Denise Johnson, MSW, Penn Trauma Violence Recovery Program manager
Denise Johnson, MSW, splits her time between two roles supporting Penn’s gun violence prevention efforts as program manager for both the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center-based Penn Trauma Violence Recovery Program (PTVRP) – which supports survivors of violent crime beginning while they’re still in the hospital – and the new Penn Community Violence Prevention (PCVP) team, which does street-based outreach. The two programs are part of Penn’s Community Violence Intervention Hub, a team of clinicians, administrators, researchers, practitioners, and activists working together to address the city’s gun violence epidemic, under the umbrella of the Penn Injury Science Center.
At PPMC, Johnson supervises the hospital-based violence intervention specialist team (currently a team of one but soon to expand to four, thanks to a recent state grant) to support patients with violent injuries, both at the bedside and after discharge. Outside the hospital, Johnson manages a team of street outreach workers in West and Southwest Philadelphia working to prevent youth and young adult violence from happening in the first place.
In addition to managing the outreach teams, Johnson frequently joins them in their intervention work. We asked Johnson about her job and what motivates her:
What are some specific ways that your teams are addressing gun violence?
Our hospital-based violence recovery specialist, Rodney Babb, MSW(C), meets with survivors of gun violence when they’re at PPMC and stays connected with them after discharge, providing both emotional support and connections to various resources (education, employment, etc.), depending on their individual needs and goals. Our street team does similar work, but they’re based in the 19143 zip code, canvasing neighborhoods Monday through Friday – especially in areas where there have been recent shootings – to let community members know about our program.
The street team also does what we call “violence interruption,” providing conflict mediation to prevent disagreements from escalating. It could be for two individuals who were involved in a verbal disagreement; or it could be community members who have conflicts based off their street behavior.
What inspires you most in your work?
At the risk of sounding corny, part of my lifelong mission is to only take positions that benefit people in need. I have to find purpose in my life, so doing this type of work goes beyond getting a paycheck. I feel that what we do as individuals, directly or indirectly, always affects people. By choosing jobs that impact people in a positive way, it adds personal meaning and fulfillment to my life.
Can you share something from your life or work experience that helps you in this role?
I grew up in a family of 10 children in the inner city and had exposure to violence. I also knew people who chose the wrong path. My journey has included some experiences that made me want to always be a good influence on someone in recovery. When I say recovery, I don’t just mean from addiction, but in the sense of making better choices. I’ve seen up close the effects of making poor choices and that’s given me the motivation to stay on the right path.
How can staff support Penn’s community violence prevention efforts?
We want to provide a better community for everyone. We welcome other people to join us, whether that means manning a table or helping with cleanup when we host a community outreach event; inviting us to present to your team or a community group that you work with; volunteering in your area of expertise or interest, such as leading a youth team sport or teaching basic first aid; or helping us build relationships with high-risk people in the neighborhoods we serve.
Two outreach workers with the community violence prevention program — Andre Ali Martin and Elijah Tadlock — recently shared their personal stories with the Penn Medicine Listening Lab. Listen to them here:
To Give Them Hope
A Second Chance