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Gift of Life Community Advisory Board Working to Increase Donor Registrations in Communities With the Most Philadelphians on the Transplant Waitlist

Gift of Life brings regional leaders, transplant recipients and donor families together to advance life-saving organ donations in Philadelphia

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Philadelphia, Pa. – As Gift of Life Donor Program kicks off National Donate Life Month and a commemoration of its 50 years of service, it has launched a Community Advisory Board committed to saving lives by decreasing barriers to organ donation in Philadelphia, especially in communities with a high number of patients on the transplant waitlist and historically low donation and donor designation rates.

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a transplant, and more than 500,000 rely on a demanding regimen of kidney dialysis to stay alive. Almost 15 percent of members of the Black community over the age of 20 (3.7 million people) have diabetes, which, along with high blood pressure, are the leading causes of kidney failure.

In Gift of Life’s region, there are nearly 5,000 children and adults who need a transplant. That number includes almost 2,000 Black patients, with the majority in need of a healthy new kidney.

In Philadelphia, members of the Black community account for more than 71 percent of transplant waitlist patients.

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“Gift of Life is committed to decreasing barriers to donation in Black communities by working in close partnership with leaders, advocates and families. Philadelphia has the lowest donor registration rate of any county in Pennsylvania. We can and must do better to save lives,” said Richard D. Hasz, Jr., MFS, CPTC, President and CEO of Gift of Life Donor Program. “We established our new Community Advisory Board to promote feedback and increase communication with our neighbors. We value the support and counsel of these dedicated volunteers and share a passion for ensuring that we reach a day when every person on the waitlist receives a transplant.”

Community Advisory Board members will serve a two-year term as volunteers, meeting quarterly with regular monthly communication. Members were selected based on their commitment to Philadelphians, public health and addressing barriers to organ donation. They will provide a vital link between Gift of Life and Philadelphians, helping to raise awareness and address concerns through education and community engagement.

The nine-member inaugural board includes key leaders from city, state and federal levels to support and align Gift of Life’s efforts with the priorities of their respective offices. Members also include transplant recipients and the mother of an organ donor. The board features diverse perspectives to promote the power of donation through lived experience. Board participants and overviews of their extensive work in the community are listed below:


CEO of NWON Opportunities LLC and Yelram Properties

Chair, Women’s Way Board of Directors

Myra brings three decades of experience in human resources, grant writing, training and workforce development, construction, and executive leadership to the board. She created NWON Opportunities to provide employment readiness workshops and industry focused training to job seekers throughout the tri-state area. NWON helps businesses meet their employment needs while building a skilled workforce. Myra co-owns a residential construction firm in Philadelphia that provides adaptive modification, renovation and remodel services to the disabled and elderly throughout the city and state. She also owns a property development firm that is enhancing living spaces for those with moderate incomes.


Deputy Chief of Staff, Philadelphia City Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr.

Double Transplant Recipient

A committed public servant and lifelong resident of Philadelphia, Charlita is dedicated to ensuring that Philadelphia families can live, work, and play in thriving neighborhoods. Charlita continues to work hard to educate, empower, and advocate for area civic associations, block captains, and seniors by providing city services, resources and more than $1 million in Philadelphia Activities Fund grants. In addition to her work as a community leader, Charlita has a personal tie to organ donation as a recent double transplant recipient.


President and CEO, Gift of Life Donor Program

Rick started at Gift of Life in 1993 as a transplant coordinator before serving as the program’s vice president of clinical services for 22 years, assuming the role of president and CEO in 2022. He is also the president of the Gift of Life Transplant Foundation, Gift of Life Institute and Gift of Life Howie’s House.

As a respected expert in the field of donation and transplantation, he has lectured for more than 60 organizations and professional societies in the U.S. and internationally, participated in publishing hundreds of scientific papers and abstracts, led collaborations with leading medical centers and shared his knowledge and expertise with government and other national organizations. Under Rick’s leadership, Gift of Life’s Clinical Services team is widely recognized for developing the nation’s best practices in organ and tissue donation. 


Community Leader, Heart Recipient and Gift of Life Volunteer Ambassador

As a heart recipient who is 22 years post-transplant, Earl C. Jones is living testimony to the power of organ donation. He is an active Gift of Life volunteer ambassador who helps promote the importance of organ and tissue donation, advocating for those in need of donation as well as demonstrating the rich, full life possible thanks to transplantation. Earl actively works to further Gift of Life’s mission, participating in media interviews and special events.


Community Leader, Donor Mom and Gift of Life Volunteer Ambassador

Cynthia London’s son, Sipho, became a donor hero upon his death in 1997, saving the lives of six people. Inspired by Sipho’s dream of becoming a teacher, Cynthia continues to honor her son and his legacy by dedicating herself to educating others about organ donation. Cynthia has spoken at almost every hospital in the area as well as schools and houses of worship and volunteered at every major Gift of Life event. As a valued advisor to Gift of Life for more than 20 years, she has served on the donor program’s Governing Board and currently serves on Gift of Life Howie’s House Advisory Board.


Chief of Staff, Pa. State Representative Regina Young, 185th District

Belinda is the mother of two young men, one of whom received a tissue graft to support the healing process following a sports injury. Belinda has worked in social services for more than a decade, helping children and families as a behavioral specialist and therapeutic consultant. She has proven experience in providing sustainable resources to underserved communities including homeless veterans and seniors in Philadelphia and she looks for effective ways to accomplish goals by helping individuals to empower themselves.


Founder, Freedom Thinkers Academy and Hip-Hop Artist

Kidney Recipient and Donor Dad

Leslie Pridgen, Jr., famously known as Philadelphia Freeway, is a kidney recipient who is five years post-transplant as well as a donor dad. A well-known fixture in Philadelphia and a hip hop icon with more than 20 years in the music industry, Freeway was signed to Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records in 2001 at age 23, reaching the Top 5 on the Billboard 200 at 24, and performing around the country before age 30.

Freeway was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2014 when he was 37. He immediately started dialysis and, in 2019, Freeway received a transplant. In 2020, Freeway’s son Jihad Pridgen died suddenly, and, with the support of his compassionate family, became a donor hero who saved the lives of four people.


Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Director for U.S. Senator Bob Casey

Tia Watson focuses on strategic relationship building and identifying meaningful ways for Sen. Casey to engage with constituents in the region, especially related to Black and brown youth and grassroots organizations. Tia is especially passionate about helping people in communities like the Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia where she grew up. She earned degrees in communications and strategic leadership from Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University respectively and worked for U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass. Tia is skilled at connecting residents to government and community resources. She said, “I look forward to working with Gift of Life to reach deeper into communities to spread awareness and education about the donor program. As an inaugural Community Advisory Board member, I look forward to supporting the board’s growth and engaging young Philadelphians in our efforts.”


CEO, Mash Strategies (Board Facilitator)

Melissa Young is an award-winning communicator with more than a decade of experience in leading communication and marketing strategies that successfully position brands for increased visibility, growth and impact. In February 2020, Melissa committed her robust strategic communications experience in agency, healthcare, and nonprofit settings to create Mash Strategies, a full-service strategic communications and branding company. Since then, Mash Strategies has represented organizations like Penn Medicine, WURD Radio, Gift of Life Donor Program, Philadelphia Police Athletic League, TD Charitable Foundation, The School District of Philadelphia, North Broad Renaissance and others in their strategic communications, community engagement and digital efforts.

Over the next year, Gift of Life plans to expand the board to include young adults, leaders from schools or youth organizations, faith leaders and other key community participants as members.

“Thanks to the generosity of local families, Gift of Life has coordinated the most organ and tissue donations of any OPO in the U.S. Our new Community Advisory Board will help us build on this foundation as we work to provide a second chance at life for all who need it, especially in communities of color,” said Hasz. “Together, we will save more lives and make a positive impact on generations.”

Gift of Life Donor Program, founded in 1974 and headquartered in Philadelphia, is the federally designated organ procurement organization (OPO) for the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. It works with 126 acute care hospitals and 12 transplant centers in its region, as well as hundreds of transplant centers throughout the country, to provide the most comprehensive array of services available in the U.S. to the donation and transplantation community. Thanks to the generosity of its community, Gift of Life has coordinated 14,196 donors and 39,469 organs for transplant, the most of any OPO in the country since the inception of our national donation system in 1988. Overall, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 59,000 organs and more than two million tissue transplants since its founding. One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people, and a tissue donor can improve the lives of about 100 others. For more information or to register, visit donors1.org.

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