First ever MA Community Health & Healthy Aging Funds Showcase & Celebration By Emily Breen • December 19, 2022 It has been almost three years since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Across Massachusetts, people’s lives were changed, but the impacts have not been felt equally throughout our society. The pandemic, and the wave of national protests for racial equity, made health and racial justice household topics and further highlighted a challenging social and political environment. Many MA CHHA Funds awardees experienced and addressed the impacts of COVID-19 firsthand in their communities. In the same year, the Massachusetts Community Health and Healthy Aging Funds (the Funds) launched our first cycle of grantmaking. The Funds are committed to disrupting and removing barriers to health – structural and institutional racism, poverty, and deep power imbalances – through community-centered policy, systems, and environmental change approaches. The Funds were a welcome and needed resource bringing an opportunity for renewed or deepened attention to long-term upstream work. In the inaugural funding cycle, thirty-two organizations across Massachusetts were awarded funds to address the root causes of negative health outcomes in their community. Many MA CHHA Funds awardees experienced and addressed the impacts of COVID-19 firsthand in their communities. Many organizations became hubs for COVID-19 support and resource distribution. One awardee in Springfield developed a Black COVID Coalition that provided advocacy for testing sites in the community and vaccine hesitancy education. In addition, the awardee bolstered a relationship with the Behavioral Health Network to bring Springfield residents of color to vaccination sites within the region. Awardees reported a range of successes and challenges related to COVID-19, from successfully fighting for eviction moratoriums to experiencing high staff turnover. Other groups became a venue for stakeholder and community engagement work regarding social justice during the racial justice awakening that swept across the country in 2020. Because of the pandemic, none of the awardees, DPH, EOEA, and HRiA staff had a chance to meet each other in person. We adapted to days full of Zoom meetings, often convenient, but without the same level of connection as in person meetings. Early in 2022, the HRiA team decided to organize an in-person meeting to celebrate the Funds and create a space for awardees to showcase their work and network. “We don’t want to have a packed agenda, but a space for awardees to get to know each other and celebrate what they have achieved.” The Funds Director, Alberte said. Finally, on October 19, we gathered at a beautiful venue in central Massachusetts, taking several precautions to keep everyone safe amidst the ongoing COVID-19 risk. Attendees were required to be vaccinated and have a negative COVID test before attending. Masks were required in the indoor spaces and a large tent space allowed us to physically distance. Events look different these days, but joyful greetings and laughter filled the room. Everyone was excited to see each other in person. During the poster board session, many awardees stood by their poster enthusiastically sharing their work, while others couldn’t resist walking around, asking questions, and learning from each other. Many left with inspirational ideas and synergies sparked in those moments. In the afternoon, awardees led eight different round table discussions on topics ranging from land acquisition to consensus-based decision-making. Awardees shared their expertise and resources to benefit each other’s work. “I walked away having a sense that there are lots of meaningful projects happening across our state. It was also meaningful to understand the many types of projects being funded through MACHHAF and that you thought enough about all of us to allow us to showcase ourselves to each other. I definitely saw possible synergies, or at least others I could learn from, with which I will take the initiative to explore,” Carol from LifePath shared, after attending the Showcase & Celebration event. We left the event feeling joyful and inspired. Together, we are part of a significant movement to disrupt and remove barriers to health. This work takes time, but we know the daily effort and dedication of these awardees, their teams, and their partners is already improving communities.