PRINCETON, NJ (October 4, 2007) – Sara O’Donnell grew up in California’s central valley, working in the fields and exposed to crop dusters and pesticides. One by one, she watched her mother and father, a brother and two aunts die of cancer before she was diagnosed with cancer herself. Living on a shoestring with three children and no insurance, she was determined that if she survived she would devote her life to helping others in the same situation. In 1995, she founded the Cancer Resource Center of Mendocino County (CRCMC) to provide a support network for cancer patients living in the rural county and to help them navigate the daunting maze of cancer care.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is honoring O’Donnell for her leadership in providing accessible support services for cancer patients, their families and caregivers and for her environmental health advocacy. She is one of 10 outstanding individuals from across America and Puerto Rico to receive the foundation’s 2007 Community Health Leadership Program Award. O’Donnell will receive $105,000 to further the work of the programs and a $20,000 personal award.
CRCMC helps cancer patients, their families and caregivers with a full range of support services, including assistance with formulating care plans, advocacy for benefits, support groups, counseling, and transportation. CRCMC provides medical consultation support, helps patients prepare for and participate in medical appointments as informed medical decision makers, accompanies patients to their appointment, arranges for an interpreter when needed, and records information discussed during a consultation. This process is critically important so the time patients spend with their doctors can be focused on their treatment decisions. It is equally important because of the small number of specialists practicing in the rural area CRCMC serves.
Because of her own experience, O’Donnell is driven to address the environmental links to cancer, not just the treatment. She has organized workshops on pesticides and their consequences for the health of school children, the environment, and farm workers. She has coordinated trainings for school maintenance workers on non-toxic pest control methods and has demonstrated the effectiveness of owl boxes in reducing insects and rodents. A long time advocate of reducing pesticides in this agricultural region and wine country, O’Donnell played a leading role in the creation of Pure Mendocino ™, an alliance with Mendocino County's organic food and wine producers. Pure Mendocino hosts a an annual organic food and wine event to promote a healthy environment and healthy communities, organic farming and sustainable living, and raises funds for the work of the Cancer Resource Center of Mendocino County.
“It is tremendously exciting to meet Sara O’Donnell and learn about her work,” said Janice Ford Griffin, Community Health Leaders director. “Sara’s work is an example of the many efforts underway in communities throughout the nation to take action to address their own problems by creating new approaches and solutions, and demanding changes in outdated systems and institutions. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders are the vanguard for assuring quality health for all citizens.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders awards $1.25 million annually to health leaders who have surmounted personal and other obstacles to improve health and health care at the community level. O’Donnell and other awardees for 2007 were honored at an event on October 3, in Washington, D.C.
Since 1992, the program has distributed 150 awards in 47 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. Those chosen are nominated by civic leaders, health professionals, government representatives, and others inspired by their efforts to provide essential health services to their communities. This year’s award winners come from urban and rural areas of California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York and Puerto Rico.
To submit a nomination for Community Health Leaders 2008, visit www.communityhealthleaders.org for more information.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 30 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.