girl holding sign stating 'racism is a public health crisis'

Holding Ourselves Accountable: HealthSpark's New Investments to Advance Racial and Social Justice

We know that our actions matter most and that to see this change, we must make deep and sustained investments in communities of color, organizations led by persons of color, and policies and practices that address systemic inequities.

HealthSpark Foundation recognizes its role in advancing racial and social justice opportunities for all people- in both word and action. We understand that the roots of inequity run deep in our society, and we strive, with our philanthropic and community partners, to fully understand our own roles in dismantling structural inequities. Seeking social justice must be integral to our work through the Foundation as well as our interpersonal interactions.

This year, we restated our mission and values statements emphasizing our commitment to addressing racial and social injustices. We hosted a series of listening sessions through our Build Back Better initiative that centered on the need for the Foundation and our community partners to advance equitable policy and practice solutions within the social safety net and prioritized the goal of building capacity for racial and social justice within the safety net system.

However, we know that our actions matter most and that to see this change, we must make deep and sustained investments in communities of color, organizations led by persons of color, and policies and practices that address systemic inequities. Today, we’re humbled to share three new investments that demonstrate our evolving and ongoing commitment to racial equity and social justice.

1. Welcoming Chinwe Onyekere as our new Director of Equity and Inclusion

First, we’re thrilled to announce our immediate past board chair, Chinwe Onyekere, is joining the staff as Director of Equity and Inclusion. Ms. Onyekere will design, develop, and implement a strategic vision for equity and social justice within the foundation and alongside our community partners. Her work will speak to requests from our community partners, board, and staff to add specific expertise within our team to advance this important work, as well as to continue to diversify our staff by age, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, and in other ways.

Ms. Onyekere’s professional experience includes unique competencies in creating and managing programs that have the potential for far-reaching impact on people's health, the quality of care they receive, and the systems that provide that care. “As our Board Chair, Ms. Onyekere was instrumental in advancing the Safety Net Resiliency Initiative investment and now joins the staff to lead our internal learning and nurture our competencies, as well as assist community leaders and organizations in advancing their own racial equity learning and journeys,” said Russell Johnson, President and CEO. 

Ms. Onyekere added, “I am so honored to join HealthSpark Foundation in this exciting and important new role. I am looking forward to working with this wonderful team and Board in the pioneering work to address issues of equity, inclusion, and social justice via philanthropy.” Ms. Onyekere will officially join the staff in January 2021.

2. Investing in equity training throughout the nonprofit sector

Second, building on requests from community partners to provide meaningful and accessible training on equity, HealthSpark is funding a planning grant to the three county nonprofit collaboratives, BuxMont Collaborative, Interagency Council of Norristown, and TriCounty Community Network. This grant supports the design and development of a personal and organizational training curriculum to advance racial and social justice in the nonprofit sector in Montgomery County.

This planning grant will allow the organizations to build an inclusive Advisory Council to guide the planning process, identify training tracks and curriculum, and identify trainers. Their work will encourage opportunities for individual, organizational, and system-level knowledge building and identify concrete opportunities for change. The training program will be open to members of the three collaboratives, which jointly represent almost 200 social services nonprofit organizations in the county.

3. Supporting research to integrate anti-racist policies and practices into housing services

In a continuation of our past work supporting an equity-driven approach to retooling the homeless services sector, HealthSpark awarded grant funding for Your Way Home’s efforts to build a more equitable homeless services intake triage tool. The “Integrating Equity into Your Way Home’s Assessment and Prioritization for Housing Stability Resources” research project will transform Your Way Home's assessment and prioritization processes, resulting in a more equitable and inclusive system for delivering limited housing stability services and subsidies countywide.

In addition to data analysis and a national best practices research scan, the project will incorporate the voices of people with the lived experiences of homelessness and systemic discrimination in addition to those of systems leaders and researchers. The goal of the project is to re-design Your Way Home's Coordinated Entry System to be more culturally responsive, antiracist and to identify new tools to eliminate known disparities in access and that inhibit housing insecure individuals from achieving their desired outcomes.

Our ongoing commitment

These opportunities will help support the Foundation’s efforts to more deeply and meaningful advance an equitable social safety net for all people. While these are only the first steps needed for real change, we are excited by the opportunity to deepen staff and board knowledge and to work with our community partners on creating true opportunities for radical transformation of our social safety net.