Greenfield family’s volunteerism spans generations

April 24, 2023

Photo: Amy Gray

From Venice Family Clinic’s founding, we have relied on the generosity of volunteers and donors to deliver the quality health care that our patients need and deserve.

We have been fortunate to have the Greenfield family’s commitment to the Clinic over multiple generations. Dr. Sheldon Greenfield volunteered as a clinician throughout the 1970s and 80s at the urging of his UCLA medical school colleague, Clinic founder Dr. Mayer Davidson. And Dr. Greenfield’s daughter, esteemed photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield, has been participating in Venice Family Clinic Art Walk + Auction as an artist and donor over the past two decades.

Laying the foundation for giving back

Dr. Greenfield’s father instilled in him the idea that the work you do should make a positive impact on the world. That’s how he so readily embraced the Clinic’s mission to provide quality health care to people who otherwise couldn’t access or afford it.

Struck by the fact that people living on low incomes didn’t have a local care option for common health complaints, such as back pain, colds and urinary tract infections, Dr. Greenfield felt compelled to help people in the community of Venice, where he lived with his family. What brought it home for him was when his family’s babysitter fell ill.

“It made an indelible impression on me about how difficult it was, not in the abstract but as a practical matter, for people to get medical care when they needed it,” said Dr. Greenfield, who drove the babysitter to the closest public hospital, which was in Torrance.

“Now we have federally qualified health centers all around the country. At the time Venice Family Clinic started, there were no such things. And people didn’t have anywhere to go for affordable health care in the area,” said Dr. Greenfield, who was also involved in fundraising for the fledgling clinic by placing a grant-funded study there, and later, in the development of Venice Art Walk.

Contributing in her own way

Growing up in Venice in the 1970s and 80s, Lauren saw first-hand how income disparities affected her neighborhood. She and her brother would tag along with their father as he provided care to people who had few quality health care options, and one of her first photography projects as a teen was of patients at the Clinic.

“I was just beginning as a photographer, but I figured out in high school that my interest in photography was sociological,” said Lauren, who went on to create Generation Wealth, an award-winning 25-year retrospective exhibition and book that chronicles society’s obsession with wealth and the effects it has on our lives (the international tour began at the Annenberg Space for Photography and included the Louisiana Museum in Denmark). “The economic and racial diversity of Venice really influenced my wanting to comment on the world around me. And so a lot of my work has been about crystallizing and pointing to things that are hiding in plain sight.”

Lauren shows us some of this societal commentary in the two photographs she donated to this year’s auction. Both are from 1995 and depict Las Vegas showgirls – one of whom is the famous Aki – in a cross promotion between the Stardust Hotel and Western Pacific Airlines. The photographs are part of a book and exhibition called Girl Culture, which Lauren described as an exploration of the body and its exhibitionism in modern femininity.

“I love being a part of Venice Art Walk,” Lauren said. “I volunteered for Venice Art Walk when I was a kid, so it has been such an honor to be invited to participate. And so I always give something.”

The Greenfield family has deep roots in the community and has seen it evolve over the past half century. While Dr. Greenfield now lives in Orange County closer to his work at UC Irvine, Lauren and her family continue to live in Venice where she grew up. And now Lauren’s teenage son, Gabriel, is continuing his family’s legacy by volunteering at the Clinic’s free food markets, helping to provide fresh produce to patients and community members.

“The disparities of income are really hard in this community, so Venice Family Clinic has a more important role than ever,” she said. “It feels like the Clinic has been built into this institution that people in the community can really depend on. And nothing’s more important than health care.”