Insight Grants

Local Health Foundations as Organizers in the Battle Against Childhood Obesity: Part 1–The Greater Rochester Health Foundation

Last week was an exciting week for The Greater Rochester Health Foundation ( located here in Rochester, NY. Wednesday they held their annual Grantee Showcase, and Friday was the deadline for the 2009 Community Mini-Grants. (Watch for these in 2010!) As Insight was a 2008 Round 1 Community Mini-Grant awardee, I read the current Request for Proposals (RFP—the grant application guidance) and noted the key changes prior to heading over to participate in the Showcase. I was really impressed with what I found at the event and really disappointed to see there wasn’t a higher turn out by community members. I was pleasantly surprised to learn what a great opportunity the Showcase is for networking, learning about the wide range of currently active health initiatives in our community, further connecting with Foundation staff, and increasing my understanding of how this Foundation operates and what it views as important. I realize I have a hometown bias here, but I truly believe GRHF is a national model for health foundations as community leaders—particularly regarding childhood obesity reduction and prevention.

The goal of GRHF’s Community Mini-Grant Program is “To increase physical activity and improve nutrition for Monroe County children and youth from age 2 years through high school.” In 2009, Mini-Grants of $500-$7,500 (depending on the number of children to be served) were open to nonprofit organizations serving Monroe County children ages 2-18. Grassroots nonprofits who do not yet have 501(c)(3) status were even eligible provided an established bank account in the organization’s name existed. This is a prime example of one of my favorite things about this Foundation: accessibility. GRHF makes sincere and ongoing efforts to ensure that any organization with good ideas and commitment to increasing activity and/or improving nutrition can access Mini-Grant funds—even if the organization doesn’t have any grants experience and isn’t large. This is further reflected in the RFP layout. Every RFP this program has released to date has been easy to understand, but what amazes me is that they continue to get clearer. (Anyone who’s spent any amount of time applying for grants knows RFP clarity is a rare and wonderful thing.) Deb Tschappat is the manager for this program. An experienced grant writer herself, Deb does a terrific job of listing succinct, direct questions that keep the focus of the grant proposal scoring on the content and not necessarily the writing. As a proponent of physical activity programs—and particularly those that are locally-based—and a writer who has seen a lot of vague RFPs, I really appreciate this approach. I’m certain it was helpful to me when Insight applied to GRHF last year, and I have a very significant amount of experience with grant funding on this topic.

So… What did we do with our money? Insight created the Maplewood Kids Get Moving project. Maplewood Kids Get Moving is simply aimed: offer more opportunities for Maplewood Neighborhood children to be physically active. We did this by offering two different activity programs: MKGM Summer Program and Healthy Activity Preschool PlaY Times (HAPPY Times). Both programs have been entirely free to participants. The Summer Program ran three mornings a week for three weeks last summer in a local park and was open to children ages 2-10. HAPPY Times is meeting every Tuesday morning (October to June) at our neighborhood library and is open to children ages 2-6 and their parents or caretakers. For both programs, we utilized the research-based, proven-effective Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH; Physical Education (PE) program to give us a wide range of fun activities we knew would work. We also offer healthy snacks at every session. Most of the staffing is volunteer. Our grant from GRHF paid for liability insurance, CATCH training (which we opened to many other organizations in the neighborhood), a CATCH PE equipment set, Polar E40 heart rate monitors (, pedometers, obstacle course materials, jogging trampolines, etc.

At the Showcase I learned the many ways other grantees have used Mini-Grant funds. Here are just a few examples:
· Creating new opportunities for physical activity through afterschool fitness programs for adolescents and teens
· Parent and child cooking classes focused on healthy eating
· Expanded dance programs
· School-based skating programs operated by outside organizations
· Improved indoor and outdoor play spaces and playgrounds at child care centers and schools
· More physical activity equipment for afterschool programs, churches, and PE classes

You may be thinking, “This is all great, but does it really constitute a national model?” On its own, it’s just a great grant program, but combined with GRHF’s comprehensive approach, it does. The Mini-Grants are one piece of a larger effort that includes:
· a full strategic plan complete with measurable goals
· local research on trends, parent views, activity levels, and BMIs
· larger physical activity and healthy eating grants for area schools
· educating physicians and other primary care providers in obesity prevention and reduction practices
· Healthy Hero awards that honor individuals in the community that are working to reduce childhood obesity
· a 5-2-1-0 ad campaign that leverages stickers, magnets, flyers, mailings, billboards, TV and radio commercials, and parent education events (5-2-1-0 is a nationally-recognized model program. It reminds students and their caretakers that students should strive for: five fruits and vegetables per day, two hours or less of computer and TV time, one hour of active play, and zero sugary drinks.)
· partnering with other organizations and initiatives to go after major national funding streams in order to make policy and environmental changes
· support for other health projects (childhood obesity is a major initiative of the Foundation but not the only initiative) including neighborhood health improvement projects that include policy and environmental assessment and changes aimed at increasing physical activity and healthy eating.

GRHF is outstanding because it has recognized that the issue of childhood obesity is not one that is solved quickly or by one or two types of action. It takes efforts at all levels of the community and the engagement of many people and organizations to turn the tide. GRHF has adopted and invested in a wide range of efforts that will decrease childhood obesity in the Rochester Region by empowering each child to be active and make healthy eating choices every day!

Do you know a funder we should feature? If so, email us at I’d definitely like to talk about the Highmark Foundation, including but not limited to the Highmark Healthy High 5 School Challenge grants, so anyone who is willing to share their experience with that funder, please email!

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