2018 Grantmakers In Health Conference Visits the Commons

On Wednesday, June 20, 2018, Sweet Water Foundation hosted 30+ attendees from the 2018 Grantmakers in Health Conference (GIH). People from all across the country converged in Chicago from June 20 - 22 for the largest annual gathering of health funders in the country.


The visit began with introductions, during which GIH attendees shared some of the work they do in cities such as Indianapolis, San Francisco, Cleveland, Seattle, Kansas City, and Austin. The work of each was focused on the theme of improving health equity, a theme closely aligned with Sweet Water Foundation's work. After a brief overview of SWF, GIH attendees engaged in self-guided tours of the Perry Ave Commons and were tasked with speaking with SWF team members, apprentices, and local residents on site, bringing to life the true SWF experience and, also, the value of a holistic, intergenerational, and integrated approach to community health and well-being.


The visit culminated with the group meeting at the Thought Barn for a humbling and historic occasion. Together, the SWF team, community members, and GIH attendees experienced the first Farm-to-Table meal in the Thought Barn. Greens, fresh from the farm, were cooked by Resident Chef, Betty Williams, and served to each participant - bringing the concept of regenerative neighborhood development and its impact on health to life via a shared meal.


As guests enjoyed home cooked greens, Audrey Stillerman, Associate Director of Medical Affairs at the Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships spoke with the group about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study. The study proved that stressful and traumatic childhood experiences have negative outcomes on a person’s overall health and well-being. Negative health outcomes can be prevented by meeting basic needs and by creating a sense of safety, love, belonging, social connection, and meaning-making. The reality, due to decades of disinvestment, is that the people who live in the community surrounding Sweet Water Foundation are often exposed to high levels of trauma and stress, which has resulted in poor health. During the conversation, Audrey challenged the GIH group to consider the way organizations, such as Sweet Water Foundation, provide a space for healing and safety that is essential to truly make an impact on health.


This year, the theme of the Grantmakers in Health Conference was “Navigating Currents of Change.” Sweet Water Foundation functions in a space and community that was meant to be erased, yet SWF is driving change and rethinking the way health is impacted. The day ended with participants sharing thoughts on the way health is evaluated, particularly from the perspective of grantmakers. SWF is a living example of an organization that cannot easily be confined to a box. SWF’s approach is profoundly different, and the breadth of the work is scarcely understood until one sets foot onsite. SWF doesn’t fit into traditional notions of community health, education, workforce development, or economic development. Through the practice of Regenerative Neighborhood Development, SWF is radically reconstructing community and challenging the values, perceptions, and solutions of traditional methods of economic development. Words do not fully capture the significance of SWF’s practice, and numbers and figures fail to express the impact of the work. Therefore, the GIH audience was challenged to take an organization such as Sweet Water Foundation into consideration when looking to invest in promising health solutions and to look beyond traditional metrics when measuring an organization’s impact on individual and community health and wellness.


Jia Li Pratt