Editor’s note: Senior program officers Bradford Hart and Shannon Morris celebrated their five-year anniversaries with Health Forward on the same day in late November. To commemorate their anniversary, they discussed their time at Health Forward. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Bradford Hart: Can you believe it has already been five years?
Shannon Morris: It seems like yesterday we were reading our first batch of proposals.
BH: I still look back fondly on our first few months of orientation and learning, and all the time we spent with Rhonda Holman, our former COO, and our friend and colleague Donna Bushur. They remain, two of the most empathetic and kind leaders I’ve ever met. Their respect and admiration for our grantees has guided my work over the past five years.
SM: I agree. It’s impossible to say enough good things about Rhonda and Donna. They are both such wonderful leaders and “teachers” at heart. It was a pleasure to learn from them at the start of our journey into grantmaking.
What has been your favorite part of being a Health Forward associate?
SM: For me, it is about relationships. Externally, I have met a diverse set of individuals and organizations, and I have been fortunate to form relationships with many of them — people and organizations that I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to know and learn from. I am motivated to nurture those relationships and seek to establish many more as I learn so much from them.
But that includes internal relationships, too. Take you for example: I was fortunate to start this journey with someone else. You have been a great sounding board for me. Plus, I like you. I consider you a friend.
BH: I too consider you to be a friend and not just a colleague. Relationships are everything and meeting people in the community is one of the highlights of this job. Our partners have such a range of skills and passions, and it has been rewarding to work with them. It fuels me to continue to do the work of the foundation.
I also echo what you said about internal relationships. Being able to leverage the knowledge of all the other associates is an important aspect of our work, but I also value the conversations we have with each other and the shared experiences so many of us have had. It has been incredibly rewarding to be with so many purpose-driven individuals, with such a diversity of skills and expertise, united together around a mission of improving health.
SM: I agree, the diversity of expertise and skill sets makes Health Forward a great place to work.
What has been the most difficult aspect of the work?
SM: Not having the resources to meet all the community needs. Declinations are not fun. That is for sure.
It goes without saying that 2020 has been a rough year. With that came the cold reminder of how far we have to go as a community — as a country really — and it is easy to get discouraged. However, the resiliency of our partners and our community has also been on full display. And that resiliency has been humbling and inspiring. That keeps me going, even during the most trying times.
BH: I would also echo what you said, sometimes the hardest part of the job is being fully exposed to the amount of need that is in the community. In a year like 2020 realizing how deep many of those disparities and challenges are makes you contemplate the fabric of society and what it means to be a citizen.
Again, I think we see eye to eye on so much – not only having started on the first day together – we’ve shared a passion for trying to make the community a better place and I think the resiliency we’ve seen in the nonprofit space is what makes Kansas City great. I’m not a native of Kansas City and what brought me here, in addition to extended family, was the fact that Kansas City cares about Kansas City. You can feel the momentum that’s been developed around the regional response to COVID-19. I’m excited to leverage this momentum as we move upstream to address things like systemic racism and health injustices that have been exacerbated by everything that has occurred in 2020.
What are you most proud of during your time at Health Forward?
SM: I go back to relationships. I’m proud of the relationships I have established with partners from a vast array of communities and cultural backgrounds. I have and continue to learn so much from the relationships that I have formed over the last five years. This obviously benefits me professionally. But just as much, personally. You cannot help but be influenced by the experiences of others. And quite honestly, that is the point of all this.
BH: I think in general I’m proud of the work the foundation does day in and day out to bring resources to so many organizations that are focused on the region. Personally, I’m proud of some of the changes that we’ve made, always with the grantee in mind, to try to make things more efficient and transparent. We’ve worked to be more responsive and we’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve the grantmaking process. I’m also struck by the realization that there’s much more that can, and will, be done as we strategize about how to use economic inclusion as a tool to address the social determinants of health.
What makes you most excited about the future of Health Forward?
SM: I am excited about the opportunities of further realizing what we can be as a community and the ways Health Forward can be an instrument in realizing that potential. The foundation, like the communities it serves, is ever evolving. Assuming a leadership role in promoting, advocating, and modeling diversity, equity, and inclusion, not only motivates me for the potential of what Health Forward will become and help accomplish, but humbles me in that I am allowed to be associated with this transcendental work moving forward.
BH: I’m excited about a period of transformation as well, but more specifically, our purpose alignment work over the next year. With the focus of increasing our impact, I think we share the same desire to see Health Forward become more than it currently is. The foundation has a rich history and a track record, but we all inherently know that good enough is not good enough. There is so much potential that we know can be unlocked as we move forward with a vision of health equity through economic inclusion. We all want to see more change in the community, more voices lifted, more people included in the conversation.
Thoughts on sharing the last five years as colleagues?
BH: I knew we would be colleagues when we started on the same day together – I didn’t realize that I would make a friend and that we would share so much in terms of a passion to address systemic needs in the community. It has been great to have you as a colleague and friend as we’ve both grown into our roles over the past five years.
SM: I have enjoyed sharing and learning from each other from the very beginning. Our shared experience provided a safe place to be vulnerable – we were going through the same learning process together.