Spring | 2021
COVID-19 has been taking its toll on the world for more than a year now. But the more we’ve learned about the virus, the more we’ve been able to shift the way we think, work and socialize. In fact, as soon as the pandemic started, Summit Medical Group Foundation (SMGF) began figuring out creative ways to reach out into the community to tackle the virus. When Julienne Cherry joined SMGF as the new Executive Director, she immediately started researching the vaccine. Soon thereafter, she rolled up her sleeve and received the vaccination from Dr. Kerry LeBenger, Chair of Medical Specialties at Summit Health (formerly Summit Medical Group).

“After receiving the COVID vaccination I felt a sense of relief and calm. explained Cherry. “I know COVID has affected the Black and Brown communities at a disproportionate rate. I understand that there is a level of hesitancy, but it was important to me to get the vaccine to keep myself and my family safe. If I could be a positive voice for getting vaccinated, I would love that. I want to show other people that you don’t need to be fearful of the vaccine.”

SMGF’s clients are nearly 60% Black/African American and 34% Latino. They are food insecure, low-income adults with pre-diabetes, diabetes and hypertension. What’s more, the majority are obese and more than one-third are over 60 years old. All of these factors combined mean that they are at high risk for COVID-19. Recognizing the disparate impact coronavirus was having on communities of color, in September 2020 SMGF expanded the Healthy Tomorrows Community Outreach program to include free COVID-19 testing, coupled with educational materials and 1-on-1 counseling. SMGF screenings, counseling and education are aimed at changing our clients’ knowledge, attitudes, behaviors and health outcomes. And that’s something that has been working incredibly well through the Healthy Tomorrows Community Outreach and Food, Health, Hope programs – two successful programs aimed at providing free medical screenings, education and 1-on-1 counseling for pre-diabetes, diabetes, hypertension and obesity at 11 Northern New Jersey food pantries. By coming back month after month, year after year, SMGF staff and the mobile medical unit have become trusted symbols of healthcare in the communities we serve.

Understanding the responsibility this trust brings, SMGF began its Coronavirus Vaccine Hesitancy project at the start of 2021, spearheaded by SMGF Trustee and Summit Health dermatologist Dr. Hari Nadiminti. This project brings SMGF staff together with volunteer physicians and students as a “boots on the ground” team, administering surveys to understand what factors are affecting the willingness of individuals to get vaccinated and providing straight-forward information dispelling myths and emphasizing the need to be vaccinated.

“The communities where we conduct our outreach were hit the hardest with coronavirus,” said Cherry. “It’s very important to have a strong presence in the communities we serve – helping, educating and encouraging. We have built solid relationships with our clients over the years and we know that they trust us. We are doing everything we can to maintain that trust while reassuring them of the safety and necessity of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In the end, our goal is to make a positive impact on their lives.”

SMGF is so grateful to be in the position to be out in the community helping our neighbors in need – and we would not be able to do so without the support of our generous partners and sponsors, including the American Medical Association Foundation, BD, The Healthcare Foundation of NJ, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey (the philanthropic arm of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey), the Margaret A. Darrin Charitable Trust and The Provident Bank Foundation. Thank you for standing together with us! We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we hope you can too.
As a nurse with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Jill Randolph had been working from home for over 18 years, so when Covid-19 first hit her life didn’t look too much different. Yes, her 9 year-old twin boys would now be attending school virtually, but that seemed a small sacrifice in light of all that was happening in the world. As the pandemic took hold though, Jill found herself looking for a meaningful way to help. An avid crafter (crochet is her favorite), when patterns for masks started appearing on the internet Jill dusted off her sewing machine and began making masks. She started by sending them to family, spread out across the country. “I needed a distraction when we didn’t know which way the world was going,” she reflected, “sewing over and over was almost meditative for me, and I felt I was doing my small part to help keep people safe.”

Once her family was covered, Jill continued donating masks to organizations where she felt her work could have a real impact. Upon learning that her fellow Cresthaven Academy Charter School parent, Julienne Cherry, had joined Summit Medical Group Foundation (SMGF) as the Executive Director, the two moms got to talking, like moms do, and a connection was made. “I really value that Anthem helps promote employee volunteerism, offering employees time off to give back to the community. So it was great to hear that Summit Health [formerly Summit Medical Group] is similarly committed to helping underserved communities, with every employee getting a full paid day to volunteer with the Foundation,” noted Jill. Soon Jill was making masks for SMGF to distribute to clients coming for its free diabetes, hypertension and obesity screenings and education, as well as free Covid-19 testing, at food pantries throughout northern NJ. “We have been boots on the ground since Covid-19 began,” stated Cherry, “our clients are low-income, food insecure Black/African American and Latino adults. They are the most at risk for severe complications and death from Covid-19, yet they have the least resources to protect themselves from it. Being able to hand someone a mask they can reuse over and over – it means a lot.”

Jill has donated nearly 150 masks to SMGF and is still busy making masks for SMGF. “This isn’t over yet,” she shared, “and if everyone can do just a little something to help someone else make it through, we will all be a lot better off.”

If you would like to donate masks to SMGF, please email Pamela Singer at psinger@smg-foundation.org. To support SMGF’s work in the community, increasing access to healthcare and education for our most vulnerable neighbors, click HERE.
Battling cancer is a tough journey to embark upon. But battling cancer during a pandemic can feel like an enormous struggle. Quarantines and isolation take their toll on cancer patients and their families. Throughout the pandemic, Summit Medical Group Foundation (SMGF) has been working hard to continue to offer the care, comfort and compassion that cancer patients and their families deserve through The Comfort Project. The goal is to help patients maintain their emotional, physical and spiritual well-being throughout treatment, increasing quality of life and chances of survival. During the past year, The Comfort Project has pivoted in creative ways, with a solid determination of helping patients get through this difficult time.

SMGF has moved many services online in an effort to continue reaching people during a pandemic with the extra level of support that they need. The continuum of care these virtual classes provide, especially during a pandemic, is critical. Don’t take our word for it! Here’s what our participants have to say:

  • On Mondays, there’s a Pilates class, helping participants decrease their pain while increasing and maintaining their strength: “We LOVE the Pilates program!” said Sheryl, a patient who joins the classes with her husband Lynn. “It's really helping me recoup my strength, muscle tone etc. lost during my year of chemotherapy and surgeries. My husband/caretaker, who had double knee replacements, has also benefited tremendously from the class.”

  • Tuesdays are Jin Shin Jyutsu (the ancient healing art of harmonizing the body through gentle touch): “After taking the online Jin Shin Jyutsu class on Tuesdays, I just feel calmer. The pandemic has made cancer treatment seem more challenging - connecting virtually with other people who are going through the same thing as me - while also getting the benefit of this class - has been a life-saver right now,” explained Jim.

  • Wednesdays offer a Movement and Mindfulness class: “I used to use a chair during this class to provide a little more stability, but I’ve slowly gotten stronger,” said Carol. “Now, I can do these classes standing without a chair and I leave feeling so much better than I did before I started.”

  • Thursdays bring soothing music with Bob Egan’s virtual concerts on Facebook: “My husband and I look forward to Thursday every week, just to hear Bob Egan’s music. He always has a smile on his face and his songs are incredibly uplifting. Sometimes, we even dance!”
The Comfort Project is having a profound impact and it’s all due to the generous donations of community members, like you! If you know someone battling cancer, have lost a loved one or want to recognize a healthcare hero who helped your family through your cancer journey, consider recognizing them on the lighted Wall of Inspiration, permanently on display in the lobby of the Summit Medical Group Cancer Center in Florham Park. Purchasing a tile helps support The Comfort Project’s programs that cancer patients and their families have come to rely upon.

The next time you’re on the Summit Medical Group campus, stop by to check out the wall for yourself. Inscribe a tile with a message of hope or compassion, inspiring patients and paying tribute to loved ones and healthcare workers. Purchasing a tile is fully tax-deductible.

To learn more about the Wall of Inspiration, special payment plan options and how you can recognize someone special in your life, click HERE. 
To learn more about the work we are doing to create healthier tomorrows for the communities we serve,