10 Years of Health Forward: Reflections on the Beginning

In 2015, Health Forward is celebrating 10 years of grantmaking. Each month, the Local Health Buzz blog will feature a guest post from a current or former Health Forward Board of Director, Associate or Community Advisory Committee member to look back on the past 10 years at Health Forward.

By Dr. Harry Jonas, Inaugural Chair of the Health Forward Board of Directors

It’s hard to believe that next month marks the 10-year anniversary of our first grant at the Health Forward Foundation.

I feel very blessed when I reflect on the flurry of activities 10 years ago. These are just a few memories of that very busy time spent building and shaping the Foundation.

Being selected to Health Forward’s inaugural board to serve with such a distinguished group of leaders was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my long professional career.

With a board full of talented individuals and diverse backgrounds, just finding the time to meet could have been a challenge, but it wasn’t for us. We were all so committed to the mission of Health Forward.

In the year leading up to our first grant, Program and Grants Committee Chair Mary Lou Jaramillo and her team spent endless hours reading needs assessments and compiling funding priorities and grant guidelines.

With her committee hard at work, we then hired Steve Roling in October 2004 as our first president/CEO and gave him the goal of hiring staff, putting together policies and procedures and getting our first grant out the door by June.

While a tall task, we knew we had the right guy for the job. Steve has such a presence in our community. He recruited our foundation staff, which is the most experienced, knowledgeable and able of any group of people I have known.

Before the grant guidelines were in place, the Foundation was presented an opportunity we could not refuse — to support a ballot initiative to renew the health levy in Kansas City, Mo. Over the years the health levy has been a key feature of Kansas City, providing access to good health care for the less advantaged. So on Feb. 17, 2005, the Health Forward Board of Directors awarded its first-ever grant in the amount of $25,000 to support the health levy campaign. The health levy passed substantially. That $25,000 investment helped to leverage over $13 million in care for the uninsured in Kansas City each year — a commitment that continues to this day.

After settling on three Foundation Defined Grants emphasis areas of safety net health care, mental health care and healthy lifestyles, we began writing and developing Requests for Proposals. The next month, Health Forward held its first pre-proposal conference to announce its Safety Net funding. The conference was attended by over 300 people. And while we were pleased with the level of interest, we were also a little terrified about the task before us.

In total, 112 agencies applied for over $13 million in Safety Net grants. And in June the board was proud to award 36 grants totaling over $3.3 million. That year we also awarded $2.4 million in Healthy Lifestyles grants and over $783,000 in applicant defined grants.

Those early days were fun. They were also hard work and challenging, to be sure. It isn’t easy to come onto the scene as a brand-new foundation, bringing sizable financial resources into the community. When I look back, I am obviously so proud to have been part of an organization that has awarded nearly $200 million in our first 10 years of grantmaking. But I feel our greatest accomplishment is in how we have awarded our grants — the process we have followed; the fairness we have used in allocating our monies and the way that our board, the CAC and our associates have worked together with other funders, nonprofit organizations and community partners to bring about positive results for our community.

So to conclude my trip down memory lane, I want to say happy birthday to Health Forward and thank you to all the board, staff, and leadership for being such a happy and productive family, and for being such an important and successful effort to improve the health care in our community.

Health Forward

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006