Fostering community-driven solutions

September 1, 2021 By Michel Morris

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

The Johns Hopkins Medicine and Sibley Memorial Hospital Ward Infinity 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 provides each team with a $25,000 grant, as well as ongoing support and entrepreneurship training.

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Sibley Memorial Hospital asked 2021 Ward Infinity applicants to focus on three main areas: increasing access and availability to fresh food, strengthening bonds and emotional well-being, and shaping healthy environments. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

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,” McKeever says. “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.

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 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.”

Learn more about the program and the 2021 grant winners.  

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Topics: Johns Hopkins Medicine, Sibley Memorial Hospital, Strengthen Communities