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Chris Shea


Maternal Infant Health Program

550 Cherry St. SE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503
Cherry Street Health Services has a CEO with a strong desire to educate people who live in poverty. Chris Shea believes in equity – that every child of every economic level should have the same opportunities to learn and that they should be offered improved access to health care as they grow into healthy, successful adults.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Cherry Street Health Services CEO Chris Shea: Being a leader means being able to soak it all in – what people are telling me and all the experiences that have come before – and to help others sort out common goals and the processes to achieve them.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for kids is that they keep on moving. So many issues bring discouragement – from a messy diaper on a baby to a
My dream is for all kids to have the support to move them past the tough spots. May they never slow down.
car accident for a teenager. Those who do better in life have had supports from all who are around them. My dream is for all kids to have the support to move them past the tough spots. May they never slow down.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
It’s a two-pronged answer and the first part is education reform. We could provide equal and even enhanced educational opportunities to members of our poorest communities –because when people who have lived with poverty are better educated, it may be more likely to result in an environment supportive of the social welfare of society. The poor are the most likely to be the targets of misinformation that scorns the need for social supports in our society because they tend to be less educated. With education, all things are possible.
The second part is health care improvement; it would be wonderful to emphasize fitness and diet. Unfortunately, fitness is further down the hierarchy of needs for many low-income people, so we must first provide reasonable access to primary health care services and pay attention to the needs of the poor. If the resources were available, it would be helpful to emphasize fitness and diet, but right now, there are too many other competing issues to worry about in the lives of those who are poorer.
How do you know you’re making progress?
As far as education is concerned, we probably will not know until we can measure the number of people in positions of authority in our society who came from disenfranchised backgrounds. It takes a lifetime to develop from childhood poverty to an adult life of success. We have only come to know the majority of our patients in the past few years, and all of the progress of the early years can be turned back to nothing by a few bad breaks – a divorce in the family, a youth drug charge, a failure to be able to make the contacts necessary to succeed on the job. Education is never finished, but it requires wading through plenty of mine fields before it makes a significant difference.
And, when it becomes clear to all people that they can access primary medical, dental and behavioral health on the same day that they are experiencing problems, and that they know the care that they will receive is of high quality (provided in a language and a surrounding that is comfortable and familiar), then we will know we are making progress.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being able to stretch resources to arrange for health care to be delivered to so many more people who would otherwise not seek care at all and simply let the illnesses take their course.
Anyone who is interested in a career in the social sector must recognize the tradeoff, because doing well for others requires personal sacrifices that will not provide the lifestyle that could otherwise be theirs.
We have been able to establish part of that by developing the Durham Clinic in the fall of 2011 to offer integration of care. It offers services that include medical, mental health, dental vision care and a pharmacy all under one roof. I am also proud that we have been able to move people’s minds to realize the connection between their physical health and the health of their minds.
In speaking with younger people who are interested in careers in the social sector, what advice would you give?
It seems to me that there are two kinds of people who become involved in social services: those whose life experiences and associations entangle them with those most likely to need social supports and those who are luckier in life, but are exposed to volunteer activities that put them in contact with those in need. The first group has a stronger potential to bring equity in services to the world, but theirs is the more difficult path because of their life hardships. It’s important for them to recognize their disadvantages and know that it will take a more concentrated effort to succeed.
Anyone who is interested in a career in the social sector must recognize the tradeoff, because doing well for others requires personal sacrifices that will not provide the lifestyle that could otherwise be theirs. Once they have made their peace with this bargain, they will have the lifeblood to focus on the studies and the work that’s necessary to improve our social condition. 
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Program Profile


  • Cherry Street Health Services
    Cherry Street Health Services is committed to providing the highest quality and most effective primary health care services to people of all economic levels, with a special sensitivity to the needs of economically disadvantaged people of diverse ...


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