2019 HERO AWARD
2006 HUMANITARIAN AWARD
Founder & CEO, Worldwide Orphans
Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Haiti, Serbia, United States and Vietnam
The Orphan Doctor: it’s a title that would seemingly lend itself to a simple and straightforward job description. But the lengths to which Dr. Jane Aronson has gone to solidify herself as one of the leading humanitarians in the field of orphan care has earned her much more than a two-word title. She is a pediatric physician; an academic; a scholar; a teacher; a scientist; a counselor; a cultural and medical expert; a champion for the well-being of children. Jane Aronson is a hero.
After graduating college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Dr. Aronson spent the next 10 years as a school teacher, dean of students and athletic coach, educating herself on the psyche of child development. At the age of 31, she embarked on her lifelong dream of entering medical school to study pediatric medicine and infectious diseases with an emphasis on AIDS medicine as it was first being defined in the early 80s. Dr. Aronson became an advocate for children living with HIV which laid the groundwork for her early global medical work in Ethiopia and Vietnam and sparked a life-long commitment to the care and well-being of orphans.
In the midst of her fellowship at Columbia Presbyterian and after as the chief of pediatric infectious diseases, Dr. Aronson became a direct resource for families looking to adopt. She created the International Adoption Medical Consultation Services at Winthrop-University Hospital on Long Island and was a phone or Skype call away for advice and support. As the need for adoption resources grew, Dr. Aronson began to offer information and presentations to agencies to help families navigate through the process, and in 1992, she launched the very first internet site—OrphanDoctor.com—dedicated to educating families hoping to adopt children both domestically and abroad.
After starting her own private practice in New York City, Dr. Aronson saw the mystery of infectious diseases decline with the development of vaccinations and modern medicine. She realized that the psychosocial issues facing orphaned children were the bigger problem at hand. Going back to her psychology and child development roots, she began traveling the world to study the conditions of orphanages to better understand the needs of children who have been abandoned, which eventually led to the establishment of Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO) in 1997.
Worldwide Orphans transforms the lives of children and communities in need. The organization provides education, medical care, and psychosocial support in local communities so that children can become confident, competent, thriving adults who will change the world around them. Under Dr. Aronson’s leadership and vision, WWO launched their cross-cultural Element of Play® program to change the lives of children and families in communities impacted by the trauma of conflict, disaster and poverty by creating sustainable, positive change. Through developmentally appropriate, expert-curated Toy Libraries and the Element of Play® curriculum, children engage in creative play and experience physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits. These experiences support child development, promote school readiness, and help heal trauma—with the ripple effect of decreasing abuse and neglect in children’s communities.
WWO provides direct services to 8,000 children annually through their Element of Play® programs in Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Haiti, United States and Vietnam. They are currently operating 50 Toy Libraries in libraries, schools, children’s hospitals, food pantries, faith-based centers, rehabilitation centers, child care centers, orphanages, centers for children with disabilities, shelters and refugee integration centers. In 2015, the organization brought their global experience and Element of Play® curriculum back to their own backyard in New York and New Jersey, realizing the issues facing children overseas are no different than here in the United States.
Since Dr. Aronson was originally recognized by World of Children in 2006, WWO has expanded its programming and served more than 130,000 children and adults in 19 countries. She has received overwhelming global recognition for her work, including being named the 2009 Glamour Woman of the Year. In 2018, she was nominated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper as a Champion for Change and traveled alongside Cooper and a CNN production team to show the impact WWO has made in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. She currently sits on the Scientific Advisory Board of World Childhood Foundation founded by Queen Sylvia of Sweden, along with the most esteemed scientists in the world of child psychology, adolescent medicine, child psychiatry and sexual abuse prevention.
In 2013, Dr. Aronson left her private pediatric practice to work with thousands of other dreamers, like her, to pursue her visionary work as CEO of WWO full time. She calls it her “last best job.”