American Heart Association funds two Rochester women working for health equity

Two Rochester-area women are being recognized by the American Heart Association. They were both recently awarded funding as part of a program working with community-based businesses to address the social determinants of health.

During a ceremony held virtually last month, the Association awarded a total of $65,000 to the top finalists in the National EmPOWERED to Serve™ Business Accelerator™ and $30,000 to the 2021 EmPOWERED Scholars.

Rochester’s Sharon Samjitsingh received the top award of a $50,000 grant at the National EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator™. She co-founded the Rochester-based company Health Care Originals (HCO) to address a need for change in respiratory monitoring with the goal of ensuring health equity along the continuum of care for respiratory disease.

“HCO is honored to receive this grant from a prestigious organization like the American Heart Association, especially since we are aligned in our purpose around the need for health equity,” said Samjitsingh. “Health disparities in our community lead to very poor health outcomes for people with asthma and COPD. This grant helps us to demonstrate to these richly deserving communities the life-changing impact of our Nightingale program. We’re extremely grateful since this gives HCO the opportunity to further realize its mission – helping everyone with asthma and COPD live full, enriched lives.”

Samjitsingh was one of eight female entrepreneurs in the National EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator program in 2021. Since 2017, more than 100 social entrepreneurs have completed the business training and the Association has awarded more than $700,000 to help accelerate start-ups, social entrepreneurs and organizations improving social determinants of health in their community.

“For us at HCO, participation in the accelerator was a golden opportunity to boldly present our mission and strategy, while receiving invaluable feedback on best ways to articulate and present our brand,” said Samjitsingh. “At all times, the incubator was a safe space to share boldly, and be supported completely, while ensuring that we completed a rigorous, demanding curriculum. Being a part of a community with other founders boldly changing paradigms in their markets was also refreshing, since it showed how many people are addressing very real problems in their communities. For us, participating in this accelerator was richly rewarding, and we felt that way even before we found out that we had won the grant!”

Caitriona Greene

The American Heart Association also awarded six scholarships through the EmPOWERED Scholars program, including to Caitriona Greene, an Early Medical Scholar at the University of Rochester Medical School. Greene is active on campus, as well as working as an emergency medicine research assistant and encouraging women in Rochester to get screened for cervical, lung, and colorectal cancer. Her future goal is to work as a physician in the realm of patient advocacy. Greene received $5,000 towards education expenses.

“I am ecstatic to be receiving this scholarship and to have this support of the work that I am trying to do,” said Greene. “This scholarship can help me afford to study here and fulfill these goals, and possibly go on an internship this summer to Odisha, India and work with the Social Organization for Voluntary Action, which the University of Rochester Globemed chapter is partnered with which is very exciting.”

This year’s EmPOWERED Scholars were selected from a pool of 137 applicants who are currently enrolled freshmen, sophomores and juniors in a U.S. college or university with a 2.0 GPA or higher who are working to improve community wellbeing. More about the work the EmPOWERED Scholars have done in their communities can be found here.

Through initiatives like EmPOWERED Scholars and National EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator™, the Association seeks to expand diversity-research opportunities for underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in science and medicine and to identify and elevate community-based initiatives that aim to improve health and well-being.

“The American Heart Association is committed to investing in new research programs and science-based solutions to health inequities and structural racism,” said Jason Stulb, executive director of the Rochester American Heart Association. “We are honored to have two women here in Rochester recognized for their work driving health equity, sustainability and community transformation.”

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association announced plans to invest more than $230 million over the next four years to support targeted initiatives and programs addressing health equity, while leading additional efforts to drive systemic public health change focused on improving the social determinants of health and tackling issues of health justice and structural racism head on.

The virtual EmPOWERED to Serve™ Business Accelerator™ Finale can be viewed at EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator Finale – YouTube.