RWJ recognizes Lowell CHC employee's work to expand health access for Southeast Asian immigrants

10-8-09 Feature Story:

PRINCETON, N.J. - The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has named Sonith Peou, program director of the Metta Health Center in Lowell, as a 2009 recipient of the Foundation's Community Health Leaders Award. Sonith is one of 10 national finalists - chosen from among 532 applicants - who received the RWJF honor at a recent ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The Community Health Leaders Award honors exceptional men and women from all over the country who overcome significant obstacles to improve health and health care in their communities. The process seeks to promote the work of these leaders through national exposure and the provision of $125,000 grant-awards.

Peou, who emigrated from Cambodia in 1981, helped to establish the Metta Health Center at Lowell Community Health Center in 2000. Peou designed the facility to look like a clinic in Cambodia, staffing it with native speakers and incorporating elements of Eastern medicine. Today the Metta Health Center provides culturally competent health care services to thousands of Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese in the Greater Lowell area.

"Sonith Peou has triumphed over tragedy in order to provide health care services to disadvantaged immigrants in the United States, many of whom were persecuted in their home countries," said Janice Ford Griffin, national program director for the award.

Lowell Community Health Center CEO Dorcas Grigg-Saito praised Peou, calling him a "born leader" who has risen to become one of the most respected Cambodian-American leaders in Massachusetts and across the country. "Sonith's kindness and compassion create a welcoming atmosphere that engages a truly underserved population in ongoing primary and preventive care and ultimately, better health," Grigg-Saito said.

"I am very grateful for this award, but it would not have been possible without the support and commitment of the Lowell Community Health Center leadership," said Peou. "I hope this award will bring attention to the importance of providing quality health care to immigrants, as good health is the cornerstone to healing and making a better life."

Since 1993, the program has honored more than 160 Community Health Leaders in nearly every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Nominations can be submitted for the 2010 Community Health Leaders Award through October 15, 2009. For details on how to submit a nomination, including eligibility requirements and selection criteria, visit


CHI Spotlight