Hamidah Sharif Harris ’98 is president and CEO of the Thrive Well Company, LLC.

by Valerie Mikell

With her mother a breast cancer survivor and her father living 20 years with HIV, Hamidah Sharif-Harris ‘98, Ed.D., has had a firsthand look at the lifelong marathon that health and wellness can be. The successful entrepreneur, consultant and health education expert is now the president and CEO of the Thrive Well Company, LLC, which assists healthcare providers and employers in determining what employees need to lead healthier lives and provides the tools that produce results.

Beginning with a health assessment—a very detailed, comprehensive and lengthy process—Dr. Sharif-Harris and her team evaluate employee medical claims and examine employee social patterns, determining how these are affected by cultural and economic environments. In the everyday choices that an employee makes, no matter how routine they might seem, Dr. Sharif- Harris gains more insight. She might ask: Do you take the stairs or the elevator at your workplace? How often do you make a trip to the vending machine? Do you order lunch every day and, if so, what types of foods are on your takeout menu?

After an assessment, Thrive Well creates wellness campaigns from beginning to end, from conducting focus groups and producing the marketing materials and informational brochures, to publicizing and hosting on-site wellness events. “We’ve been told we make wellness taste like chocolate, and I love that,” Dr. Sharif-Harris says. But her journey to helping others help themselves has not been as sweet.

As a teen in Harlem, New York, she helped her best friend through a pregnancy that remained a secret to everyone else for seven months. “I remember sneaking her pieces of fruit and consulting my stepfather’s [an obstetrician] medical school textbooks to find ways to keep her healthy,” she says. Luckily, her friend delivered a healthy baby, but the experience cemented Dr. Sharif-Harris’ desire to one day be an advocate for pregnant teens.

When Dr. Sharif-Harris came to Adelphi as a General Studies student, she intended to study biology and pre-med, but found that the social sciences were her calling. She eventually switched tracks and earned a social science degree through the ABLE program (now University College) while working full time.

Her career in health and wellness began upon her return to New York City—to help her mother face a breast cancer diagnosis—to serve as health educator at the Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership Inc. “I had to think of ways to take healthcare into the community to address such issues as HIV prevention, family planning and to expand peer education programs,” she says. And she came face to face with the magnitude of her work on one regular workday morning when she stumbled on the unthinkable in the hallway—a healthy newborn baby stuffed in a leather bag, nearly locked away in a storage closet by a co-worker. The anxiety remains fresh. “I still get very upset thinking about it. I will never forget how disturbing it was,” Dr. Sharif-Harris says.

After making her mark in Harlem, she ventured to Virginia to work for Cigna Health, one of the first HMOs to institute a health education program. The Loudoun County Government and Loudoun County Public Schools Employee Wellness Programs she put in place have won numerous awards, including the American Heart Association Platinum Achievement Award many times over. She went on to earn her doctorate in health education from Columbia University and opened her consulting business, which has secured several large clients. Today, Thrive Well has 15 employees in two locations.

But in November 2012, Dr. Sharif-Harris’ world came crashing down. Her best friend, sister-in-law and Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister, Shaquana Anderson ’97, passed away suddenly and seemingly without cause. “My world changed. We moved into the dorm together freshman year and had been inseparable ever since. She encouraged me to reach further and had so much confidence in me.” Ms. Anderson made such a great impact on Dr. Sharif-Harris and many of her other Adelphi peers that “it seemed like every student we’d ever met at Adelphi was at her funeral,” Dr. Sharif-Harris recalls.

In spite of this devastating loss, the wife and mother of three’s strong faith and warm spirit keep her looking forward. Acknowledging the significant role Adelphi has played in her life, Dr. Sharif-Harris understands why the goals she sets—be it for her health, her family or her career— are fully attainable. “Adelphi gave me my best friend. It gave me confidence. And it gave me the tools I needed to be successful as a leader.”

This piece appeared in the Adelphi University Magazine Fall 2013 edition.

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