Embracing our Community
Embracing Our Community

Partners in Health

Creating Stronger Communities

The secret to accelerating progress toward better community health can be summed up in one word: partnerships. Cedars-Sinai works with local organizations to identify their needs as well as the needs of the communities we serve together. We learn from them, and they learn from us. Together, we take action to give the underserved increased access to healthcare. Below, we profile six people who exemplify Cedars-Sinai's robust network of community partners — all dedicated to fostering healthy communities.

Cedars-Sinai Community Clinic Initiative

Program Focus: Cedars-Sinai is enhancing the capabilities of community clinics across Los Angeles through a multiyear initiative focused on quality improvement, leadership development, financial strength and data management.

Cedars-Sinai Connection: Adem graduated from Cedars-Sinai’s Managing to Leading program, then joined an UMMA clinic team that was enrolled in another Cedars-Sinai program that focuses on improving quality through data management.

Roots: She grew up in Ethiopia, the ninth of 19 children raised by parents who were community activists. Adem came to the U.S. in 1996 and has deep compassion for the many immigrants (mostly Latino) served by the clinic. “They have difficult lives and often feel isolated,” she says.

Origin Story: The clinic was founded by Muslim medical students at UCLA and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Only 5 percent of the clinic’s patients are Muslim, but its mission reflects core Islamic values such as service, compassion and dignity.

Personal Growth: “The leadership program gave me a lot of empowerment. Interacting with people from other clinics was like opening a window,” Adem says. “I’ve become more vocal. Instead of asking why, I think about what I can do to find a solution.”


As part of the Managing to Leading program, Adem led a project that helped the UMMA clinic improve coordination of care, particularly for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes.

Yusra Adem

Finance manager, UMMA Community Clinic, South Los Angeles

Cedars-Sinai COACH for Kids

Sylvia Renteria, MS, LMFT

Healthy Start/Wellness Center coordinator, Los Angeles Unified School District

Program Focus: Cedars-Sinai COACH for Kids®, part of the Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center, sends two mobile medical units to schools, homeless shelters, public housing projects and other sites in underserved areas of Los Angeles to provide free primary and preventive healthcare services for low-income children and their families.

Partnership Start: Over the past two decades, Renteria has partnered with COACH for Kids to take free health services and education to 10 schools in the Pico-Union area.

Changing Lives: “If we can strengthen families, students can thrive and achieve their goals,” Renteria says. “COACH for Kids is a critical partner that has earned the community’s trust and respect. I can always turn to them when there’s a child in need.”

Community Needs: Healthy Start and COACH for Kids are lifelines for many immigrants who struggle with poverty, fear of deportation, language barriers and other issues. “It’s inspiring to see what we can do together to change people’s lives,” Renteria says.


Among those COACH for Kids has helped is a high school student who was struggling in school after losing her mother to a long illness. Renteria learned that the teen needed glasses, and the COACH team quickly arranged for a vision test and free eyewear. The girl told Renteria, “They took really good care of me and made me feel special.”

Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits

Aiden Littleton

A fourth-grader at Queen Anne Elementary School who has participated in Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits since second grade

Program Focus: Healthy Habits curriculum is provided in second-, third- and fourth-grade classrooms in 16 local elementary schools to teach children in underserved communities about nutrition and physical activity. The program, which also offers workshops for parents, is designed to reduce the risks and impact of obesity and help families lead healthier lifestyles.

Key Lessons: “Physical activity helps your body operate,” Aiden says. “Always check food labels. The more ingredients there are, the less healthy it is.”

New Exercise Habit: Aiden has encouraged his parents to become more active, notes his mother, Lily Moreno. He does sit-ups and push-ups while his parents work out with weights. He also plays basketball and baseball and loves to dance hip-hop and salsa. Even chores are an opportunity to exercise: “Yesterday, I washed my mother’s car,” he adds.

Favorite Snacks: “Mango tango” smoothies made with plain Greek yogurt, frozen mangoes, a banana, almond or soy milk, and a dash of cinnamon. He also likes apples, grapes, cucumbers and jicama.


Aiden’s family used to have a refrigerator filled with sugary sodas and juices. No more. After Aiden started talking about what he was learning in Healthy Habits, they switched to water and cut back on chips and candy. Aiden says he feels very good about this change.

Cedars-Sinai Youth Employment and Development Program

Program Focus: The two-year Cedars-Sinai Youth Employment and Development (YED) program provides part-time jobs, mentoring and job-shadowing experiences at Cedars-Sinai for Fairfax High School juniors and seniors. A large percentage of them graduate from college, pursue careers in healthcare and obtain jobs at Cedars-Sinai.

Discovering New Options: Many YED participants become the first in their families to go to college. “I know students who weren’t even thinking about college until they got into this program,” she says. “It gives them a broad horizon of education and career possibilities they might never have been exposed to.”

Years with YED: Gonzalez-Drake has been referring her leadership students to the program — “a stepping stone to the work world” — since it started in 1994.

Challenges: “Many students deal with economic hardship and live in neighborhoods where there is gang activity,” she says. “Some help take care of siblings and do most of the cooking, cleaning and shopping because their parents are working.”


“One student got to shadow a brain surgeon and watch an operation from the observation deck. He was lit up by the experience,” Gonzalez-Drake says. “The kids also have very positive experiences with their mentors. And they get paid for their work, so their time is valued. The money helps pay for school activities and other needs.”

Suzanne Gonzalez-Drake

Dean of students and leadership adviser, Fairfax High School

Cedars-Sinai Share and Care

Herb Wesson

Los Angeles City Council president

Program Focus: Offered at 28 Los Angeles Unified schools, Cedars-Sinai Share and Care uses art therapy to help children who have experienced trauma overcome the stressors that disrupt their ability to learn.

Partnership Start: In the early 1980s, a tragedy occurred at the school attended by Wesson’s young sons: A classmate and his mother were shot and killed by the child’s father. Wesson’s mother, Gladys Wesson-Strickland, who worked in Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Psychiatry, talked with Suzanne Silverstein, MA, then a clinician in the department, about how traumatic this was for her grandchildren and their schoolmates.

Rapid Response: Silverstein immediately assembled a crisis-counseling team, which traveled to the school to help the children, parents and teachers process the tragedy. This was the beginning of Cedars-Sinai’s Psychological Trauma Center, which led to the creation of Cedars-Sinai Share and Care, a citywide program to help children express their feelings through art.


“Right away, we could see that our kids were doing better,” Wesson says. “We now know we were seeing the start of one of the premier ways to go about helping traumatized children in this country. This program continues to do great work, and I will always be available if they need my assistance. It’s personal — I will owe them as long as I live.”

Cedars-Sinai Community Health and Education

Program Focus: Throughout the year, the Cedars-Sinai Community Health and Education team provides free health screenings, immunizations and education for low-income neighborhoods across Los Angeles, promoting wellness and helping people prevent and manage health issues such as diabetes and heart disease.

Partner Since: mid-1980s

Nickname: “The Reverend Mother”

Cedars-Sinai Connection: Jackson, who cared for patients as a nurse at Cedars-Sinai in the 1980s, is the daughter of the 88th Street Temple Church’s founder, the late Bishop Bennie Roberts Benbow, and the mother of the church’s current pastor, Superintendent Anthony L. Williams. She has been promoting Cedars-Sinai health screening events at the church for nearly three decades.

Kale Meets Soul Food: A strong advocate of regular exercise and healthy eating, Jackson makes sure that greens like kale balance the soul food at church potlucks.

The Pitch: When nurses are stationed at tables in the church basement during services, Jackson tells congregants, “Go down and get your screenings. It doesn’t take long, and it could save your life.”


Some congregants have avoided health crises after being referred to urgent care for dangerously high blood pressure or glucose levels. Many have adopted healthier lifestyles. “You can tell when people start taking better care of themselves. They look better. They even walk better,” Jackson says. “Cedars-Sinai has increased awareness of the importance of self-care.”

Lillie Jackson

Health advocate and retired licensed vocational nurse, 88th Street Temple Church of God in Christ, South Los Angeles