Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Erin Jackson-Ward, Grantmaker and Community Builder
Jun 24, 2021 Carrie St Michel
Erin Jackson-Ward, director of the Community Benefit Giving Office at Cedars-Sinai, thinks she has "a very cool job." Erin's roots run deep with the organization: She was born at Cedars-Sinai. Then, at 11 years old, she became "hyperaware of healthcare delivery" when her mother was treated at the medical center for a rare cancer.
Erin feels her position completes a full-circle journey, as she's now charged with awarding millions of dollars in grants aimed at enhancing the health and wellbeing of communities beyond Cedars-Sinai's walls. Here, she shares what inspires her passion for public health and her personal life, including why she and her wife were married by their yoga instructor.
"We have an opportunity and obligation to meet this moment—a moment of two public-health crises—COVID-19 and race equity, and we are uniquely positioned to support positive changes in the landscape, dynamics, cultures and outcomes in our field."
On supporting important work
Our team aims to build the capacity of community-based organizations that are doing important, hard work. When I hear from organizations that they leveraged our grant to secure ongoing funding in support of making their programs sustainable for the long term, that's incredibly rewarding.
On making a difference
I have a very cool job, and there's not a day that goes by where I don't think about what a privilege it is to be in a position where I can identify opportunities to make a positive difference in people's lives.
On meeting the moment
We have an opportunity and obligation to meet this moment—a moment of two public-health crises—COVID-19 and race equity, and we are uniquely positioned to support positive changes in the landscape, dynamics, cultures and outcomes in our field. As many other teams have, we worked some grueling hours during the pandemic trying to determine how best to distribute grants. Even when we were tired, our team was grateful to have the opportunity to really help organizations when there otherwise was a sense of helplessness.
On beating the drum of health equity
Part of my job is making sure we embed equitable lenses and approaches into everything we do. For example, we launched a $6 million health-equity grant program last fall through which we funded health-equity initiatives at more than 80 organizations. I always do my best to ensure equity is embedded at every level and seek to be a champion for voices that are not always represented.
On finding her path
When I was a senior in high school, my father had a debilitating stroke. Unlike my mother's positive experience at Cedars-Sinai, he had a fairly harrowing experience at a different hospital. The stark contrast between the two motivated me to pivot the focus of my undergraduate career at UCLA to pursue public health and to better understand how to optimize the patient experience.
On being a 'public-health nerd'
I live and breathe public health. It's fair to say I'm a public-health nerd. I'm always scanning for new ideas, innovations and practices both nationally and throughout the world, to see if we can learn from, adapt and apply those lenses locally.
On believing in the work
I'm working on my DrPH at Johns Hopkins. For my dissertation, my goal is to create a best-practices framework for community-benefit grantmaking that's informed by Cedars-Sinai's approach. That's how much I believe in what we're doing.
On being married by her yoga instructor
For 10 years, I volunteered at Camp Kindle, which serves kids affected by HIV/AIDS. I met my wife there, who also was a volunteer. In 2016, Lorryn—who's a preschool director—surprised me with a trip to Tuscany for a yoga retreat. On a whim, we decided to get married. Our yoga instructor quickly got ordained online, and we exchanged vows in front of 18 strangers. Italy obviously has a special place in our hearts.
On snuggly pets and traveling again
We love traveling, but the pandemic has limited that to exploring new neighborhoods each weekend to walk our dog, Roen. He's best friends with our cat, Kevin, who often joins in on the walking adventures. Once it's safe to travel globally again, we plan to visit Ireland. My father was Irish, and he's the reason I went into public health. It's a way of paying homage to him for this incredibly rewarding career he helped launch.