Reaching Out for Rural Health: The Story Behind the Healthcare Georgia Foundation's Two Georgias Initiative
Author: Scott Westcott
This year's Annual Meeting was going to feature the presentation of the 2022 Truist Promise Award to the Healthcare Georgia Foundation for its Two Georgias Initiative, a five-year effort to address health inequities in rural Georgia. Due to the meeting's cancellation, our award presentation could not take place. However, we still want to put a spotlight on this incredible work – below is the article about the Two Georgias Initiative that will run in the upcoming issue of our Inspiration magazine, arriving in late December or early January. Congratulations to the Healthcare Georgia Foundation for its inspiring work!
Foundations face daunting challenges when they attempt to improve the health of people living in rural communities.
Communities located far from metro areas often lack ready access to medical care. Many are virtual food deserts and are chronically short on resources and funding for schools, libraries, social services and transportation options.
Healthcare Georgia Foundation in Atlanta identified these challenges and took them head on – in a big and bold way.
In 2017, the foundation launched the Two Georgias Initiative, an ambitious five-year project to identify and address systemic inequities that, in essence, had created two Georgias divided between better- resourced metro areas and often-forgotten rural communities.
The initiative focused on delivering funding and robust resources to support 11 rural Georgia coalitions to address the most vexing challenges within their communities, ranging from the opioid crisis and high incidence of diabetes, to establishing literacy and education efforts and pursuing economic development initiatives.
Now formally concluded, the initiative produced physical results in the form of new health clinics, food banks, basketball courts, fitness trails, and satellite libraries as well as innovative programming to encourage greater health literacy, educational achievement and effective drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
Woven throughout was an emphasis on building a greater awareness and understanding of equity and how long- standing systemic challenges have often further held rural communities back.
Adding to the challenge was the fact that the foundation’s efforts to address rural health equity came at a time of intense change and challenge – a period that included the reckoning on racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Equity was the north star throughout the Initiative,” said Lisa Medellin, Healthcare Georgia Foundation’s director of programs. “Often, programming similar to this can have equity as a side issue or as an extension. We put equity at the center and really leaned in on that – and I think that was hugely beneficial to the communities for their growth on their equity journey.”
In recognition of this groundbreaking work, Philanthropy Southeast recently named Healthcare Georgia Foundation as the winner of the Truist Promise Award. The award, Philanthropy Southeast’s top annual honor, recognizes an initiative or innovative grantmaking strategy or approach that is focused on significant and systemic issues facing the region and the country.
The Power of Place-based Philanthropy and Courageous Leadership
Author: Deanna James
While most Americans probably could not pick My Place out on a world map, St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, actually has national relevance. In addition to being the only predominantly black jurisdiction (under the U.S. flag) without any federal voting rights, my 84 square mile island was once home to the largest oil refinery in the world, based on throughput. It also has the distinction of enduring one of the largest (and quietest) oil spills in American history, to the tune of 43 million gallons that slowly leaked into the island’s largest freshwater aquifer.
Ours is a perfectly coifed narrative, from a perfectly designed playbook wherein the economic development strategies chosen for my community followed the same patterns seen in Gulf states and poor communities around the country – stinky, dangerous refineries, steel mills, and coal mines planted in the poorest, often black and brown communities. Even national philanthropy has disenfranchised our “territory,” relegating us to “other” status, despite the fact that for over 100 years our story has mirrored the same environmentally and racially unjust models that have subjugated poor people and people of color.
All of this historical context is offered to make the case for the power that philanthropy holds to lead differently and courageously at this moment in time when it matters most, and in the places most affected by inequity and injustice. For St. Croix Foundation, serving an isolated community has nurtured a uniquely radical brand of philanthropy and courageous leadership that we hope more in the field will adopt.
Exhibit A: On May 13th, 2021, we hosted a highly charged Community Town Hall on an urgent environmental crisis. In attendance at our virtual convening were residents, nonprofit partners, local regulatory agents as well as federal representatives from the EPA, the CDC and national media. We developed targeted questions that we felt adequately addressed some of the concerns raised by community stakeholders and submitted them to invited guests in advance. Then, we designated a significant timeslot in the agenda to field questions from our audience. It was a powerful forum in true demonstration of one of the most fundamental roles that philanthropy should play in community – that of a neutral apolitical convener.
But we knew we were toeing the line between courageous leadership and controversy. We stepped over that line anyway. Having witnessed the suffering of residents left breathless for months from highly noxious gases wafting through downwind neighborhoods after the restart of an old refinery, we knew we had to act. Yet, even as two releases rained oil onto people’s homes, cars, and into their cisterns (rain catchment systems located under most homes which serve as the primary water source for island residents), we were shocked by how few stepped forward to acknowledge peoples’ pleas for relief or to actively attempt to alleviate their distress.