Camden Area Health Education Center chief Carol Wolff retires

Carol Wolff directed the Camden Area Health Education Center.
Carol Wolff directed the Camden Area Health Education Center.
Posted: August 15, 2014

When Carol Wolff took over as the head of the Camden branch of a federally funded community health organization, a disease was making headlines as "gay-related immune deficiency," or "gay cancer."

As HIV and AIDS became better understood, Wolff led her organization, the Camden Area Health Education Center, to establish a clean-needle exchange, group and individual counseling for those with HIV or AIDS, and HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness campaigns.

The community-based mission led the group to create, in 1996, a weekly summertime farmer's market in downtown Camden. A drop-in center now provides a safe space for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender youth, a statewide children's immunization registry was piloted by the group, and a mobile health van brings health screenings and counseling directly into the heart of Camden's neighborhoods.

Wolff, who joined the group in 1982, has retired "with a deep sense of pride and optimism," she said in a letter released Wednesday by the group.

"I have a sense of pride about the many lives that Camden AHEC has connected with to improve the health of the community," she wrote.

Her retirement was effective Aug. 1, according to the letter.

Wolff could not be reached Wednesday.

As part of a federally funded effort across the nation, the New Jersey Area Health Education Centers, the umbrella organization, was established in 1978. The Camden center is one of three in the state, and focuses on the city of Camden and Camden and Burlington Counties.

The center was affiliated with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and now works with Rowan University's School of Osteopathic Medicine, one of UMDNJ's successors. That helps support another of the group's focuses: introducing health care workers - doctors, nurses, social work students - to the city and underserved communities.

"She is always cognizant, always heartfelt about making sure that those who have the least have the services they need the most," said Martha Chavis, who succeeds Wolff as executive director of the Camden center.

Wolff's approach to health, Chavis said, was holistic and community-oriented - a rarity when she began her career. Wolff's mission: "Providing services to minorities and/or the underserved in that region, to make sure there were opportunities for women and minorities to get into health career fields, and to also take on health issues in that community in terms of bringing about a change and/or a difference."

When Wolff heard that some city residents, particularly the elderly and those living in poverty, had vouchers for farmers' markets going unused, she began to ask around about the issue. The core of the problem: The nearest farm stand was in Cherry Hill, a world away for residents without easy access to transportation.

"Carol said, 'What about having a farmers' market here? How can we get that going?' " Chavis said. Wolff assigned Chavis the task of getting a farmstand running, and using it as an opportunity to discuss awareness with residents.

"And, boom, we had a farmers' market," Chavis said.

Chavis, who has spent most of her own career at the center since joining in 1984, said she will miss Wolff's presence as a mentor. But Wolff had left the organization in a good place, she said.

Plus, Chavis said, she won't let Wolff disappear.

"We'll still be calling on her and her wisdom and recommendations," she said.


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220

@elaijuh

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