November 17, 2018

On Public Health Thank You Day, the University of Maryland School of Public Health is recognizing a few of the many members of our extended community whose work is making a difference in the lives of the diverse communities of Maryland. For their efforts to support the health of rural farm communities, college students, victims of gun violence, and children in the foster care system, we recognize and thank these inspiring people for their leadership, vision and dedication to their work in support of improved public health. We also recognize the unnamed public health professionals of all sorts and across the globe--in communities, clinics, research laboratories, health departments and many other settings--who dedicate their lives to helping all the world’s people achieve the highest attainable standard of health.

We are proud of and grateful for the role that these "public health heroes" play in research, education and service to promote and protect health, and are honored to work alongside them in creating healthier communities.

Bonnie Braun, PhD

Professor Emerita, Department of Family Science and UMD Extension
Founding director, Horowitz Center for Health Literacy

A long time advocate for low income and rural families, Dr. Braun championed the need to educate consumers about how to find and choose health insurance that best meets their family’s health needs and budget by creating the Smart Choice Health Insurance program, in tandem with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The program aims to reduce health disparities and the cost of chronic conditions.

Recently, Dr. Braun launched an effort that is a partnership between the University of Maryland Extension and School of Public Health, to support the health and well-being of Maryland’s farmers and rural communities. Dr. Braun spoke at the Health and Farm Vitality Forum about the economic pressures and stressors that take a toll on farmers, families, farms and communities. The forum was the beginning of an ongoing effort to provide support for farmers experiencing mental and emotional distress and to prevent substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicide among farmers and their families.

Photo: Dr. Bonnie Braun speaking to participants in the UMD-Seat Pleasant Health Summit

Rohini “Ro” Nambiar

Senior Public Health Science major, General Business Minor
Vice President of Student Affairs
UMD Student Government Association

Ms. Nambiar (Ro) channels her passion for public health, justice and equity into her many leadership activities. Ro has been involved in UMD SGA for three years, starting as the School of Public Health Representative in the Legislature, the Director of Health and Wellness and now as VP of Student Affairs. She has tirelessly advocated for more campus mental health resources to support student well-being and success. As a result, the University Counseling Center added several new staff psychologists, launched WellTrack, a new healthy living app, and is partnering with the Mental Health Student Advisory Board that the SGA formed.

This fall, she and other SGA leaders organized the Justice for Jordan rally held on November 1 to honor Jordan McNair, the 19 year-old UMD football player and kinesiology major who died from preventable heat stroke during practice earlier this year. They rallied the campus community to speak out in the wake of the Oct. 30 decision by the Board of Regents to reinstate Coach DJ Durkin and to influence President Loh to retire.

“Show up to the game on Saturday,” she urged at the rally. “Show up for the McNairs, show up for Jordan, and show up for our student-athletes.”

Washington Post Photo: Ro holding a sign in honor of Jordan McNair (#79) at the Nov. 1 rally 

Joseph B. Richardson Jr. MA, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of African-American Studies and Anthropology
UMD College of Behavioral and Social Sciences
Afilliate Professor, UMD Prevention Research Center

With a passion for turning research into action to prevent violence and heal trauma in communities of color, Dr. Joseph B. Richardson’s work shines a spotlight on the public health crisis of gun violence and the reality that it has been the leading cause of death for young Black males for decades.

Dr. Richardson leads the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program (CAP-VIP) at the University of Maryland Prince George's Hospital Center (UM-PGHC). The program provides survivors of violent injury (i.e., gunshot wound, stabbing or assault) and their families with mental health counseling, job placement services, educational training, housing assistance, health insurance support and legal aide in an effort to break the cycle of violence prevalent in many communities in Prince George’s County and Southeast DC.

One of Dr. Richardson’s current projects - “Life After the Gunshot” - is using focus groups to understand the challenges low-income male survivors of firearm-related violent injury face as they try to recover physically and mentally following discharge from the hospital. This will be used to improve service delivery from CAP-VIP to support this population.

Rob Scheer

President, Comfort Cases

Rob Scheer launched Comfort Cases in 2013 to support children in foster care and give them a sense of dignity and control through the provision of basic toiletry and other personal care supplies packed in new backpacks and duffel bags. He was motivated by his own personal experience growing up as a kid in the foster care system. 

Through a partnership with Comfort Cases, Behavioral and Community Health Professor James Butler offers undergraduate students in the class “Personal and Community Health” (HLTH 140) hands-on “service learning” experience. In addition to packing toiletries, a blanket and school supplies for these kids in transition, the UMD students write a personal letter to the recipient of the “comfort case.” Scheer speaks to the class during the “packing party” and shares his own moving story of having to travel from home to home with his few belongings thrown in a trash bag, and helps students understand what their efforts mean to the kids his organization supports.

Watch a video about the HLTH 140 class's Comfort Cases packing party in Spring 2018.

Pictured: Dr. James Butler (left), associate professor in the UMD Department of Behavioral and Community Health and Rob Scheer (right), president of Comfort Cases