Western North Carolina’s largest nonprofit is asking for guidance from the public on its future grant-making to improve the health and wellbeing of area residents over the next several decades.
During a Sept. 8 virtual meeting, the first of three planned for September, Dogwood leaders provided an update on regional investments and polled viewers about the goals and priorities that the entity plans to tackle over the next few years. The nonprofit, created from the $1.5 billion sale of Mission Health in February 2019 to HCA Healthcare, is charged with funding programs that advance community wellness throughout 18 WNC counties and the Qualla Boundary, the sovereign territory of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians .
Janice Brumit, Dogwood’s board chair, said the nonprofit had made $48 million in investments in 2020, which focused on four priority areas: housing, education, economic opportunity and health and wellness. She added that Dogwood is on track to invest $65 million in those funding categories in 2021.
Among the nonprofit’s most recent investments have been $500,000 for flood relief after Tropical Storm Fred to the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and $2 million in support of Homeward Bound of WNC’s purchase and renovation of a Days Inn in Asheville to create permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.
“These investments are actively helping us build affordable housing, boost educational attainment at all grade levels from early learning to postsecondary education, address substance abuse disorders, advance the region’s ability to test for and vaccinate against COVID-19, increase economic investments and create new job opportunities and so much more,” Brumit said.
Brumit also pointed to a midyear report, released in August, outlining grant plans for totals of roughly $30 million toward housing, $9 million toward education, $10 million toward creating economic opportunity and diversifying industries in the region and $11 million toward health and wellness programs by the end of 2021. The report also shows that Dogwood has committed $5 million annually for five years to address substance use disorders and the opioid crisis in WNC. The nonprofit plans to share its annual report at the end of 2021.
Susan Mims, the trust’s interim CEO, noted that since the beginning of the year, 228 organizations had applied for grants and 148 had grants approved.
She also explained that Dogwood had been chosen in May to lead a pilot program created by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services aimed at delivering nonmedical services for people who qualify for Medicaid, such as nutrition and food assistance, transportation and housing. The program, Healthy Opportunities, will be managed by Impact Health, a start-up entity created by Dogwood specifically for the project.
During the meeting, Mims and other Dogwood leaders asked attendees to rank the nonprofit’s goals in order of priority with interactive surveys. She said those results would be combined with public surveys to be made available for the next few weeks on Dogwood’s website; the trust will release the data and determine its funding goals in the following months.
Mims emphasized the importance of public participation on the priorities and noted that the investments made by the nonprofit are meant to create long-lasting change throughout WNC. “This work takes a long time — generations. But when is the best time to plant a tree? That was 20 years ago,” she said. “The next best time is right now.”
Two more virtual community meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 14, and Monday, Sept. 20, from 4:30 p.m.- 6 p.m. More information and registration details are available at avl.mx/aem.