A health care entrepreneur and the first Iraq War veteran to serve in Congress are the latest recipients of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award.
Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy and Rebecca Onie, co-founder and chief executive of Project HEALTH, were honored during a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Monday (Nov. 23).
Murphy served in the Army as a prosecutor and instructor of constitutional law at West Point, but after 9/11 volunteered to deploy, eventually serving as a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division in Bosnia and Iraq.
He described how he thought of his fallen comrades as he took the oath of office as a Democratic congressman in 2006. “I remember feeling a lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes,” he told the audience. “I remember a feeling of determination not to let them down, to honor them, and their sacrifices.”
Murphy said his congressional service has required moral courage, such as his difficult opposition to funding for the Iraq War and his leadership in the fight to repeal the armed services’ “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits openly gay troops from serving.
Rebecca Onie ’98, J.D. ’03, began Project HEALTH when she was a sophomore at Harvard. Her interest in poverty, she told the audience, had led her to work in the housing unit at Boston Legal Services. But she realized that health issues were often to blame for the housing problems she saw.
The nonprofit she created, Project HEALTH, helps to connect low-income clients with the social resources they need to be healthy, such as housing, food, heating oil, child care, and legal advocacy.
“Even though it is well documented … that access to basic resource needs profoundly affects health outcomes, we do not have a health care system that is designed to address those needs,” she said. Project HEALTH’s aspiration, she said, “is to change how health care is delivered in this country.”
Project HEALTH now operates in six cities, where volunteers from colleges and universities serve more than 4,000 families.
“Congressman Murphy and Rebecca Onie are remarkable young leaders who share my father’s belief that one person can make a difference,” said Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and a member of the senior advisory committee of the Institute of Politics.
The award, created in 2004 by the John F. Kennedy Library and the Institute of Politics, honors Americans under age 40 who have made special contributions through public service.
They are named for a term famously used by John F. Kennedy during his acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention to describe his upcoming administration’s progressive aspirations. Recipients of the award receive a ship’s navigational compass in a wooden box, with an inscription from Kennedy’s speech: “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier … I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier.”
Past winners of the award include Wendy Kopp, founder and chief executive of Teach For America, and Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J.