By Daniel Casciato

As the largest not-for-profit grantmaking organization dedicated solely to health in South Florida, the Health Foundation of South Florida has been working to make the region a healthier place for all residents within Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. The Foundation’s grantmaking approach facilitates and supports efforts at the neighborhood, county and regional levels to improve the health status of underserved individuals and families.

Health Foundation of South Florida’s roots trace back to 1960 when Cedars Medical Center of Miami (now University of Miami Hospital) was founded as a charitable hospital. It became a grantmaking foundation in 1993, when majority interest of the hospital was sold to Columbia /HCA Corporation. More than 120 million grantmaking dollars since its inception, Health Foundation continues to work with strong networks of leaders who share their focus on helping people live healthier lives.

“It’s important for us to help create a culture of health that will penetrate the entire population,” says Steven Marcus, President and CEO for Health Foundation of South Florida. “We all need to educate individuals in our community to take responsibility for their own health so they can become literate on the subject and what contributes to good health. In particular, health professionals and health providers need to work hard to support people from illness and treat them in a way that creates health and wellness.”

To further improve the health of residents and communities, Health Foundation recently revised its grant application process to offer a more innovative community engagement format with even greater opportunities for nonprofit organizations working to improve health. Funding opportunities are now available on an ongoing basis. Previously, there were two grant cycles per year in which nonprofit organizations could submit a concept paper and a preliminary proposal for a health-related project to the Foundation.

“We’ve changed the paradigm so at any point during the year you can submit a concept paper,” says Peter Wood, Vice President of Programs and Community Investments for the Health Foundation of South Florida. In addition, Wood notes that when applicants are developing their projects, they will now have the guidance and support of the Foundation’s program staff to discuss the project prior to final submission.

“This new process will allow us to assign a staff person to sit down with the applicant and talk about what will be the keys to success,” he explains. “In essence, it’s a collaborative effort to help develop the project. The goal is to produce a product that hopefully will be stronger and will benefit from input from this interactive and collaborative process.”

This collaborative mindset is an aspiration Health Foundation strives to achieve, according to Marcus. “Our foundation makes collaboration a priority whether it’s with an individual or any of the nonprofit provider agencies we work with,” he says.

For example, Marcus cites Health Foundation of South Florida’s Live Healthy Community Partnerships which targets the improvement of community health policies and systems such as access to healthy foods, nutrition and physical activity in schools, safe streets for all users and safe and convenient places to exercise. The Foundation believes that your economic, social and physical environments can have a much greater impact on your health. With that in mind, greater emphasis is being placed on enabling neighborhoods to promote health.

In 2014, $7.5 million was allocated to the City of Miami Gardens and the neighborhood of Little Havana as part of the Foundation’s Live Healthy Community Partnerships initiative to reduce poor health outcomes by engaging community residents to improve selected public health indicators.

“Pete and I regularly visit the mayor of the city of Miami and elected officials of the City of Miami Gardens to report on the initiative and what improvements we can make,” says Marcus. “We’re constantly seeking feedback as to how the Foundation is doing as we engage in these initiatives because we believe in a very collaborative process between Health Foundation and the organizations we work with.”

If you’d like to work with Health Foundation of South Florida and have an idea for a health-related initiative or project and want to pitch a concept paper or proposal, Wood recommends to be sure to convey the importance of sustainable change.

“We encourage you to think about the long-term impact of whatever changes you’re proposing,” he says. “In addition, think about how we can work together as a community to ensure that there is a long-term impact of whatever you want to initiate.”

Marcus adds that the Foundation is not looking just to create programs, fund them for a couple of years and then have them go away. “Our Board of Directors strives to embed change in what we do in each initiative so we can ultimately improve health in the communities we’re working with.”