Fall in Northern Michigan means crisp air, golden leaves, and, this year, lots of Health Fund staff. With smaller communities that are more spread out, the upper portion of the state faces unique health challenges. Health Fund staff headed north to meet with grantees, learn more about those communities and their challenges, and share information about the foundation and the solutions we hope to be a part of.
In October, program staff from our Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles Initiative covered over 1500 miles in a week. They visited 7 cities and met with a dozen current and prospective partner organizations. They had rich discussions with community foundations, tribal organizations, schools, and other grant partners to learn more about current projects.
For example, staff had the opportunity to stop and see Project Student Gourmet in action. This Alpena-based program trains high school students from ACES Academy to prepare meals from scratch. Once prepared, the meals are then served to—and sometimes critiqued by—residents of the Alpena Senior Center.
Then, in November, staff from our Healthy Aging and Behavioral Health programs headed to the snowy north to talk with partners and prospective partners about upcoming grant opportunities, like the Community Health Impact program that had opened that week. In just four days they visited five cities, visiting grantee sites and meeting with potential partners.
We also used this opportunity to try out a new, more casual type of meeting forum. Dubbed “Caffeine and Conversations,” staff hosted open meetings for local organizations to ask questions, learn about the Health Fund, and connect with other folks working in their field or region. More than 75 people attended five separate events, including representatives from health departments, schools, hospitals, community foundations, and other nonprofits. The participants guided the conversations, allowing us to learn more about the health challenges faced by Northern Michigan communities.
From both trips, key themes across Northern Michigan rose to the surface. First, pasties are best from the north and a morning that starts with golden leaves can end with snow sprinkled trees.
But we also heard about the prevalence of substance abuse and the barriers to providing adequate mental health services, especially in schools. One of those barriers is the lack of a trained workforce to fill existing vacancies, a priority the Health Fund is tackling through our grantmaking. For all the challenges, we also heard how eager people are to work together on lasting solutions.
The Health Fund is invested in the health and well-being of Northern Michigan residents, we recognize that it’s only through our on-the-ground partners that we can have a lasting impact on communities and move the needle on our most pressing health challenges. As we continue to engage with health officials, nonprofit leaders, and community members in the region, we’ll use their feedback to guide our efforts as we continue to work toward a healthier Michigan for all.