VINELAND — Reimagining the meaning of family, three men who grew up in single-parent households in Newark surpassed the odds and went on to become doctors, authors and motivational speakers.

“Yes, I didn’t grow up in the nuclear family structure, the ideal family structure, but this is my family here,” said Dr. Sampson Davis, one of the trio known collectively as the Three Doctors.

The men were the featured speakers during the Pascale Sykes Foundation’s Working Together for Working Families Conference Thursday at Rowan College of South Jersey — Cumberland campus.

The conference highlighted the foundation’s signature “Whole Family Approach,” which promotes helping families that are struggling by empowering them with outside support to achieve their goals.

“We know through research and data that supporting families holistically is better for the family,” said panelist Marjorie Sims, managing director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute.

The conference was designed to create conversation in making family-centered efforts the new norm in addressing socioeconomic struggles. Keynote speakers also included Lesley Stahl of CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Davis, along with childhood friends Rameck Hunt and George Jenkins, talked about the pact they made in high school to graduate from college and earn medical degrees.

“To think that no one in my immediate family ever went to college, to take the plunge and to take it with your best friends took away a lot of the fear, a lot of our insecurity,” Davis said.

He said it would not have been possible without all the mentors and extended family who helped them along the way.

“Not only did we change our lives, but we changed the dynamic of our family’s lives because we made education that thing,” Davis said.

Jenkins told the crowd inside the Luciano Theatre he was excited and encouraged by what he was experiencing and learning through the Sykes Foundation.

“It’s giving me a lot of hope,” he said. “This is the real work. It’s putting that data to work and trying to find solutions with that data.”

Jenkins said he wishes more people were working together in the same way the Sykes Foundation is working collaboratively to find solutions to socioeconomic and health situations impacting families.

Panelist Elaine Zimmerman, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said she found success over the past three years working with six New England states to bring together representatives from government, business, nonprofits and families to find solutions.

“Having parents in the conversation changes everything,” Zimmerman said. “It probably saved five years of work and moved everything.”

She suggested that when looking to help struggling families find success, it is best to have diversity “in every way possible,” including in ideology and expertise, and to bring together as many stakeholders as possible. She said the solutions also have to reach both children and adults.

“It’s got to be a twofer, or you’re wasting a whole lot of time,” Zimmerman said.

The conference included breakout sessions for attendees to learn about approaching and working with different communities, such as immigrants, using data in building and evaluating approaches, and family-centered mentoring.

In its nearly three decades, the Sykes Foundation, which has offices in Vineland and Red Bank, has dedicated more than $50 million to organizations and people in Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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