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2021 Reflections

December 16, 2021

For many, the end of the year is a time to get plans in place for what lies ahead. While we value this pursuit, it is also important to pause and take stock of the year that’s passed. And because our work is greatly influenced by, and has bearing on, our partners, grantees, and friends, we are taking this opportunity to share these reflections with you.

As hard as it is for us to believe, this year marked the start of our third decade as a foundation. While this was a chapter in our history that we looked forward to turning the page toward, like most, we had just as much eagerness to turn the page away from the difficulties of the prior year.

Of course, this was more symbolic than anything. The realities of 2020 continued even as the calendar marked January 1. As such, remaining responsive to the challenges brought forth by COVID-19 was essential; however, so too was advancing our commitments to confront racism and support racial equity, as well as progressing a greater body of work in service to the health and well-being of everyone in North Carolina.

We can’t overstate the admiration we hold for the tireless work of our grantees, and the thousands of other nonprofits across the state, that have spent what will soon be two years addressing the impacts of COVID-19 while simultaneously carrying forth their missions every day despite the pandemic.

While our initial COVID-related response supported our full portfolio of grantees to do just this, in 2021 we narrowed our focus to where we thought support was most needed. This included investing $5 million in support of emergency food assistance as well as in Black, Latino, and American Indian-led organizations and communities to help stem COVID's negative short- and long-term health and social impacts on people of color. You are welcome to learn more about our full response.

 

We knew we must do more to center racial equity in our work and to invest more in breaking down barriers to good health for those who have historically been denied this opportunity.

Last year not only further opened the world’s eyes to the realities of a global pandemic, but it also continued to shine a long-overdue and much needed sustained light on the pervasive, systemic racial injustices in our society. Like many, we knew we could, and must, do more. We knew we must do more to center racial equity in our work and to invest more in breaking down the barriers to good health for those who have historically been denied this full opportunity.

We spent much of 2020 listening and learning – seeking perspectives from those most impacted as to how we would do this. This past year, we continued to build out our approach based on these findings and initiated concrete steps to advance this commitment across all aspects of our organization. We invite you to learn more about our approach to support racial equity.

Finally, complementing this all was an expansive approach to advance work across our four areas of focus and organization as a whole. While this took many forms, a few examples include:


Deepening and expanding our approach in early childhood, including:
  • Supporting efforts to assess the impacts of COVID-19 and spotlight the current workforce crisis in child care.
  • Implementing an open opportunity to fund community-based organizations led by and serving people of color.
  • Initiating what will be a sustained effort to address the racial bias that exists in pre-school suspensions and expulsions.

Investing in improving access to healthy food by breaking down barriers
, including:
Partnering in support of strong, healthy communities, including:

Realizing progress in pursuit of more accessible and affordable oral health
, including:
  • The continued expansion of school-based oral health programs working in partnership with The Duke Endowment.
  • The passing of Senate Bill B146 this summer, which was due in large part to the continued efforts of our grantees and partners and formalizes the practice of teledentistry and streamlines rules for public health hygienists.

Continuing to strengthen our organization
, including:
  • Establishing an Operational Excellence functional area to foster a culture of continuous improvement.
  • Engaging in formal evaluations of grant programs and our grantmaking processes.
  • Welcoming two new team members, Program Officer Marquita Mbonu and Communications Officer Brian Edmonds.

Looking back, we all had high hopes that this year would be better than 2020, and despite continued challenges and disruptions, the spirit, determination, and hard work of people and organizations across North Carolina moved us further down the road of meeting the needs of the state.

Of course, the pandemic is not yet behind us and that is a reality we all must continue to face. So too is the reality that everyone in North Carolina is yet to have the same opportunity for good health. We will continue to center this truth in our approach as we welcome the new year, and as we work alongside and in support of many partners, new and old, that are committed to righting this.

As we move further into our third decade, we remain humbled and inspired by those willing to share their commitment, insights, and experience to advance our shared goals; the collaborations we are fortunate to be a part of; the organizations we have the opportunity to support; and the many people who work tirelessly within their own communities to make life better for everyone.