Penn Medicine, Philadelphia: Over 10 Years of CAREs—Penn Medicine Continues to Support Staff Giving Back in the Community

The Penn Medicine CAREs grant program—which has now been running for 10 years—addresses a variety of health needs across the community, including efforts to encourage diversity and access in medicine and science. Two initiatives recently supported by CAREs grants aim to address just that. An additional 34 projects from Penn Medicine employees were awarded CAREs grants this past quarter.

Lamin Sonko, MD, MBA, a recent Perelman School of Medicine graduate and an incoming Emergency Medicine resident at Penn, has been a mentor with Physician Track for the past two years. Physician Track was created to provide Black, male Philadelphia high-school students with long-term and continuing mentorship. Through hands-on skills training and wilderness medicine expeditions, the program encourages them to consider medical careers. Sonko’s CAREs grant supports the mentorship component of the program.

“Minimal progress has been made when it comes to increasing the amount of Black male physicians in medicine,” Sonko explained. “Physician Track not only provides unique experiences, support, and mentorship for students in Philly, but long-term it’s meant to encourage diversity in the field medicine, which can help close the Black male physician gap present within health care.”

Another effort to support the next generation of researchers, Road2Research (R2R)—an initiative developed to empower young scientists—also received a CAREs grant. PSOM student Omar Ani, along with Penn undergraduate students Jasleen Gill, Jacqueline Chan, and Om Manghan, are launching the pilot cohort for R2R this year, working with 10 underserved Philadelphia high-schoolers who are interested in science. Through a series of classes on Penn’s campus during the school year, R2R will provide access to resources and mentors, with a goal of empowering these young students to find a future career in science.

“Road2Research introduces students to the scientific advances that make medical innovations possible, including such advances originating at Penn Medicine,” Ani said. “The goal is also to empower young scientists in the community to make well-informed decisions about medical interventions like vaccines.”

In addition to inspiring future medical leaders, CAREs grant awardees this quarter are supporting parents in the community. For example:

Moms Like Me: Four years ago, Community Health Worker Tawandaa Austin founded Moms Like Me, which supports Philadelphia families led by working women. Many working-class mothers struggle to make ends meet, and most do not qualify for public assistance—with some difficulties only increasing during the pandemic. Austin’s CAREs grant supports the Moms Like Me mission, helping mothers and their families with food costs and expenses such as gas, transportation to and from work, and electricity bills.
YoungMoms: Martha Young, a physician liaison at Chester County Hospital, is also a volunteer with YoungMoms—a nonprofit that aims to equip young mothers to build thriving futures for themselves and their families through highly specialized case management. Young’s CAREs grant funding will help provide supplies for mothers such as diapers, formula, and car seats, in addition to educational and employment assistance and more.
Since its inception in 2012, the Penn Medicine CAREs grant program has supported staff, faculty, students, and trainees across the organization in helping their communities—from volunteering with community clinics to helping parents access healthy food for their families. Over the last 10 years, the program has provided more than $850,000 in funding to over 845 service initiatives across the regions Penn Medicine serves.

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