BY TERRY METZGER
Special to the Journal
Throughout the year, Jeffrey Lewis, President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment and EMC Health Foundation, recognizes health and/or community leaders who are making a difference in our local region. Now, I’d like to turn the tables and shine the spotlight on him.
Lewis joined the Turlock community in 2016, after spending most of his career on the east coast, on Capitol Hill and in private and non-profit organizations, perhaps most notably as Senior Policy Advisor to the late Senator John Heinz and then as CEO of Heinz Family Philanthropies. He has worked on a variety of complex problems in his career including aging, AIDS, women’s health, pension reform, and environmental issues. He is well known as a creative problem solver; someone who not only thinks outside the box, but often shatters the box completely.
I met Jeffrey in 2018 when I became the superintendent of the Denair Unified School District. LHE was interested in supporting student mental health and wondered how placing a clinician on a school site would improve access to services for students and families. Through a partnership with LHE and Sierra Vista Child and Family Services we did just that. The benefits of having a clinical professional on site has been remarkable. Many ancillary programs have emerged from the original idea including a parent university in which we educate parents about relevant and timely topics, and a clothes closet that provides clothing, toiletries, and even household items to families in need.
Based on the success of that first initiative, Lewis has continued to invest in meeting the needs of students, families and staff, not just in Denair, but all over Stanislaus and Merced counties. Clinicians have also been placed in Patterson and at Atwater Valley Community School. Hughson and Denair districts are currently piloting a tele-health program through Hazel Health while helping them build a tele-behavioral health component. Superintendents and other high level educational leaders in our area were invited to receive coaching and support from a wellness expert as we dealt with the continuous effects of the pandemic.
Our current conversations about how to support principals, teachers, counselors and instructional support staff reveal Jeffrey’s deeply-rooted belief that in order to care for the children, we must care for the adults as well. He also continues to work on food security and prescription assistance for those in our communities who are struggling financially.
Jeffrey Lewis is curious, tenacious, and yes, often a disruptor of the status quo. He believes all human beings should be treated with dignity and respect, and is constantly thinking about ways to help those who need it. Denair Unified School District and the community at large have benefited greatly from his passion and vision for making the world a better place. For these reasons and many more, he is a hero in my eyes.
— Terry Metzger is the Superintendent of Denair Unified School District. The views expressed are her own.