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Urban Public Health Heroes Honored with 8th Annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize

The 8th Annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize was awarded on November 13, 2018 at Roosevelt House. Created to honor the late Joan H. Tisch, the prize is presented by Hunter College on a yearly basis and recognizes the work of individual leaders and high-impact nonprofit organizations in the field of urban public health.

The 2018 Tisch Prize recipients are Claudia Aristy ‘07, Director of the HELP Project and Children of Bellevue’s Reach Out and Read (ROR) Program, and Service Program for Older People (SPOP), a Manhattan-based nonprofit focused on addressing the mental health needs of older adults. A beloved tradition for the Hunter College community, the yearly event has “become an occasion of significance to the entire city,” said President Jennifer J. Raab, in her opening remarks.

President Raab celebrated the Tisch family’s dedication to advancing public health. Joan H. Tisch, who passed away in 2017, was a philanthropist who championed humanitarian issues in health care and social services. A patron of the arts, she was also a benefactor of the fight against HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. This year’s ceremony, the first one since her death, took on particular resonance in celebrating her legacy.

The selection process for the award began in August when a panel of judges sifted through over five hundred pages of materials covering eighteen nominees, their presentations and endorsements. It was a “formidable piece of work,” according to Roosevelt House Director Harold Holzer. In addition to the prestigious honor, each recipient receives a $10,000 award.

Claudia Aristy, who graduated from Hunter College in 2007, was the first winner to accept the Tisch Prize that evening. As director of the Health Education and Literacy Project (HELP) and Children of Bellevue’s Reach Out and Read (ROR) Program, Aristy has worked to bring books into the lives of young mothers. “Those early interactions that the books facilitate are so important for children's’ overall development,” said Aristy. 

Aristy spoke movingly of the challenges she faced trying to balance pursuit of her Hunter degree with the demands of being a young mother. “As part of the program, we have volunteers who read to the children in the waiting room. These moments serve as a role model for parents who sit by,” said Aristy. 

SPOP, the organization chosen by the panel for the 2018 Prize, was selected for its distinguished achievements working with the senior citizen community in New York City. Founded in 1972, SPOP initially focused on helping homebound holocaust survivors, but its mission now includes the overall senior population, with a commitment to improving the quality of life and reducing social isolation for older adults. “From the onset, SPOP recognized the challenges of serving an older population,” said Nancy Harvey, the SPOP CEO. The organization offered home visits to all clients who were disabled or unable to travel, sending a powerful message that “older adults were not forgotten, even when they were no longer visible in the streets, and that their mental health and emotional well-being mattered.” SPOP currently serves over 2,000 older adults and has expanded to open clinics in new neighborhoods in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Recently, they have become advocates for the city’s LGBT seniors. 

President Raab capped off the evening, reflecting on how each of the prize recipients embodied the spirit of Joan H. Tisch, “making life so much more meaningful and healthy for so many communities.”

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