The Honor Roll: Connecting Orlando’s homeless community with access to lifesaving health screenings

In part seven of the Honor Roll series, Andrew Aboujaoude discusses how he’s mobilizing to help the homeless community of Orlando, one health screening at a time.

Andrew Aboujaoude, a former Biomedical Sciences major at the University of Central Florida and founder of Hearts for the Homeless Orlando. Photo Credit: Nonahood News.

[Editor’s Note: In October, President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton convened the 11th annual CGI University meeting, which brought more than 1,000 student leaders from around the world to advance new Commitments to Action that address climate change, civic engagement, freedom of expression, and other pressing issues facing their generation. CGI U launched the “Honor Roll” to recognize extraordinary CGI U alumni who have made a significant impact through their CGI U Commitments to Action and careers. Our Q&A series highlights these exceptional CGI U alumni.]

Homeless men and women around the country are plagued by overwhelming, seemingly unsurmountable issues every day, from seeking shelter from harsh weather conditions to gaining treatment for long-term health concerns.

One such challenge is the ever-present, increasingly dangerous risk of cardiac disease. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, homeless men between the ages of 45 and 64 are 40–50% more likely than men of comparable age in the general population to die of heart disease, making heart disease the leading cause of death among older homeless men.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida, Andrew Aboujaoude witnessed the sobering realities faced by Orlando’s homeless community firsthand. Armed with an interest in health care and a passion for service, he set off to help Orlando’s homeless by founding a nonprofit, Hearts for the Homeless Orlando. By providing weekly screenings for hypertension and engaging with other projects to keep Orlando’s homeless community safe, Andrew and his team did what they could to engage Orlando’s homeless, giving them hope that they’d succeed in their battles and partners to fight alongside.

Andrew has kept busy since founding Hearts for the Homeless Orlando. Since attending CGI U, he has been awarded with prestigious honors, such as the Resolution Fellowship, Newman Fellowship, and the Henri Landwirth Award. Additionally, he has published work in media outlets across the globe, including Forbes and the Orlando Sentinel. He recently graduated from the University of Central Florida Summa Cum Laude with a Biomedical Sciences major and a Political Science minor, and now, he attends the University of Texas Southwestern, where he continues to serve the homeless community in Dallas. Someday, Andrew hopes to serve our military members and their families as a military physician.

We had the chance to catch up with Andrew and chat more about his inspiring work and determination.

CLINTON FOUNDATION: What was the inspiration behind your CGI U commitment? Why was the topic so important to you?

ANDREW: The inspiration behind our commitment came from the forgotten homeless men and women of Orlando. We were driven to action on one specific day in college when we witnessed a homeless man being ridiculed and attacked by passing people as he spoke to us about his health concerns. This experience lit a fire in our hearts to do something to help the homeless community and prevent people who already face endless problems from being kicked down even further.

In the following months, we saw just how talented the people in our homeless community were. They shared their talents, skills, hopes, and dreams with us, and we grew determined to help them achieve their goals. Due to our interest in health, we founded Hearts for the Homeless Orlando to help prevent cardiac disease, which is the homeless community’s greatest health concern. We hoped to play our part in preventing a problem that so often, unfortunately, condemns homeless people to sickness and despair.

Through our weekly screenings for hypertension at easily-accessible food shares, we helped the homeless develop accurate blood pressure histories and connected the at-risk individuals to free, nearby clinics for diagnosis and medication. This prevention of hypertension helped reduce a risk factor of heart attacks at a very low cost with minimal effort required. Knowing that what we do helps prevent pain, death, and further financial burdens make giving our friends another chance to succeed even more rewarding.

CF: Describe a moment when you first realized your commitment’s impact.

ANDREW: Although we mainly focus on blood pressure screenings, our relationship with the homeless has enabled us to help with other major problems. One such issue involved protecting homeless people during natural disasters. Last year, before Hurricane Irma hit Orlando, we learned that the city did little to warn the homeless to evacuate before the storm. Before the storm came, we worked tirelessly with undergraduate students who refused to evacuate until after they had made sure Orlando’s homeless community was safe.

Later that day, a homeless man approached me with tears in his eyes. He told me how he had asked God to send him saviors that day, and I realized that he thought of me and my team as his saviors. When I think back to that story, I understand how our sacrifice saved the life of someone who will never forget us. Seeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma was sobering. We understood just how many lives we must have saved, and we fully appreciated the inspiring resolve of our fellow undergraduate students to help the homeless. Without our commitment, it is difficult to think about what would have happened to our friends or how many more casualties Orlando’s homeless community would have suffered.

CF: What was the most important lesson from your CGI U experience?

ANDREW: My CGI U experience helped me discover the value of teamwork. People with different ideas and the same passion to serve others came together to create an environment of game-changers. Over the years, I’ve continued to connect with many of the people that I met at the conference. Although this may sound cliché, working with others created opportunities that are greater than I could have ever imagined. They opened the door to new ideas, new expansion locations, and new partnerships that have helped more communities at a higher level than we first envisioned. In a nutshell, CGI U and its community first helps make your vision a reality and then pushes you past the threshold of what you once imagined was possible.

CF: What’s the biggest piece of advice you would you give to college students looking to make their mark on the world while they’re still in school?

ANDREW: No idea that aims to help people is too small or too insignificant. Never let people discourage you from your good intentions. However, understand the reality of situations and modify your vision to ensure long-term success. For example, manage cost-effectiveness for an idea and measure impact to make sure your idea follows through on its intentions.

Finally, never be afraid to compromise on the little things. I have found that it is practically impossible to have the reality of your vision be something you singlehandedly invented and executed without any outside input. Overall, stay determined throughout the process of crafting your commitment and be proud of what you are doing at a young age.

Andrew Aboujaoude and his teammates, Jennifer Carvel and Alexis Ghersi, being honored with a Resolution Project Fellowship at CGI U in 2016. Photo Credit: The Resolution Project

CF: What was your best CGI U moment?

ANDREW: Being selected as a winner of the Resolution Social Venture Challenge at the CGI U 2016 Conference was one of my biggest CGI U moments. It helped my team and I realize that we were one step closer to executing our vision of helping the homeless in Orlando.

Building on the successful model of the Clinton Global Initiative, President Clinton launched the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world.

Each year, CGI U hosts a meeting where students, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. Students create their own Commitments to Action that address issues on campus, in local communities, or around the world. The Honor Roll series features some of CGI U’s most exceptional alumni.

To learn more about CGI U, follow us on Twitter @CGIU or Facebook.

CGI U is a growing network of young leaders who are developing innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.