Health Forward’s Brenda Calvin celebrates 10 years, takes inspiration from community


I’m not sure if it is good or bad that I was surprised by the call for a blog to reflect on my 10 years at Health Forward, or that I had to be reminded of my actual anniversary date.

It is ironic that 10 years has gone by so quickly while 2020 has felt endless.

When I started at Health Forward in 2010, I never imagined that our communities would be facing some of the challenges related to the pandemic and race-related violence against people of color. It is both disheartening and a call to action to be steadfast in the fight for change. And, I will!

The demands for justice that we’re seeing take place across locations in our service area are the same uplifting expressions of humanity that I have witnessed from our community through my tenure with Health Forward.

I am encouraged by the deepened commitment to our common humanity by people from all walks of life, the fearless advocacy and added protests of many that have been silent in the past, and the creative and lasting solutions that have evolved from this season of hardship.

While the messages of support and actions during the local protests over the past few weeks are encouraging, I cannot say I’m entirely surprised by the response. The demands for justice that we’re seeing take place in many locations in our service area are the same uplifting expressions of humanity that I have witnessed from our community through my tenure with Health Forward.

It is this courage, fortitude, and ingenuity of our community members that has driven me and inspired my work. It is a true privilege to witness the countless kindnesses of our partners and grantees.

This tangible form of the region’s philanthropy and creativity is also evident in the dramatic outcomes in the healthy communities field.

As outlined five years ago in our Decade of Difference report: we’ve witnessed:

  • A shift from simply educating individuals on healthy habits to embracing a holistic, community-wide approach
  • Urban food opportunities that are bringing healthy food into underserved areas
  • New attitudes toward active lifestyles that brought exercise programs and pedestrian and bicycle pathways to the region
  • The elimination of most indoor smoking

With the energy of leaders in the field, we knew that these outcomes could be even more substantial, so seven years ago we launched the Healthy Communities Leadership Academy to invest in adaptive leadership development for our community partners.

Upon graduation of the current cohort, we will have 100 alumni committed to policy and systems change with the tools, training, and network to individually and collectively impact health equity.  What I didn’t anticipate is the personal benefit that I would gain from developing relationships and learning from the participants. I have certainly gained more than I could have ever given and the reward of seeing the exponential ripple of “paying it forward” throughout the community is PRICELESS.

This year, as our foundation embarks on a journey to define a vision of equity and inclusion, I am grateful for the close relationships I have with my colleagues and the board. I feel confident in the ability of our team to do the transformative work of modeling an equitable approach internally and to build the capacity of our community partners to join us along the way.  

I enjoy learning, and I’m certain that the dynamic nature of this work will continue to challenge me. I will keep plugging away to, hopefully, leave the foundation and our community a little better than I found it.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve this wonderful community full of champions, which makes even the hardest days worthwhile. Thank you to our partners and grantees who tirelessly care for our communities. I look forward to many more years of inspiration.