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New Remillard Family Fund at UMMS supports community service

  From left are Regan P. Remillard, Danielle (Remillard) Haxton, Arthur J. Remillard, Jr., and Arthur J. Remillard III.

From left are Regan P. Remillard, Danielle (Remillard) Haxton, Arthur J. Remillard Jr., and Arthur J. Remillard III.

   Samantha Levin, School of Medicine Class of 2019, is the student leader for the Kelley Backpacks program.

Samantha Levin, School of Medicine Class of 2019, is the student leader for the Kelley Backpacks program.

Chancellor Michael F. Collins has announced the first programs supported by the Remillard Family Community Service Fund at UMass Medical School. Established in 2015 with a $3 million donation by the Remillard Family Foundation, this endowed fund is dedicated to providing ongoing support for community outreach programs led by UMass Medical School faculty, staff and students.

“The Remillard family’s roots are very deep in central Massachusetts and through this gift their generosity will continue to build upon the lasting, positive impact they have made in our communities,” said Chancellor Collins. “UMass Medical School takes great pride in being a part of the fabric of this community. We are enormously appreciative of this gift and to be partnering with the Remillard family to improve the well-being of our neighbors.”

“My family and I are proud to be able to support UMass Medical School and its efforts to assist the greater Worcester community,” said Arthur J. Remillard Jr. “We have the utmost confidence that they will make the most of these resources by applying the power of their intellect, innovation, passion and public mission.”

“When discussing potential funding ideas with Chancellor Collins, we were immediately drawn to the concept of a community service fund that would make thoughtful and worthwhile investments in the Central Massachusetts community for many years to come,” said Arthur J. Remillard III. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the three inaugural projects that have been carefully selected for funding.”

Under the terms of the Remillard Community Service Fund, each year the Medical School will solicit proposals from the greater UMass Medical School community for projects that will be evaluated on their potential to improve the lives and health of residents of Worcester and Central Massachusetts and positively impact individuals, groups and communities that are economically or educationally disadvantaged or underrepresented. Projects must also have a specific connection to UMass Medical School’s mission of education, patient care and research. Selected proposals will be funded for one year each.

The three proposals selected as the inaugural projects to be supported by the Remillard Family Community Service Fund are:

Worcester Public Schools North Quadrant Wraparound Services
Building on the highly successful 21-year academic partnership between the medical school and the North Quadrant of the Worcester Public Schools (WPS), this project will leverage the resources, expertise and generosity of the medical school and its employees to address some of the socioeconomic barriers to academic success faced by some learners in Worcester. The North Quadrant includes some of the city’s most economically challenged neighborhoods, as evidenced by data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which show that 81.4 percent of students at North High are considered to have “high needs” and 63.6 percent are “economically disadvantaged.”

This project will be driven by a needs assessment conducted by the WPS to ensure initiatives are developed based upon identified needs of the individual schools. Among other things, the grant will support:

      • Continued restocking of a new food pantry built recently by UMMS volunteers at North High School, to provide nutritionally balanced food to students and families identified by school leadership as being challenged by food insecurity;
      • Purchase and distribution of backpacks filled with school supplies to children at two of the quadrant’s elementary schools when classes begin in late August; and
      • Purchase and installation of clothes washers and dryers in approximately four quadrant schools identified by the WPS superintendent as being impacted by absenteeism among some students who feel ostracized or insecure about wearing unclean clothes due to their family’s lack of access to laundry facilities.

Other initiatives will be developed and added based upon the needs assessment, likely including but not limited to clothing drives and volunteerism initiatives for UMMS students and staff. These efforts will all be led by Kola Akindele, JD, MS, senior director in the Office of Community and Government Relations at UMass Medical School. “For two decades UMMS has led the Worcester Pipeline Collaborative, through which it helps to educate and train students in the North Quadrant of the WPS for careers in biotechnology, life sciences and health care,” Akindele said, “Ultimately, we hope to remove some of the barriers to learning and thus complement and strengthen the effectiveness of ongoing academic programs.”

Kelley Backpacks
One of the most difficult transitions a child can make is being discharged from the hospital into the protective custody of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF). Kelley Backpacks aims to ease this abrupt, traumatic transition for children who may have been abused or neglected.

Kelley Backpacks is a student-run organization open to all UMMS students. Each year it distributes approximately 150 backpacks stocked with new, age-appropriate pajamas, blankets, school supplies, toys and toiletries to each child discharged from UMass Memorial Medical Center’s University and Memorial campuses. Backpacks are prepared to accommodate the needs of children ranging from newborns to teenagers. Through the support of the Remillard Family Community Service Fund, Kelley Backpacks will be able to fully fund its program for one year while simultaneously expanding its reach by assisting children who receive care at Milford Regional Medical Center.

“Sadly, it often takes several weeks or even months to find permanent foster homes for children in DCF custody, so having a backpack with some of their own items can help to ease the transition and uncertainty,” said Samantha Levin, School of Medicine student, Class of 2019. “The backpacks provide a measure of comfort for children navigating confusing, traumatic times in their lives. In addition, because of the opioid epidemic, the number of children in need of DCF care and protection has increased.”

Baby Boxes
Infant mortality can be a tragic reflection of a region’s overall health. In Worcester, infant mortality rates are persistently higher than other parts of the commonwealth, with the greatest disparities found in Hispanic and African-American families. The Worcester Healthy Baby Collaborative (WHBC), working with Baby Box University, a nonprofit that provides free baby boxes customized with educational materials in local languages, aims to provide baby boxes to 500 Worcester families by the fall of 2018, with a further goal of universal distribution to all new parents in Worcester by 2019.

Baby boxes began 75 years ago in Finland, a nation that now claims an exceptionally low rate of infant mortality. Finland’s government provides to the family of each newborn, free of charge, a box about the size of bassinette with a suitable mattress, baby clothing, supplies and educational materials, symbolizing the communal value of ensuring a child’s health and safety. In the United States, a handful of states and municipalities are beginning similar programs.

Earlier this year, the WHBC partnered with medical and nursing students from UMass Medical School to pilot distribution of baby boxes to 10 local families.

“Through the generous support of the Remillard Family Community Service Fund, our goal is to scale up Baby Box distribution to reach 500 Worcester families, promote interprofessional collaboration and teach medical and nursing students about grass-roots community health work,” said Tasmina Hydery, PharmD, clinical consultant pharmacist and assistant professor of family medicine & community health.

Read more in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette:
New UMass grants fund baby boxes, school washers and dryers