In Kosciusko County, the quality of life enjoyed locally is enhanced by the focus on health and wellness that K21 Health Foundation brings to the community. And after more than 20 years of funding wellness projects in the county, life is better for everyone.
“At a personal level, people’s health conditions affect every other part of their life,” says Richard Haddad, foundation president and chief executive officer. “Family, work, play, financial health, relationships and other parts of our lives are enhanced or disrupted by our health. Health and its priority in our lives is ultimately a decision each of us needs to make, but sometimes we have challenges and barriers that keep us from making the best decisions for us.”
The foundation’s purpose is to fund programs and projects from local organizations that reduce these barriers, and advocate for a healthier community. About $60 million in grants have been awarded since the foundation was established in 1999.
The foundation’s grant-making capability was established from the sale of Kosciusko Community Hospital to a larger health-care corporation. With an initial investment of $64 million, the foundation’s resources continue to grow, ensuring that funding will be available in perpetuity. That means those barriers that keep people from living a healthy lifestyle can continue to be identified and resolved.
“We also believe that continued improvement of our community’s culture on healthy living, and increasing the amenities we have in our community, will have generational impact on how people in Kosciusko County live,” Haddad says. “Finally, we don’t think people do well if they try to do it on their own, or are struggling with emotional or behavioral issues.”
Haddad says the foundation’s role is to support health-focused initiatives that move the Kosciusko community’s wellness in a positive direction by providing support for programs and organizations for the greatest impact. With this narrowed geographic focus, big grants and investments are there as opportunities come up or needs are identified.
One wellness initiative funded by K21 is the continued development of greenways and pathways that will touch every community in the county, Haddad says. These encourage physical activity. Another is funding for projects in public parks, such as Limitless Park in Winona Lake or pickleball courts in various locations in the community.
“Areas that are not seen as publicly are health services that are offered to those that aren’t getting, or can’t get, the care on their own,” he says. “Examples of these would be medication and dental assistance programs, home care services, and various prevention screening and testing options.”
What gets funded has evolved over the years. The early focus of the foundation’s grant giving was on organizations that sought to level access to care or to fill in gaps in health-care services. While these are still important to address and still receive foundation support, recent years have seen funding requests evolve.
“Our more recent years have focused on providing active amenities and increasing opportunities for all people to embrace a more active lifestyle,” Haddad says. “The biggest example that is happening right now is we inspired and supported what will now be a permanent ice rink pavilion for our community, so people can have an option in the winter months, when we tend to hibernate, to get out and have some active fun together.”
Changes in focus over time reflect changes in culture and lifestyles. While still embracing the mission of community health, what health means to the community has become more expansive. K21 Health Foundation has better defined their definition of health, Haddad explains.
“Over the last 15 years we have tried to better define what health means to the foundation, so our grants could be more impactful and we could communicate to our grantees what areas of our community our mission touches,” he says.
Kosciusko is geographically isolated. That means there are many small towns and communities, many of which do not have healthcare providers based locally. Transportation is an issue for many, and there is no clear answer as to how to improve this situation.
“We can’t make people be healthy, but we can give them an opportunity to be healthy – to create an environment where there is a lot of opportunity.”
For more information on K21 Health Foundation, visit k21healthfoundation.org or call 574-269-5188. The foundation’s office is located at 1101 Park Avenue in Winona Lake.