Celebrating Adriana Pecina’s 15th anniversary at Health Forward


Adriana Pecina joined Health Forward when it was a fledgling foundation, and she brought with her a wealth of experience in philanthropy. She has co-led our Healthy Communities initiative for many years, including the Healthy Communities Leadership Academy, which has helped connect and grow leaders across our region. She is passionate, warm, optimistic, and known as an advocate for community-driven change. Adriana is excited to celebrate her “quinceañera” (15-year tenure) at Health Forward on the same week we announced our new purpose and strategies. Here are some of her thoughts on her time at Health Forward. 

Cori: How did you originally get connected with Health Forward?

Adriana: I heard about this new health foundation that was being developed with significant community input. Many community members told me about their engagement and excitement about its creation. We all know that equitable access to high-quality education and health care is the foundation for a thriving family and economy. With this in mind, I, too, began to get excited as I learned that many members of the new foundation’s leadership team and staff were people from my community, and some of them were also fellow colleagues and mentors during our tenure at the Kauffman Foundation.

Cori: What are some of your favorite memories of Health Forward? 

Adriana: Some of my favorite memories are from the early days, when our offices were housed in the Metropolitan Community College’s Pioneer campus, on the corner of 18th and Prospect. We were a small but mighty team committed to eliminating barriers to quality health. We spent a lot of time together, not just working, but sharing our lunchtime and ordering from local food establishments, including food trucks. Some of our grantees shared the building with us, and we would have great check-in meetings on the way in and out of the parking lot.

Over the years we’ve also had many associate outings with our families — tailgating at Kauffman Stadium, and attending Sporting KC soccer games and KC Mavericks hockey just to name a few.

Another fond memory (there are really too many to count) is seeing many causes/concepts come to fruition with our investment and having our site visits to experience the work in action. I have been so blessed and impressed with our community members — these are the most innovative, dedicated leaders committed to a healthier community.   

Cori: How has Health Forward changed during your tenure? 

Adriana: I don’t think of it as “change” as much as our growth and evolution. We’re moving more upstream and addressing the social influencers of health. We are still committed to creating healthy people in healthy communities. We acknowledge that those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions, and I’m excited that we will be working with our communities to find solutions that address the source of the problems.

This will be hard, so it is vital to have the workforce that can make it happen. It’s so comforting that Health Forward’s staff has doubled in size since I joined the team 15 years ago.

I’m honored to work with an amazing group of professionals that truly care about our community and fulfilling our mission. Our staff growth has given us the capacity to partner more with nonprofits and make a larger impact. Especially in this pandemic, health disparities are visibly amplified and outpaced resources, however, each team member is working hard to rise to the challenge.  

Cori: What are you most proud of from your time at Health Forward? 

Adriana: I am most proud of my very first assignment as a program officer at Health Forward Foundation. I championed the HPV initiative that increased HPV vaccination rates among young women (ages 19-26) in our region who did not have health insurance. This was the first and only vaccination that helps protect individuals from getting many different types of cancer that are associated with different HPV strains. Since it was a three-shot series at the time, we worked feverishly with our partners to ensure that we promoted the free vaccine opportunity in a culturally relevant manner across the community, in schools, community centers, and even bathroom stalls at bars and restaurants.  

I’m also very proud of the Cultural Competency Collective that has operated in partnership with other local funders. This effort created a network of cultural competency champions in more than 30 organizations. Additionally, the Healthy Communities Leadership Academy provided adaptive leadership training to 100 change agents in our region. These initiatives both have a positive and lasting impact on our community. 

Cori: Where do you think Health Forward will be 15 years from now? 

Adriana: In 15 years, Health Forward will have been the catalyst in ensuring that systems, policies, and practices throughout our region are equitable and just places that foster economic inclusion. While the work ahead will be a challenge, with community leadership and a vital workforce, we can make change happen.

On Adriana’s 15th anniversary, we also wanted to hear from some of her colleagues. I asked the Health Forward team about Adriana, and this is what I heard:

  • Adriana has such a wealth and depth of experience in all facets of philanthropy, and I learn something new about her experiences and knowledge every time I sit down with her. She greatly cares about Kansas City and has worked her entire career to improve Kansas City as a whole. In addition to all of her professional accomplishments, she is a wonderful mother who is raising children that are creating change and impacting their communities. I feel lucky to get to work with her! 
  • I feel blessed to have her as a friend and colleague. While I know Adriana has a lot of nicknames, at the foundation she is known as “Sunny.” Early on in her tenure it became clear that she always framed things positively. No matter what was occurring, she would always see the silver lining, and encourage others to do the same.
  • She convinced me of the saying, “Thoughts become things.” I used to tease her about it, until after a few years, I realized at some point I had begun believing it. Her positivity is a skill that I greatly admire and have tried to borrow.
  • Adriana has a large and loving family, of which she seems to be the heart. They are boisterous, welcoming, and They. Know. EVERYONE. Everywhere I go, I run into someone who knows Adriana. (Even when I’m traveling outside Kansas City!)
  • There have been so many fun adventures the past 15 years with Adriana. Some of my favorites involve riding tractors, playing frisbee golf, and searching all over Iola, Kansas, for a bike she could pedal. Sunny, your positive attitude, your grace and strength under insurmountable challenges, and your dedication to your community and your family is truly an inspiration to us all. Happy 15th, Adriana!
  • Congrats on 15 years! Your leadership in our organization and in the community is a model for all of us. Well done, not just these last 15 years at Health Forward, but throughout your career. You have helped set a road map for many. They know who they are: the first generation, the immigrant, the young person that needed that helpful hand, the parent that didn’t understand, the grantee and prospective grantee that saw you as more than a program officer, the neighbor that truly saw you as a neighbor. Very well done these past 15 years, and good luck on the things you will do!
  • Adriana is fond of saying, “long story short.” Ironically, her stories are never actually shortened. It’s also a little-known fact that she’s kinda psychic.
  • In her first months on the job, then-CEO, Steve Roling offered her one of his infamous “opportunities”—which was Roling-speak for what’s about to be a boatload of work for you. He asked her to develop and coordinate a large initiative: $2 million to partner with the REACH Foundation and local health departments to provide HPV vaccines to uninsured and underinsured females ages 19-26, to reduce risk of cervical cancer. Adriana graciously accepted the challenged and proceeded to plan and implement the largest initiative the foundation has ever awarded: $2.8M, which provided vaccines over the course of 10 years.
  • Adriana is so warm and such a joy to work with. “Sunny” sees the good in everyone and everything. She has a remarkable gift of finding value in every person and every experience.