Director of Streetlight program to step down


Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 5:04 p.m.

In her February TEDx talk, Rebecca Brown said death and dying should not be negative things to be left unspoken in society. Now, Brown hopes to spread that vision.

Brown, founder and director of UF Health’s Streetlight program, announced her resignation to the 65 members of the program Wednesday night, after tendering her resignation on Oct. 14.

“This felt like the right time,” Brown said. “I can’t think of a better time when I could leave the program, and it will be excellent.”

Brown said she intends to stay with the program through April to assist in the transition. After leaving the program, she wants to spread her ideas about dying and the need to support critically ill young people, either through writing or bringing similar programs to other hospitals.

“I know there’s interest,” she said. “People as far as New York and Kentucky have expressed that.”

Streetlight, which Brown founded with 17 social entrepreneurship students in 2006, provides support and companionship care to patients aged 13 to 25 with chronic and terminal illnesses. The undergraduate volunteers, most of whom are premedical students, are expected to commit three hours weekly to the program for at least two years.

“These are the doctors of tomorrow, and they’re going to come out of this program with a lot of compassion,” she said. “They’ll be the kind of doctors we really want.”

Noah Andone, 20, a nutritional science junior at UF who joined the program about two and a half years ago, was at the volunteer meeting when Brown announced her resignation.

“I was taken aback, and pretty heartbroken,” he said. “We all just have the utmost respect for her.”

Though the announcement took him by surprise, Andone said it was something he saw coming eventually. Since he joined the program, Andone said he had seen it become more and more self-sufficient, and after years of building it from the ground up, she was had been getting worn out.

“She used the analogy that she used to have to keep blowing on the fire to keep it going, but now it’s going strong by itself.”

Brown’s resignation comes as the program is being fully funded by UF Health. In previous years, Brown said she obtained most of the funding through grants and donations.

Brown, who has a master of divinity degree, compared her departure to the Biblical story of Moses, who led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years but was unable to enter the Promised Land with them.

“I got the wilderness years, so to speak,” she said. “It was fighting for a program to make sure it will get supported.”

Assistant Director Emily Sullivan will take Brown’s place as director. Sullivan joined Streetlight as a volunteer while she was studying criminology and English at UF, staying with the program after graduation.

Sullivan said she felt Brown’s vision has led to the program’s strength, and that she was grateful for everything Brown has given.

“I am privileged to lead this group of committed Streetlight team members to continue offering creative and meaningful support to our adolescent and young adult patients,” she said in an email.

Speaking on behalf of Chairman of Pediatrics Dr. Scott Rivkees and the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, Director of Child Life Services Chris Brown commended Brown for creating a unique program that supports a vulnerable population.

“We are extremely grateful to Rebecca for all she’s done to create, nurture, and build Streetlight,” Brown said.

Rivkees was unavailable to comment.

Brown was director of the Sonlight Youth Choir at Trinity United Methodist Church from 1984 to 2001, when she resigned over differences in philosophy on the direction of the choir.

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