“We were looking for places where there’s a strong hope to make change… we see that in each of these communities and we’re excited to be a part of that. And I think it’s so, just, cool to think that we can be there learning alongside them as they figure out how to make this work and how to make their communities healthier.” – Tammy Heinz
Effective nonprofit organizations—changemakers on the front lines—are transformed and guided by their engagement with the communities they serve. A similar concept is true of funders as well: Foundations are most impactful when they listen to and learn alongside their grantseekers and grantees.
Before it’s all said and done the Hogg Foundation’s newest initiative, Collaborative Approaches to Well-Being in Rural Communities, which supports communities in their efforts to transform their own mental health, could radically reshape the foundation’s approach to funding. On this podcast episode, program officers Tammy Heinz and Rick Ybarra talk about what this change could look like, and why it comes none too soon for the cause of mental health in Texas.
Elaborating on the goals of the initiative and its intended impact, Tammy Heinz, program officer and consumer and family liaison for the Hogg Foundation, and Rick Ybarra, program officer, stress what the initiative isn’t as much as what it is:
“One of our goals is really to support communities in developing a stronger sense of social connectedness and supports, stronger sense of family, stronger sense of neighborhood, stronger sense of community. We believe that health starts at home,” said Ybarra. “[This is] very different from our history of funding programs and services.”
“What we want to accomplish is to bring people together in these rural communities, particularly people who have not been to the table, so to speak, prior to this, and people [for whom] often their voices aren’t heard,” said Heinz. “We really want to encourage and support these communities we’ve selected to reach out and find these people, and figure out a way to bring them into the fold.”
The drive to bring more people to the table entails a reciprocal duty to empathetically listen to the challenging conversations that might ensue as a result. People and communities who have been historically excluded may have a lot to get off their chest, and part of a sound collaborative strategy is readying oneself for this kind of dialogue.
“We know there’s a lot of potential barriers, we know there’s a lot of potential tension in communities where we want this to occur,” said Heinz, “and yet we have a lot of hope that by coming together and building collaborations, and really recognizing what the strengths are in each of these communities, that they can…work toward the well-being of the community.”
A Huge Pivot
A collaborative spirit has always been one of the core values of the foundation, but never before has a specific definition of “collaborative” been such an explicit focus of the foundation’s strategy. Ybarra highlights the difference: “Hogg is like most foundations,” said Ybarra. “Grantmaking is really kind of more project- or service-focused – for example, funding integrated health care sites, or funding peer specialists, or training in trauma-informed care, etc. So it’s really project- or initiative-based.” By contrast with that traditional approach, we’re now “making a huge pivot to take our work what we call ‘upstream’, for communities to really examine and address root causes that contribute to health inequities.”
“We want to support communities to convene, to define their own priorities, to create their own success indicators, to implement activities and strategies designed to achieve their goals,” Ybarra added.
What’s also true about this pivot to the upstream is that it demands an openness to relationship-building that takes a foundation beyond the short time horizons of typical grant programs.
“One of the challenges for a lot of foundations who are doing this work is that this work is long-term,” said Ybarra. “These kinds of goals cannot be accomplished in one year or two years or even three years.”
Keeping with the theme of reciprocity and relationship-building, Heinz suggested that program officers, even more so than in the past, will be unabashed in recognizing and celebrating the powerful contribution that these communities make to their own learning—as well as the vulnerability that makes that happen.
“For me personally, as a consumer of mental health services and somebody who is always working on my own recovery, I’m really trying to pay particular attention to my emotional health in all of this because I want to be as open as I can be in each of these environments,” said Heinz.
The initiative is still in its early stages. But the program officers have caught early glimpses of what this unique mix of intellectual curiosity, emotional openness, and programmatic rigor might bring—and are thrilled by what they see.
“We were looking for places where there’s a strong hope to make change… we see that in each of these communities and we’re excited to be a part of that,” said Heinz. “And I think it’s so, just, cool to think that we can be there learning alongside them as they figure out how to make his work and how to make their communities healthier.”
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PODCAST: Understanding Rural Communities
How the unique characteristics of rural communities affect mental health program implementation.