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2020 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award: The Granny Project

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Across the United States 6.8 million children under the age of 17 suffer from food insecurity and in Baltimore City around 25% of young people are food insecure.

This year’s Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award recipient the 100th year of Henrietta Lacks legacy and the 10thyear we have awarded a community-university partnership with our $15,000 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award and we couldn’t think of a better program to highlight than the Granny Project, a youth-led response to adolescent food insecurity that was created under a partnership between HeartSmiles and the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health. 

“The HeartSmiles team is extremely grateful to receive the 2020 Henrietta Lacks award. We know that Ms. Lacks unknowingly made one of the biggest contributions this world will ever receive and as a humble recipient of her award, we too aspire to make invaluable contributions that will live forever”, said HeartSmiles Founder, Joni Holifield on Saturday, October 24 during the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research’s annual Henrietta Lacks lecture, view video here.

The Granny Project takes on an intergenerational approach by pairing Grannies with young people across Baltimore to teach them how to make quick, healthy, and affordable meals. Youth who participate in the program also receive access to mentoring, fitness and health activities, and fellowship among their peers. Many youth that participate in the program love the connections they make and the platform they are given to use their voice to promote positive change in Baltimore City.

“Over the summer I had the honor to work on a project called the “Granny Project.” The project helps fight food insecurity throughout Baltimore City. This project is very important to me because it felt good to be a part of a project that could potentially save a city. Being a part of the Granny Project has also taught me how to become a leader and that anyone can be a leader. The project helped me understand that my VOICE MATTERS and the things I have to say are important. Because of this opportunity I am starting to become more vocal and involving myself in more things because I would like to see a positive change in Baltimore City”, says 15-year-old participant.

HeartSmiles and the Center for Adolescent Health share a common goal and mission to promote youth equity and create spaces and opportunities for young people to thrive emotionally, socially, and physically. Their efforts go towards providing youth with equitable access to supports and resources and empowering them to make successful transitions to healthy and productive adult lives.

With efforts led by youth, also known as the heart beats, and supported by volunteer grannies and mentors, HeartSmiles founder Joni Holifield, and their Hopkins partners, Ms. Katrina Brooks, Dr. Tamar Mendelson, and Dr. Kristin Mmari, the Granny Project has hosted numerous events, including Lost Art, a youth art collective that staged youth music, dance, and art performances in order to raise funds for the Project, hosted a large block party-style cooking demonstration event in Fall 2019,which attracted over 400, to showcase the collaboration between the “grannies” and youth and demonstrate how to prepare a healthy recipe, switched to a virtual platform in response to COVID-19 In 2019, expanded its health programming to include virtual workouts, and increased its reach and impact by distributing food kits to Baltimore families.

The group plans to use the $15,000 award to support continued implementation of The Granny Project, including food kits, supplies, expansion of their health and wellness initiative (etc.).

To learn more about the Granny Project, visit our YouTube channel to watch the official 2020 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award video.

About HeartSmiles

HeartSmiles was founded in 2015 by west Baltimore native Joni Holifield with a mission to provide exceptional enrichment and leadership development opportunities to youth in Baltimore's most under-served communities. They place their young people directly at the intersection of access and opportunity helping them to achieve success on their own terms. You can learn more about them on their website and YouTube channel.

*The Urban Health Institute would also like to congratulate our runner ups for the 2020 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award. Power to Stop Diabetes and Power to Control Diabetes, a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Brancati Center, Zion Baptist Church, and Memorial Baptist Church which works to raise awareness about the risks of diabetes through diabetes prevention programs in East Baltimore, the second runner up is Bridging the Gap, a Hearing Care Equity Initiative by Access HEARS, Inc., who’ve have partnered with the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins to connect older adults to the hearing solutions they need to age well and reconnect individuals to their communities, and last but certainly not least, Accessible Primary Care for Uninsured Immigrants. An initiative of the Esperanza Center of Associated Catholic Charities, Inc. who’ve worked closely with Johns Hopkins Medicine and Johns Hopkins Centro Sol to provide culturally-competent, patient-centered, free primary care to uninsured immigrant adults and children, as well as referrals to specialty care and non-medical services to address social determinants of health will all receive a $5,000 award for their ongoing collaborations with Johns Hopkins.