Somerville Health Foundation Grants to Tackle Mental Health, Food Security, and Substance Use

Cambridge Health AllianceCommunity stakeholders and Cambridge Health Alliance administrators gather to celebrate recipients of the 2018 cycle of the Somerville Health Foundation grant program. Photo courtesy of Cambridge Health Alliance.

Somerville is known for being inclusive—it’s home to young professionals and families, lifelong residents and immigrants, and it’s one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. But when it comes to our wellbeing, there’s still a long way to go to equality: The city faces “continued health disparities based on race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status,” according to the 2017 Wellbeing of Somerville Report.

That’s where the Somerville Health Foundation comes in. Since 1996, the foundation has worked toward health equity by awarding small grants to community projects. This year, the six winners each won a grant of between $2,000 and $5,000.

“The foundation is looking at why are some people more impacted by health issues than others, and then trying to collectively think about how we can do things differently to influence those factors,” says Lisa Brukilacchio, director of the Somerville Community Health Agenda at the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA).

The trustees of the foundation assess Somerville’s most pressing health needs, or “priority areas,” as they call them, by analyzing available data. Many of these priority areas have been at the top of the list for years, including mental health, substance use, violence, physical activity, food and nutrition, and chronic disease.

The winners of the Somerville Health Awards are chosen for their efforts to address those priority areas, Brukilacchio explains. For example, one of this year’s winning organizations is Parenting Journey, a nonprofit that offers educational programs for parents. The funding will go toward its Sober Parenting Journey program, an adaptation of the evidence-based Parenting Journey program that was developed for parents coping with substance use recovery.

Three of the six winners of the grant focus on mental health and will use the funding to help improve the social-emotional development of young people. Neighborhood Counseling & Community Services, an organization that aims to make mental health services available to all, received funding for its “Life Hacks for Teens” program at the Next Wave and Full Circle Alternative Schools.

RESPOND, a domestic violence prevention agency that provides shelter, a hotline, and training and educational services, was awarded grant money for an initiative that will allow the children they serve to be connected with private counseling services, without the slowdown of paperwork and waiting lists.

Finally, Breakthrough Greater Boston, a newcomer to the city of Somerville, received funding for assessments and targeted group interventions to help the students it serves at Somerville High School.

The remaining two winners work toward food security. The Somerville Health Awards will contribute to Groundwork Somerville’s “Salad Days for Healthy Eaters” program, which teaches youths to plant, harvest, and prepare nutritious foods. The awards will also help the Somerville Food Security Coalition launch free, monthly community meals that feature a hot buffet, children’s activities, a pop-up food pantry, and live music.

In the more than 20 years since the foundation launched the awards, they have helped fund programs that went on to have demonstrated success. For example, one of the previous grantees, the Mystic Learning Center, was able to fund a highly effective healthy eating program for youth thanks to the funding offered by the Somerville Health Foundation. The program revolutionized the way participating families ate, encouraging them to cook with wholesome ingredients. One nine-year-old began the program after being diagnosed with prediabetes, and after participating in the program for three months, his tests came back clear.

“The key value of this foundation is to support organizations in doing work that they want to pilot or explore that impacts us,” explains Brukilacchio.

“It’s really about having healthy communities,” she says.