Reynolds Trust counts on partners to boost health, learning

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem has joined a small but growing number of foundations that are turning to partners from a broad range of disciplines and sectors to give people with little or no income greater opportunities to improve their health and learning.

Nearly two years ago, the Reynolds Trust launched a $100 million, 10-year effort to improve health in 10 to 15 rural North Carolina counties, including some of the poorest in the state.

Known as “Healthy Places NC,” the effort is rooted in the idea that state and national partners and “best practices,” as well as local partners in addition to those in the health field, are critical to creating community-based strategies that are geared to individual communities and more likely to succeed.

“It requires a constellation of partners and evaluation, in state and out of state, to transform community health,” says Allen Smart, director of the Trust’s Health Care Division.

In January, Smart was given the additional job of vice president of programs, overseeing both the Health Care Division, which has a statewide focus, and the Trust’s Poor and Needy Division, which focuses on Forsyth County.

The Health Care Division is responsible for 75 percent of the Trust’s $22 million in annual grantmaking, and the Poor and Needy Division, directed by Joe Crocker, is responsible for the remaining 25 percent.

With $550 million in assets, the Trust is one of the largest philanthropies in the state.

The organizational restructuring is designed to take the strategic approach and lessons from Healthy Places NC and integrate them into the work of the Poor and Needy Division, particularly a new initiative that will focus on preparing children from birth to   age five to enter kindergarten.

Known as “Great Expectations,” the effort aims to enlist partners not just in the field of education but also from throughout the community, including parents, community leaders and those in fields such as health care, social services and child care.

What is needed, Smart says, is “everything that makes a more supportive environment that allows kids to be thriving by the time they go to kindergarten.”

The level of funding both for Healthy Places NC and for Great Expectations will grow for each of the first five years, and then will level off at 50 percent of the annual grantmaking, respectively, for the Health Care and Poor and Needy divisions.

To help integrate into the Poor and Needy Division the strategy of “multi-sectoral stakeholders” that the Health Care Division has developed, the Trust now is looking for a program coordinator to handle a range of key administrative functions for both divisions.

To fill the new position, which replaces a two-year post-graduate fellowship, the Trust is looking for someone with at least 10 years experience.

Critical issues such as health and learning represent complex challenges and require integrated solutions and a broad range of perspectives, Smart says.

For Healthy Places NC, for example, “state and national partners are bringing best-practice work to these communities that either weren’t aware of them or couldn’t afford them,” he says.

The initiative also is “bringing new people into the mix in these partnerships,” he says.

“In health care, we’ve really determined that to improve the health status of a community, institutional stakeholders have to be involved who are not in health care,” he says.

“To improve health care, you can’t just talk about doctors and nurses and the health department and the hospital,” he says. “You also have to talk to the school board and the planning commission, who have a hand in the health of the county.”

Partners from multiple sectors also are important because “your issue is not just owned by the people who work at it every day,” he says. “We’re trying to create community ownership over the larger program.”

Just as many adults are not as healthy as they should be, many children, particularly those who are financially disadvantaged, are not as prepared as they should be to enter kindergarten, Smart says.

The solution is “not just engaging child care, but all sorts of people, such as the housing authority, for example, or the communities those kids are in,” he says. “Multi-sector thinking will definitely be embedded in the Poor and Needy Division as it is in our health care work.”

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