Over the last 15 years, much has changed at Health Forward Foundation.
On the surface, we have changed locations and names, increased staff, and witnessed leadership changes. At a deeper level, we evolved from traditional grantmaking that primarily provides program support to increase our focus upstream on the social determinants of health and health equity. That led to some changes in the way we do our work evolving from a largely funder and monitoring role to a more engaged role that require collaboration and partnerships.
Leadership changes over the years
At the beginning of 2020, Qiana Thomason joined Health Forward as our third president/CEO, following the tenures of Steve Roling and Dr. Bridget McCandless. Each has brought to our mission and community their unique skills, expertise, approach, and most importantly, their strong commitment. Each has guided Health Forward through major changes at the organizational level and through impactful policy changes in our communities.
Staff growth over the years
I was the first program officer hired by Health Forward (then known as Health Care Foundation) 15 years ago. We have grown from seven associates to now 26.
In those early days, the seven of us would eat lunch at a small conference table in the office at 18th and Prospect. Fewer are the days when we all sit together for lunch and share our work and our lives. Those cozy, modest lunches have been replaced (when we all have time!) by occasional potlucks, birthday celebrations, or afterwork drinks at Union Station.
We are lucky to have an outstanding team. Not only are they experienced in a variety of settings and expertise, they are each true servant leaders who are committed to lifting and empowering others. Hiring additional staff has broadened our capacity throughout the organization — including communications, policy, programs, grantmaking, grants administration, and finance — and in doing so has increased our ability to communicate and connect better internally with our board, the Community Advisory Committee, and externally with stakeholders and grantees.
Location change over the years
When we started out, we were physically located on the second floor of a community college campus in a low-income area that suffered from many of the same challenges our target population have endured, such as food deserts, lack of parks, blight, crime, and more. When the building that housed us was sold, we had only the span of a few months to find an interim location. As you know, we are now in a rented office space that is surrounded by tall office buildings, retail and restaurants. Quite a surprising change from our modest beginnings!
This is, however, a temporary location as we look for a permanent home. It is important to all of us that we find a place in our service area that is close to where those we serve also live, work, and play.
Wherever we land, I hope we as an organization can be a positive presence for the community around us.
Work over the years
When the foundation was first established, most of our grants were more reactive. We provided direct support for programs that benefited organizations and their clients/consumers.
Through the years, the focus of our work and how we fund has continued to evolve, reflecting the changes in the health field. As our focus increasingly turned upstream, the problems that need to be addressed are more complex, often requiring changes to the health system. To shift the conditions and barriers that keep problems in place requires an increase in our investments of multi-sector collaborations; flexible, multi-year funding; and most importantly, input directly from the communities experiencing problems..
Looking forward 15 years
If you had asked me 15 years ago what Health Forward would look like, I could not have imagined where we are today. I am so proud of our work and what we have achieved where we are now and most of all where we are going. I have no doubt that Health Forward will continue to be a leading voice and advocate for achieving health equity, that we will play a critical role driving the conversation on racial equity and working to address health injustices over the next 15 years.
I cannot predict the path we will take to achieve this but I know we will not be alone. The relationships we have nurtured and created are all necessary to address the complex issues that stand in the way of our community’s optimal health.
Editor’s note: Join us for a virtual celebration of our 15th anniversary.