“Creating Compassionate Communities:
Leadership, Spirituality, and Wholistic Care”


Spring Symposium (Hybrid)
Drew University, University of Humanistic Studies (UHS), and Atlantic Health System as a model for integrating community needs and feedback to the specialized care across the life span.

Organized and Sponsored by
Drew’s Medical & Health Humanities, Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, Drew Theological School, University of Humanistic Studies, Atlantic Health System.

Background and Purpose

Across 19 countries in Europe, the Americas, and Asia-Pacific, hundreds of “compassionate communities” have flourished, forging connections between lay community members and professional healthcare networks. This movement has even led to the designation of some cities as “compassionate cities. These communities center around collective compassion as a social model of care, akin to a form of social capital. Originally rooted in a health promotion approach to palliative care, they aimed to foster solidarity among community members around end-of-life care. This upcoming one-day symposium, followed by a site-visit for a selected group, expands the vision of compassionate communities to a broader public health realm, exploring their potential and challenges in promoting well-being across the lifespan. 

While the approach has been embraced by many, further evidence and research are needed. For instance, merging formal and informal care networks can be complex, and the practice of compassion may seem challenging in today’s world. This symposium will delve into these issues and others and look through an interdisciplinary lens. We welcome diverse perspectives, including those from the ethics, religion, humanities and the arts.

To facilitate learning, attendees will receive a pre-event package containing a textbook with best practices and academic readings. A pre-participation survey will gauge their interest and perspectives.

The event aims to:

Contribute to our knowledge about the public health concept and practice of compassionate communities. These communities are designed as nurturing environments where individuals, informal and formal networks, and institutions aim to collaborate effectively to enhance the well-being and circumstances of those navigating serious illness, trauma, loss, or dying across the lifespan. We will explore topics of leadership, spirituality, and wholistic care. For example: What view of leadership fosters compassionate communities? What do professionals need to know about the spirituality of palliative care? What is compassion and how does it relate to wholistic care? Also, as caring responsibilities vary: What does being a ‘good’ citizen mean in the context of the concept of compassionate community?

The Schedule

Tuesday, March 19
Moderated by Kenneth Ngwa and Merel Visse

9:00 – Doors open
9:30 – 9:45 – Opening by Drew Theological School Dean Edwin David Aponte
9:45-10:15 – Joke van Saane, Rector and President of the Board, Professor of Meaning and Leadership, University of Humanistic Studies. The Paradoxes of Compassionate Leadership.
10:15-10:45 – Yvette Vieira and Cindi Orsini. How Compassionate Communities Emerge: An introduction to different concepts of compassionate communities across the world and how citizens can contribute and co-create. Yvette Vieira is Senior Manager, Palliative Care and Healthcare Ethics, Atlantic Health System and Cindi Orsini, Doctoral Student, Medical & Health Humanities
10:45-11:15 – Break
11:15-12:15 – Rev. David Brawley, Lead Pastor at St. Paul Community Baptist Church, Brooklyn, New York
12:30-1:30 – Lunch, Mead Hall
1:30-2 – Carlo Leget, Head and Professor Care Ethics Chair and Director Research, University of Humanistic Studies. Founder Center for Grief and Existential Values. Navigating Loss and Grief Across the Lifespan: an Interdisciplinary Perspective.
2-2:30 – Jonathan Golden, Director of the Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict (CRCC) at Drew University, Associate Teaching Professor in Religious Studies, Drew Theological School
3-3:30 – Break with drums and poetry
3:30-4 – Case 1: Atlantic Health System: Palliative Care Advisory Board team Overlook Medical Center.
4-4:30 – Case 2: Pat Weikart on “Abundant Life Under the Healing Tree.” Pat Weikart, former parish pastor and palliative care chaplain at Nemours Children’s Health in Wilmington, Delaware, is the Director of the Healing Tree a non-profit that supports pediatric patients and their families who are managing sickle cell disease.
4:30-5 – Closing Discussion
5-5:30 – Reception