Rebecca Onie

Ashoka Fellow
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Fellow Since 2008


This profile was prepared when Rebecca Onie was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Rebecca understands that for children and families in poverty, even the highest quality traditional medical care is not enough to improve health outcomes—a prescription for antibiotics does little for a child who goes to bed hungry. Her idea is to make health clinics the gateway to the community resources low-income families need to get healthy and stay healthy.

In 1996, while a sophomore in college, Rebecca founded Project HEALTH as a student-led initiative to enable pediatricians to expand their diagnosis and prescriptions to include the unmet resource needs that affect the health of children living in poverty. Today, Project HEALTH has moved from a student project to an independent citizen sector organization with over 600 student volunteers staffing Family Help Desks in clinics of urban medical centers. Trained volunteers help families fill a doctor’s “prescriptions” for basic needs such as food, housing and childcare. Physicians and Family Help Desk volunteers team up with vulnerable families to help them stabilize and improve their lives, achieve upward mobility through education and job training, and change the outlook for the health and well-being of their children.

Rebecca wants to do for health care what Teach for America has done for public education. She envisions Project HEALTH playing a catalytic role in causing domestic health care to experience the same influx of social entrepreneurs that education has. By training college students to serve as liaisons between patients, doctors, and community resources, Rebecca is building a movement of future leaders with the conviction, knowledge, and experience to break through the barriers between poverty and health by integrating social services into patient care. She aims to change the health care system from within to ensure that patients’ resource needs are routinely and systematically addressed as a standard component of patient care.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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