Reflections on Passing the Baton

As a longtime resident of High Point, I am so proud to live in such a generous and vibrant community—with caring residents who are invested in improving living conditions, quality of life, and fueling economic development and job growth. 

When we launched the Foundation for a Healthy High Point (FHHP) in 2013, I served on the hospital’s Board as it was sold and merged with UNC, resulting in a $50 million endowment to be deployed to improve the health of our citizens. We had many decisions to make and lots of folks helping us shape the organization as a strategic grantmaker. 

Through thoughtful consideration of community health assessments, dialogue with seasoned health funders, and a friendly debate between board members, we set out to tackle complex issues such as behavioral health, teen pregnancy, and early childhood development. 

Less than a year after joining the organization, as a board member I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Southeast Council of Foundations, an association of philanthropies whose resources are committed to the South. The experience enabled me to hear ideas from experts and leaders of other health legacy foundations like FHHP that were investing in transformative change to achieve better health outcomes. We also discussed best practices, such as using data to measure progress and guide decisions. Clearly, we were not alone in the grantmaking choices we made.

Interestingly, the day after I returned from the conference, the local newspaper headlines revealed that High Point was number two in the country for food insecurity. This shocked me to realize that just down the road from where I live and work: people are hungry, have a much shorter life expectancy, and lack access to education, transportation, work, and healthcare. Why is it that as our city sees vital improvements, some neighborhoods experience slower progress? I realized that we had to do more than address workforce development and education. We had to build pathways for those that historically lacked family and social support, needed health care access, and lived in substandard physical environments.

With regional collaboration and thanks to our partners from the non-profit, public, and private sectors, the Foundation has made progress across this broad agenda. Our grants have been strategic and targeted. For example, we:

  • invested in building the capacity of nonprofits to enable them to increase their impact—underwriting start-up costs, board training, new staff positions, interns, and more;
  • helped to launch and expand health and human services to fill gaps that the government and private sector do not address—such as grants to extend programs so more members of the community can benefit;
  • contributed to county-wide efforts to make sure every child has an opportunity to thrive and has everything needed to be emotionally and physically ready for school and life;
  • supported coordinated care among our mental and behavioral health providers; and
  • funded health care services for our vulnerable teens and programs to prevent teen pregnancies.

With my perspective as a businesswoman working in commercial banking, I especially value how effective our board members have been as stewards of the Foundation’s original legacy and the added funds from the subsequent merger with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. In partnership with mission-driven investment teams, the Board’s finance and investment committee has grown the endowment to more than $60 million. Empowered by these resources, the Foundation will provide benefits for our community for generations to come.

We have also grown in the sophistication with which we deploy these funds. We were not having the same conversation we have today about social and economic inequities and mobility out of poverty when we began. Over my career, I have mentored women in the financial field and examined where opportunity was lacking. I recognize how being inclusive of differences achieves better outcomes. Strategic grantmaking encourages inclusion, addresses entrenched problems, and promotes change in behavior and attitudes.

Our Foundation staff talks about opportunities for meaningful change using an “upstream” and “downstream” parable, which is another way of saying, “let’s try to eliminate the source of a problem.” Right now, the Foundation is doing the necessary research to craft an updated strategic direction that will address those “upstream” conditions into which people are born, and where they live, work, and play. I’m hopeful about the future, as we evolve our funding to dismantle more barriers to good health. 

Finally, I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve my community with the Foundation for a Healthy High Point—from its inception almost 10 years ago to serving as Board chair for the past two years. I’m thankful to have worked alongside my fellow Board members who have carefully grown the Foundation’s assets into a permanent resource to fuel sustainable change. As I reflect on the progress we’ve made, I appreciate our thoughtful partners in the business, healthcare, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors who’ve stepped up to address local and regional needs.

Where do we go from here? What do we need to do to help our community thrive? A person’s quality of life depends on access to good health care, affordable housing, adequate and healthy food, employment, transportation, and safety. To meet those needs we must work on the “upstream” issues of poverty and social inequity. As I learned at the Southeast Council of Foundations last month, we must be careful not to assume what our constituents need. We must be a servant, meeting them at their table, while intently listening to how best we can serve. 

I’m excited about the possibilities for FHHP to partner with local, regional, and state funders to leverage our funds and exponentially increase our impact.

I’m happy to pass the baton to my colleagues on the Board, and I challenge them to continue to support best practices and innovations that keep our community moving forward.

Leah Penry Price, outgoing board chair of the Foundation for a Healthy High Point, has been a long-time leader in High Point. She has worked as a commercial banker for 35 years and is passionate about furthering economic development in High Point through the creation of jobs. Among her various volunteer commitments, Leah is an active board member of the High Point Economic Development Corporation (Past Chair), Wake Forest Baptist Health – High Point Medical Center, Forward High Point, Visit High Point (Past Chair), and the High Point Community Foundation. Leah enjoys playing tennis and golf, reading, painting, and spending time with her husband and four furry babies.

 

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