosystem based on the community’s interests, capacities and knowledge.

“We were extremely excited to learn we were chosen!” says Medici Road’s Thomas Houston. “I personally am looking forward to expanding our approach to connecting the dots between public health and community development.”

Veronica X. Vela, Sibley Memorial Hospital’s director of community health design and innovation, says when health institutions involve members of the community in the quest to advance health equity, the results are extraordinary.

“No one knows the health concerns of a community better than the members themselves, so who better to generate solutions?” Vela says.

2019 Ward Infinity participant Tambra Raye Stevenson, M.P.H., a doctoral student at American University School of Communication, says the program helped her team pivot and develop a scalable signature program, the WANDA Academy. Her venture, Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture (WANDA), is building a pipeline and platform for women and girls to become healthy food advocates and leaders in their families and communities.

“We are better together, and we have all we need within our community,” Stevenson says. “The Ward Infinity program was instrumental in reaffirming that I am the change that my community needs. Also, it set our team on a trajectory to make a greater impact and build partnerships with fellow innovators to create a culture of health in our community. It also challenged me in applying human-centered design skills and sustainable models to WANDA. It’s a game-changer that set us up for success in attracting more winning proposals. And that’s why I would highly recommend this program to any problem-solver wanting the resources and support to make a social impact.”

Chidinma Ibe, Ph.D., assistant professor of general internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was Stevenson’s Ward Infinity coach.

“I mostly tried to be a listening ear,” Ibe says. “I served as a sounding board and helped translate what she was learning in the program to ideas that made sense for her organization. It was a privilege to help support Tambra’s vision.”

2019 Ward Infinity participant Amanda Stephenson says the program was life-changing. Her project, the Fresh Food Factory Market (FFF Market), is a food hub featuring a retail incubator market that sells local, health and ethnic foods. In addition to addressing food access, the FFF Market addresses disparities in food security, and it provides nutrition and economic wellness training. With continued support from Ward Infinity, the market will expand in 2022 and open two new locations to reinstate its urban farms and commercial kitchens to complement the full-service grocery markets.

“Our community — both residents and businesses — is not going to live well and thrive without the proper nourishment that they need to grow,” Stephenson says. “The Ward Infinity program supported me in the growth of my business operations and my outreach through its marketing support. Now, rooted in fertile grounds, I have a healthy framework and network! They’re the reason I could move this project forward. They saw my vision and supported me the entire way.”

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