Sociedad Latina, one of the program’s original 14 grantees, used funding to support a variety of youth programming, including a popular hydroponic gardening program that also incorporates lessons about food access, environmental justice and climate resiliency.

The recent conclusion of a six-year, $4.3 million grant program supporting community-based nonprofits in the Brigham’s five priority neighborhoods — Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill and Roxbury — marked an important moment in the Brigham’s community health and health equity work.

Launched in 2016 by the Brigham’s Center for Community Health and Health Equity (CCHHE), the BWH Health Equity Grant Program invited local nonprofits to apply for funding to support efforts that address community psychological wellness, employment opportunities and health inequity issues with a racial equity lens.  Although the CCHHE has directly supported community organizations over the years, this program marked the first time it opened funding opportunities more broadly through a competitive grant process.

Providing such grants to the community is mandated by the state of Massachusetts when a nonprofit hospital like the Brigham undertakes significant capital projects, as it did with the construction of the Hale Building for Transformative Medicine in 2016.

Originally selected from a pool of 86 applicants, 14 grantees were awarded three-year grants in 2016, totaling $1.9 million, with the goal to extend their reach and magnify their impact. Another three-year round of funding in 2019 awarded the additional grants, totaling $2.4 million to 10 organizations from the initial group to sustain their progress. As part of the grant program, the CCHHE collaborated with the UMass Donahue Institute to provide technical assistance and measure outcomes of projects that received funding.

“These organizations are embedded in different Boston communities and have relationships and trust built with their constituents that the Brigham doesn’t have,” said Madison Louis, interim director of Maternal and Child Health at the CCHHE. “By partnering with them, learning from and sharing technical expertise with each other, and providing financial support, we’re able to support community health efforts in ways we couldn’t without them.”

One recipient, the HEART (Health Education Action Research and Technology) Home Health Aide Support Program, provides home health aide training for entry-level employment, promotes networking among home health aides to reduce isolation inherent in their field and seeks to build a more diverse pipeline of health care professionals.

With support from the Health Equity Grant Program, HEART worked with 150 unemployed or underemployed participants between October 2016 and September 2022. As of today, facilitators remain in contact with more than 60 percent of their graduates.

“The six-year grant allowed us to sustain a network of people and build a community within the graduates,” said Alison Simmons, HEART’s project coordinator. “Long-term funding is really beneficial to build the program’s capacity to support people.”

Pivoting During the Pandemic

Collectively, the 10 grantees served 1,973 participants over the second three-year period, which overlapped with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Not only did COVID-19 require grantees to redesign programming and explore new ways to support their communities, but it also reinforced an urgent need to address health inequities that worsened during the pandemic.

There were silver linings, though: Asked to reflect on the last six years of funding, many grantees said they found adding virtual programming made their work more accessible, and in many cases, more successful.

Among these initiatives was a project at Sociedad Latina — a Mission Hill-based nonprofit that seeks to cultivate the next generation of Latine leaders — which distributed at-home hydroponic gardening kits as part of its food access programming.

“This grant gave us the capacity to provide youth with intensive and detailed health education on topics such as inequities in health outcomes across different demographics, food deserts, hydroponics and nutrition,” Sociedad Latina staff shared in the report. “These lessons evolved into hands-on projects, including functioning hydroponics systems, nutritious community dinners and workshops for community members. Funding has led to an established hydroponics program within our organization that can be sustained and continued.”

The pandemic also deepened relationships between the grantee organizations: Several referred clients to other grantee groups, said RonAsia Rouse, interim director of Community Engagement at CCHHE.

“The relationship that each organization had with the hospital allowed them to connect with other organizations and band together to provide resources to their participants,” said Rouse. “These connections allowed the organizations to thrive and remain flexible, nimble and responsive to the ever-changing demands of the pandemic.”