Bubbling Up

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Missouri Foundation for Health has designated up to $6 million toward addressing health issues highlighted in the Ferguson Commission’s 2015 report. The Foundation identified six areas of focus to initially engage, including grassroots advocacy; gun violence; juvenile justice/behavioral health; food insecurity; toxic stress and trauma-informed care; and school-based care.

Since the death of Michael Brown, MFH staff have been strategizing on how to be a resource for the region, while focusing on vulnerable populations and improving the health of the communities it serves. Focusing on both racial and health equity, the six areas were chosen based on opportunity for greatest near-term impact on projects that were easily identified and well underway. In mid-May, MFH’s Board of Directors approved the first two grants related to this work: the Regional Health Commission’s (RHC) Alive and Well STL initiative and St. Louis University’s Shut it Down: School to Prison Pipeline project.

Shut it Down, led by Dr. Norm White, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Saint Louis University, was first initiated by Judges Jimmie Edwards and David Mason of the 22nd Circuit Court, in order to address the problem of disproportionate minority contact within the family court. In partnership with St. Louis Public Schools, seven elementary schools were chosen, including Adams, Ashland, Farragut, Herzog, Lyon, Monroe, and Mullanphy, to develop a pilot initiative that will provide professional development to school personnel and assist in identifying systematic and programmatic needs of the students. The seven participating schools serve 2,249 students, most of whom live in neighborhoods that experience racial, social, and economic inequality. More than 500 students were reported by the district as being homeless in 2015.

Prior to the development of Shut it Down, which went into effect during the 2015-2016 school year, Incarnate Word Foundation brought various funders together to commit to a range of funding amounts. Additional funders included Dana Brown Charitable Trust; Deaconess Foundation; Greater St. Louis Community Foundation; St. Louis Mental Health Board; The Saigh Foundation; TRIO Foundation of St. Louis; and Lutheran Foundation.

“The issues identified in the Forward Through Ferguson report deserve our attention,” said Dr. Robert Hughes, MFH president and CEO. “The Foundation has resources to share, and we are committed to building on positive momentum and partnering with others just as we did with SLU,” he added. “It’s important that we take a look at the underlying problems and conditions that may have gotten us to this point as a region and realize that now is the time to dig in and do the long, hard work of developing critical strategies and making progress.”

The other award, Alive and Well STL, aims at reducing the impact that stress and trauma have on one’s wellbeing and health. The RHC Alive and Well awareness media campaign has been circulating for a few years, and the RHC is now planning to move into the learning collaborative phase of the initiative. More recently, there has been an increase in demand for trauma and toxic stress trainings and support by health care providers, schools, and nonprofits all looking to advance trauma-informed practices within their organizations.

“We are truly excited about this work,” said Stacey Easterling, vice president of programs at the Foundation. “The opportunity to respond to the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission and align them with the goals of MFH is vital. The issues we are looking to improve upon are ones we feel directly impact health outcomes for individuals in our region.”

MFH recognizes that its six areas consist of topics that the entire service region is experiencing, not just St. Louis. As this work continues to develop and the staff discovers opportunities, additional health-focused commitments will be made throughout 2016, as these efforts are ongoing and flexible.