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Foundation using philanthropy to bridge the great health divide

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 2:00 PM EDT
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ATHENS COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - An Ohio foundation is trying to close the gap on health disparities in the state by providing grants to organizations that focus on helping the Appalachian region.

The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio provides grants to non-profits who are trying to help the...
The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio provides grants to non-profits who are trying to help the Appalachian region(Foundation for Appalachian Ohio)

“The mission of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio is to create opportunities by supporting and inspiring philanthropy,” Cara Dingus Brook, President and CEO of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, said. “We’re working to support and inspire philanthropic investment to advance opportunities in the region.”

Cara Dingus Brook – President and CEO, Foundation for Appalachian Ohio
Cara Dingus Brook – President and CEO, Foundation for Appalachian Ohio(WXIX)

The Appalachian region of Ohio is made up of 32 counties and spans from Clermont to Trumbull County. Appalachia makes up nearly one-third of Ohio in terms of landmass.

Dingus Brook says one of the biggest issues affecting the area is philanthropy gaps. The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio says the region has 90% fewer philanthropic assets per capita than the rest of the state.

The organization is trying to change that with five pillars of prosperity: arts & culture, community and economic development, education, environmental stewardship, and health and human services.

Foundation officials say they are trying to include as many areas of life as they can because they all connect in some way and it’s not just one problem.

The Appalachian region has 90% less philanthropic assets per capita than the rest of Ohio,...
The Appalachian region has 90% less philanthropic assets per capita than the rest of Ohio, according to the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.(Foundation for Appalachian Ohio)

“If you really think about our region, our challenges are complex, they’re interwoven, they’re often mutually reinforcing.” Dingus Brook said. “For example, if a child is having trouble learning, and maybe because she’s hungry, and she might be hungry because there’s a problem where mom doesn’t have a job, and maybe you know, so in that situation, you’ve got an economic development issue, you’ve got a health issue, and you’ve got an educational issue. And so we’re really trying to marshal a lot of different resources and support a lot of people working in all of those areas.”

The Foundation found through its grant-making that many children weren’t getting vision screenings and many needed eyeglasses but were not able to get them.

“We have been working to build a partnership and to fund a partnership with the Ohio Optometric Association with a nonprofit called ‘Vision to Learn,’” Dingus Brook said. “And actually this fall we’re launching mobile vision clinics. And our goal in the next three years is to get to 7500 children.”

Recipient of foundation grant money,
Visiontolearn.org
Recipient of foundation grant money, Visiontolearn.org(Vision to Learn)

The Foundation is also doing work to help combat the opioid pandemic in the area by focusing on prevention. It has been gathering data on the subject and is funding youth to lead prevention campaigns in their communities.

“All of the research shows that sort of that peer talking to peer is the most effective thing and I get so much hope when I see these young leaders who really understand what effect addiction has and the terrible things that it has done in their family or in families of friends. They’re just, they’re so on fire, to prove to prevent it. So, we’ve been doing a lot of work around youth-led prevention,” Dingus Brook said.

The Foundation has been around for 23 years, and in that time, it has started more than 500 separate charitable funds and handed out 990 grants totaling $5 million. It relies on donations to be able to give out these grants and funds. One of the most active is the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund.

“I don’t know if you know if you’re a fan of Joe Burrow like we are, but for a long time, we’ve had a program called ‘I’m a Child of Appalachia’, and what it’s done is told the stories of people that we’re proud of because when you live in an area that has been economically depressed, it almost becomes a psychological depression there becomes this culture of diminished expectations that just can infiltrate things and keep good things from happening,” Dingus Brook said.

“And so, we had a program called ‘I’m a child of Appalachia’ and actually Joe burrow will be our next honoree. You know, when he gave his Heisman speech, and he said, ‘This is for the kids back in Athens County and they can be here too’. It was a perfect example of something we were so proud of and inspired by. And so, it’s been a real honor to work with him and with his fans to build a large fund.”

Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback Joe Burrow has a hunger relief fund
Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback Joe Burrow has a hunger relief fund(WAFB)

Thanks to this fund and many others like it, the Foundation has been able to make a difference by handing out more than 1000 grants in a year.

The Foundation announced there are now grants available in Highland County.

If you would like to donate, you can go to www.appalachianohio.org

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