Gateway Wellness Foundation seeks to help four-county area

PHOTO SUBMITTED

A new philanthropic foundation based in Marion will seek to improve the health and wellness of people living in McDowell, Burke, Polk and Rutherford counties. Located at 135 S. Main St. in downtown Marion, the Gateway Wellness Foundation is a result of the acquisition of Mission Health by HCA Healthcare Corp. This foundation has its own staff and board representing the four counties. They are (from left) Assistant Director Nora Frank, Executive Director Luke Howe, board member Hill Evans, board member Rebecca Cross, board Chairman Norman Guthrie, board member Marion Baker and board member Kerry Davis. Unavailable for photo is the newest member Lisa Buff, who is from Burke.

A new philanthropic foundation based in Marion will seek to improve the health and wellness of people living in McDowell, Burke, Polk and Rutherford counties.

Located at 135 S. Main St. in downtown Marion, the Gateway Wellness Foundation is a result of the acquisition of Mission Health by HCA Healthcare Corp. As a for-profit corporation, HCA Healthcare paid approximately $1.5 billion for the assets of Mission Health, which previously operated as a private not-for-profit health system. The proceeds from the purchase were combined with Mission Health’s remaining cash and investments – after all debts and obligations are paid – and transferred to the new Dogwood Heath Trust, which serves 18 counties in western North Carolina, according to previous articles.

As part of this, six legacy foundations are being created for the 18-county area and the new Gateway Wellness Foundation is one of those.

The Gateway Wellness Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit, philanthropic organization that will represent McDowell, Burke, Polk and Rutherford counties. It will receive a total of $15 million over a three-year period to be used for grants and philanthropic efforts.

“The reason we’ve been given the money is to improve the health and wellness of these four counties,” said Executive Director Luke Howe.

This foundation has its own board. Norman Guthrie is the chairman after having already served on the board for the Mission Hospital Foundation and Rutherford-Polk-McDowell District Board of Health. Other board members are Marion Baker, Hill Evans, Kerry Davis, Rebecca Cross (all of whom are from McDowell) and Lisa Buff (who is from Burke). Guthrie and Howe said the board is looking for additional members to represent the three other counties.

“We’re looking to expand the board to mirror the demographics of the region,” said Assistant Director Nora Frank.

That includes having a board that reflects the diversity of the four counties. “This is our inaugural year,” said Guthrie. “Everything we are doing is for the first time.”

Their mission will be to address the social determinants of health throughout western North Carolina, specifically in the four counties, and look to offer tangible solutions.

These social determinants of health include:

• Education

• Social and community contacts

• Access to health care

• Food insecurity

• Housing

• Poverty

• Transportation

So far, the Gateway Wellness Foundation has worked to set policies and procedures aligned with the best practices for public charity. In preparation of its first grant cycle, the Gateway Wellness Grants Review Committee studied needs assessment data, health impact factors and held listening sessions with 27 organizations throughout the four-county region.

“We really got good responses from that,” said Guthrie. “It was a really exciting time.”

These listening sessions are ongoing, he added. More sessions will be held to expand the foundation’s knowledge about what needs the four counties face.

The information learned was used to inform its first grant cycle, however, the drive to collect more knowledge continues. The foundation will hold ongoing listening sessions to expand its knowledge and learn the highest areas of needs our communities face, according to a statement from the foundation.

Under the category of education, it could mean grants for youth empowerment programs such as mentors and teen social activities. It could also mean grants for increasing pre-school enrollment and helping families in need with pre-school costs.

The category of social and community contacts could mean a grant for helping solve language barriers and assisting human service organizations. Under access to health care, that can mean increasing access to mental health care, substance abuse treatment, women’s health, medication assistance, weight loss programs, diabetes treatment and/or resource navigators.

The foundation might work with local efforts to help people in need get healthier, fresh foods.

Through this process, Gateway Wellness will also seek to address issues of affordable housing. This includes increasing affordable housing opportunities, providing education about purchasing and maintaining a home and removing barriers to home ownership. The foundation could provide grants for home repair or house rehabilitation for people in need.

For the category of poverty, the foundation will seek to find ways to assist with job training, soft skills training and/or removing barriers to employment.

Guthrie said he and other board members are well aware of the housing and transportation needs in McDowell and the other counties.

“This has been identified as a primary need in our region which impacts all of the social determinants of health,” reads a statement from the foundation. “We are looking to fund initiatives with either unique solutions and/or current efforts to provide transportation, especially those with collaborative efforts among human service or medical providers.”

The officials with the Gateway Wellness Foundation said they are not trying to duplicate the work of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, which has already invested considerable resources for years into improving the health and wellness of McDowell. But they are looking for other ways to make a difference in this region.

“Gateway Wellness Foundation will consider grant requests from non-profit organizations and similar charitable organizations, government and businesses engaged in work that is aligned with our charitable purpose and stated mission,” said Howe.

The Gateway Wellness Foundation’s first grant cycle is now open for applications. The grant cycle opened on Thursday, Aug. 1. Organizations or other entities in the four counties can apply online through Monday, Sept. 23 at www.gatewaywellnessfoundation.org.

Gateway Wellness encourages these organizations to submit their applications regardless of whether they attended past listening sessions. Consultants will be available to encourage the success of organizations who apply. Guthrie said the foundation wants to make these applicants are well prepared.

Representatives of these organizations can attend two grant writing workshops. The first will take place Tuesday, Aug. 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Isothermal Community College in Spindale. The second will be held Wednesday, Aug. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at McDowell Technical Community College in Marion.

Any organization or applicant planning to attend these workshops must RSVP. They are asked to email Nora Frank at n.frank@gatewaywellnessfoundation.org to let organizers know which date they plan to attend and if they have any special dietary needs. A lunch will be provided.

For more information, visit www.gatewaywellnessfoundation.org.

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