Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The History of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) – Community Health Leaders

The Harris Foundation is pleased to have administered the Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leaders (CHL) Award to recognize individuals who overcome daunting obstacles to improve health and health care for underserved communities.

The History

From 1993 to 2012, the CHL Award has honored 206 individuals across 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The mission of CHL is to support and sustain the capacity of these unsung heroes who demonstrate creativity, innovation and commitment to improving health outcomes at the community level. CHL are nurses, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, clergy, attorneys and judges, CEOs and executive directors, school officials, activists, advocates and volunteers.

The Award

Community Health Leaders were selected based on a comprehensive nomination process from people familiar with the potential nominee’s work. The CHL Award criteria included:

Creating or substantially enhancing a health or health care initiative that improves access or quality of care in the community
Having positively affected a significant number of people in a targeted community
Having not received national recognition for their work
An affiliation with a public or nonprofit organization


The Impact

The Awards have been used to expand current projects, provide seed funding for new local initiatives; build evaluation and data collection systems; support training; engaging and recruiting new clients; and other strategic purposes.

In 2013, CHL ranked the most important health issues in their communities: Access to health care; Health equity/Eliminating health disparities; and Social Determinants of health. Over the past 20 years, Leaders have worked to help economically and socially disadvantaged communities to:

Develop technologies and therapeutic tools for persons with profound physical disabilities
Improve access to needed supplies such as free diapers to families in poverty
Provide cost-effective medical, dental and vision care for adults and children living in urban and rural poverty
Encourage and support students to enter various health careers and professions
Participate in aggressive community health education campaigns strengthening the linkage from prevention to treatment
Advocate and help address environmental issues related to heath disparities