Chair & CEO
Looking back over notes and reflections from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when REACH leadership was quickly trying to determine our hyper-local role in a global health care crisis, one word came to mind—Extraordinary.
Extraordinary confusion, grief and loss. Extraordinary pain, hatred and reckoning. Extraordinary challenges, changes and adaptations.
But even with all of the change and uncertainty, our team at REACH was struck by the extraordinary resolve of seemingly ordinary people—health care providers, first responders, mental health counselors, advocates, young people, older people, Black, Brown and Asian people and others—to meet head-on two of the most challenging events of our generation—a global pandemic and the confluence of a series of racial injustices that put a harsh spotlight on the pain of unaddressed historical racism in the United States.
Like nearly everyone, our organization struggled to find its footing in the spring of 2020. Thanks to a supportive board of directors and experienced staff, it didn’t take long to figure out that the foundation could play a role in addressing the challenges before us by leaning into what we do best—acting as partners, conveners, listeners and learners.
For more than 15 years, the REACH Foundation has provided general operating support to more than two dozen health and mental health safety net and advocacy partners in our service area. These core partners were among the first to grasp the operational and staffing challenges the nonprofit sector would soon face as well as the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 virus on their vulnerable patients, clients and staff who would be further challenged to protect their health and support their families. REACH honored their rapid assessment of these incoming needs by issuing more than $1 million in funding to those core partners best positioned to respond to the pandemic. One year later, our team is still awestruck at the resilience and capabilities these organizations showed during a difficult and frightening time.
REACH allocated $1.4 million in unrestricted grants to support COVID-19 pandemic-related needs.
One positive effect of the health crisis was the collaboration and responsiveness shown by business, private donors and philanthropy, which swiftly joined forces to launch one of the largest pooled relief funds in Kansas City’s history—the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund housed at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and led by the Mid-America Regional Council, United Way of Greater Kansas City and Local Initiatives Support Corporation. The fund quickly collected more than $10 million in contributions and has since awarded more than 300 grants totaling $17 million dollars to support housing, health care, social services, emergency relief and economic assistance nonprofits across the region. REACH was proud to be a founding investor in this regional fund and contribute the time and energy of our staff to multiple, community-based pandemic response efforts.
“The COVID-19 pandemic affected nearly every corner of the REACH Foundation’s six-county service area. As our health, behavioral health and advocacy partners pivoted to meet the needs of their clients, the REACH team streamlined its grantmaking to provide the rapid financial assistance these partners needed. I’m proud of our efforts to support the region’s response and recovery during this challenging period.”
– Jon Marshall, REACH Board Chair
The pandemic has shown all of us the willingness and capacity of institutions to set aside outmoded rules, protocols and practices to answer urgent needs in an unpredictable time. Never prone to ascribe to the idea of business-as-usual, the REACH board and staff examined our own grantmaking requirements to get to the essentials of what we needed to change, and quickly, in order to accelerate grantmaking support to partners with whom we’ve worked for years. Many, if not most, of those changes will be incorporated into our practices going forward.
In reflecting on the community partners REACH has engaged with over the course of our 2016-2020 Community Investment Framework, as well as earlier versions, it was clear there were leaders and organizations missing from our portfolio. Although REACH’s strategic focus on health equity had fueled multiple investments in immigrant and refugee-serving programs and organizations over the prior four years, the public calls for racial justice tied to violence against Black men and women gave urgency to our launch of Centering Black Voices in 2020. This capacity and leadership initiative focuses on Black-led and Black-serving organizations working on key social determinants of health, through unrestricted grant support and strategic technical assistance. One of our visionary team members, our newly named Vice President of Programs Carla Gibson, guided development of this new effort following two years of earlier planning. Six Black-led organizations received $20,000 grants in 2020.
While we missed opportunities to gather in person, we continued to use the foundation’s platform to educate the business community and connect that sector to the public health system. We led early and vocally about the long-term risks to our economic recovery of not taking COVID-19 testing and vaccinations seriously. We advocated for more public health funding of critically under-resourced systems in Kansas and Missouri. We helped inform and allocate local and state CARES Act funding investments. And we kept our foot on the pedal for Medicaid expansion in both Kansas and Missouri, supporting coalition work, voter engagement strategies, and communications campaigns in both states. Although elected leaders maintained their opposition to expansion, we saw continued growth in public support for this common sense and cost-effective health policy. So, this work continues.
Finally, given the stress and pain of the challenges and losses people and our own REACH family faced, our team worked to give encouragement to our nonprofit partners and to one another. It was, as already stated, an extraordinary year. Not because of what REACH did, but because of what our people—board members, colleagues and allies—did to demonstrate resiliency and resolve to move our community through the pandemic and into a new year where we will all continue to put what we learned to good use.
CARES ACT FUNDING ROLE
In 2020, the REACH Foundation accepted a unique community role serving as an intermediary for Johnson County (KS) Government to award CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds to nonprofit or government organizations that provided mental health, behavioral health, substance misuse or abuse services to vulnerable Johnson County residents. An application process was established, and nine organizations were awarded CARES Act funding for a total of $160,455.