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History of Cal Wellness’ Executive Leadership

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Executive Leadership Shapes Cal Wellness Throughout Two Decades

The history of The California Wellness Foundation cannot be written without invoking the contributions of the executive leaders who have guided Cal Wellness since its establishment in 1992 as one of the first major health funders in the state. Upon Cal Wellness' creation, its leaders immediately forged new paths in philanthropy that expanded the definition of health to embrace prevention and wellness.

Specifically, its early executives helped oversee the formation of Cal Wellness' first initiatives that dramatically challenged the conventional thinking about approaches to issues such as violence prevention, and later, they pioneered funding in areas such as teenage pregnancy prevention and work and health.

In its second decade, Cal Wellness introduced its Responsive Grantmaking Program — flexible, multiyear funding — because grantees said they needed this type of core operating support, especially during tough economic times. This program also allowed for a groundbreaking public education campaign titled “Health Jobs Start Here” to promote more diversity in the health professions.

Our leaders have guided the Foundation thoughtfully, demonstrating courage, foresight and compassion for California’s underserved. Below, learn about the history of Cal Wellness' executives and how their guidance in the last two decades has made the Foundation what it is today.

The Visionary Founder

Roger F. Greaves
Founding Board Chair and Trustee

“We began with an initial endowment of $300 million, but a large mission, which was to improve the health of the people of California. Just like in business, I believed that with strategic planning, sound research and the willingness to fund in new areas, we could make a significant impact.”

One cannot talk about The California Wellness Foundation without mentioning its founder Roger F. Greaves. When the groundwork was laid in 1991 for Cal Wellness' creation in 1992, it was Greaves’ vision of wellness and prevention that gave life to its charter and mission, which is to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention.

Greaves’ leadership challenged Cal Wellness to develop grantmaking programs that focused on health areas that were, at the time, considered quite revolutionary for a foundation. He also guided the Foundation’s Board of Directors during its formative years when many groundbreaking initiatives were launched.

Greaves founded Cal Wellness when the nonprofit health maintenance organization Health Net converted to a for-profit company, resulting in the creation of the Foundation. Greaves served as Health Net’s president and was recognized as the company’s national spokesperson for health promotion and disease prevention.

He is widely acknowledged as one of the original proponents of the concept of wellness. In fact, many remember his 1980s television advertisements promoting the health benefits of exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

Greaves’ ability to look at data that adversely impacted Californians’ health — coupled with the courage to fund in controversial areas that at the time had been overlooked — helped establish the Foundation as one of the few willing to take on tough health challenges requiring long-term funding commitments that could make a difference in improving health and saving lives.

Establishing the Foundation

Howard A. Kahn
President and CEO

The California Wellness Foundation aims to make a difference in the health of the people of California. We will invest in initiatives for health promotion and disease prevention, and we will seek new ways to help Californians adopt healthful lifestyles.”

The Foundation’s first president, Howard A. Kahn, played a critical role in the early execution of Cal Wellness' mission and, with the establishment of the Foundation’s first health initiatives, one-of-a-kind grantmaking programs.

The first initiatives addressed health policy issues affecting California’s most vulnerable populations, including youths of color. By steering toward a comprehensive and integrated approach to philanthropy and public policy, Kahn oversaw the birth of Cal Wellness' Violence Prevention Initiative. Most importantly, Kahn pushed for prevention as a core strategy in implementing various reform efforts within California.

Prior to joining the Cal Wellness, Kahn was founding chief executive officer of the Health Plan of San Mateo. He had a track record of building organizations that aimed to strengthen the health of the people of California, as noted by Cal Wellness' founder, Roger F. Greaves, at the time. In fact, Kahn used his public health background and experience to leverage Cal Wellness' initial endowment to improve the health of underserved Californians.

Challenging Conventional Thinking

Earl G. Mink
Former Board Chair, Trustee and Senior Advisor

“TCWF has always been mindful of its responsibility to California's most vulnerable people. Given today's stagnant economy, high unemployment rates and unprecedented state budget deficit, the Foundation's role takes on even greater importance."

The creation of Cal Wellness could not have come to fruition without direction from Earl G. Mink, who joined its Board in 1992 with a steadfast passion and desire to improve the lives of the most undeserved populations in California, including communities of color. With a diverse background in California's health care field, Mink influenced the way Cal Wellness' mission was implemented and how it shaped the Foundation's grants through one-of-a-kind health initiatives, and later, through its Responsive Grantmaking Program.

Mink dared to challenge how society viewed traditional health and wellness by championing the funding of controversial health issues, such as violence prevention, and other areas that received little (if any) philanthropic dollars or backing. His vision also helped structure Cal Wellness’ public health approach that focused on prevention with the intent of creating greater change in California by improving the health of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Mink served two two-year terms as chair of Cal Wellness' Board in 1996 and 2004, at which time he also was a Board senior advisor. He worked for 25 years with the Lockheed Corporation in the position of group insurance manager. Prior to his tenure at Lockheed, Mink worked for Hughes Aircraft Company and was a county commissioner for the Los Angeles Health Planning and Development Agency. He served on the board of the Delta Dental Plan of California and on the boards of Health Net and the California Chamber of Commerce Health Policy Committee.

Courageously Leading Over Two Decades

Gary L. Yates
President and CEO

“The California Wellness Foundation strongly embraces the belief that the people directly affected by an issue are often able to devise the most effective solutions for their communities. Simply put, for our Foundation to operate as a service organization, we need to understand it’s not what we focus on, but how we work with our constituents that really matters.”

Gary L. Yates was anything but a typical president of a major, philanthropic health foundation. Described by many in the nonprofit field as a courageous leader not afraid to push the envelope, Yates spearheaded and shaped initiatives, public education campaigns and a responsive grantmaking program that included funding health issues affecting the most underserved, diverse communities in California.

Yates was a strong proponent of using a public health approach to address issues impacting Californians’ health that were controversial at the time, including the funding of comprehensive sexuality education and access to contraceptives for teens.

He spent nearly 20 years at Cal Wellness, first as a program officer, then as interim president, and, for 16 years, as trustee, president and CEO. He championed grantees’ work in many areas that led to public policy changes, including allocating more violence prevention resources that provided safer havens for youth at risk for gun-related deaths and increasing diversity in the health professions.

Yates shaped the Violence Prevention Initiative in the early 1990s. At the time, he expressed to the Board of Directors that Cal Wellness had an “opportunity to influence a fundamental shift in public perception so that societal violence is seen as remediable, and interpersonal violence is seen as preventable.”

His leadership and commitment to strengthening the health care safety net partly came from his experience working with troubled youth as the associate director of the division of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in the 1980s. As a licensed family therapist, he used his professional expertise to develop the Foundation’s youth-focused grantmaking programs, such as those addressing the needs of newly emancipated foster care youths, violence against youths and comprehensive teenage pregnancy prevention.

After serving as interim president and CEO, Yates was appointed permanently in 1995, at which time he hired Executive Vice President Tom David (pictured on the right) to help him expand the size and scope of the Cal Wellness' grantmaking. Yates doubled the size of the staff, increased the number of Board members, and ensured that the Board reflected the diversity of California’s population. He also oversaw the growth of the Foundation’s endowment to a $1 billion. Yates and David formed a strong partnership in developing Cal Wellness' grantmaking philosophy as one that was centered on grantees — both in the funding of, and communication about, their work.

To this day, they remain the only two philanthropic executives from the same foundation to have received the prestigious Terrance Keenan Leadership Award in Health Philanthropy presented by Grantmakers In Health for outstanding work in grantmaking distinguished by leadership, innovation, achievement, creativity and boldness.

In a 2011 tribute to Yates, David characterized him as one of the most significant “master builders” of philanthropic foundations in the nation, thanks to his accomplishments in promoting greater transparency about the field’s practices, increasing core operating support for nonprofit organizations, and advocating for a service-focused approach to grantees. Cal Wellness' pioneering Grants Program Survey was born out of a respect for grantees and applicants and from a commitment to learning; it also was among the first surveys in philanthropy to be posted online.

At his retirement events in 2011, Board members, staff, grantees and many colleagues across the state and nation expressed their sentiments about Gary Yates’ unquestionable imprint upon the Cal Wellness' lasting legacy: he listened to grantees and their proposed solutions to help shape effective grantmaking strategies that truly made a difference in improving the health of Californians.

Expanding Health Equity

Diana M. Bontá
President and CEO

“At the core of who I am is a nurse, wanting to create capacity for people to have their potential met and all their abilities expanded. I firmly believe that the concept of wellness is inclusive of prevention, health education and healthy...behaviors.”

When she was appointed president and CEO of Cal Wellness, Diana M. Bontá brought a wealth of experience from the health care, government and nonprofit sectors. With her vast health expertise and passion for wellness and prevention, she used grantmaking strategies to champion health programs that addressed the needs of Californians.

Bontá instituted engaged health grantmaking programs that included responding to the health of female veterans, as well as funding grantees’ work on implementing the Affordable Care Act. She also championed funding programs that address the health needs of female war veterans who are returning home at an unprecedented pace. Most significantly, in 2012, she worked with the Board of Directors to initiate the framework for the Foundation’s strategic planning process, which resulted in Cal Wellness' current grantmaking program.

The drive to serve others started at a young age for Bontá when she decided to become a nurse in the early 1970s and study the work of promotores (community health promoters). Early in her career, she was at the forefront of establishing clinics throughout rural California, ensuring health access for farmworkers.

In 1999, Bontá was appointed by California Gov. Gray Davis to lead the California Department of Health Services, where she oversaw one of the nation’s largest antismoking campaigns and the state’s Medicaid program. And later, she served as vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Permanente, Southern California Region, providing strategic direction in the areas of public relations, community and government relations, grant management, corporate communications and media relations.

Seasoned Executive Guiding the Transition

Colburn “Cole” S. Wilbur
Interim President and CEO

“I am honored to have been appointed to this role at The California Wellness Foundation and have great respect for the organization’s reputation, particularly in groundbreaking areas that have led to healthier lives and the pursuit of wellness.”

As a seasoned national leader in philanthropy, a published author and a business leader, Cole Wilbur was appointed by the Board of Directors as Cal Wellness' interim president and CEO in June 2013, and served in this position until April 2014.

Under Wilbur’s leadership, Cal Wellness continued to address the health needs of Californians through its Responsive Grantmaking Program and its long-standing commitment to underserved communities.

He guided Cal Wellness' strategic planning process over the last eight months, which resulted in a plan for the Foundation’s future grantmaking, working closely with the Board of Directors and soliciting input from staff. His dedication to carrying out Cal Wellness' mission and grantmaking, including grants related to the implementation of health care reform in California, prepared the Foundation for future opportunities in the philanthropic and health care sectors.

A major figure in the world of philanthropy, Wilbur is a trustee and former president of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a position he held from 1976 to 1999. He led the David and Lucile Packard Foundation through periods of unprecedented and sustained growth in assets, grantmaking and staff. In 2005, he served as interim president and CEO of the Council on Foundations.

Philanthropic Leader Appointed at Key Crossroads in Cal Wellness’ History

Judy Belk
President and CEO
2014 to Present

“I am proud to be a part of this Foundation and support its mission to promote a healthier California. Since its founding, Cal Wellness has played a historic role in courageously funding in public health areas that had drawn little or no philanthropic attention.”

Judy Belk joined Cal Wellness when the Foundation was in the final stages of a strategic planning process. She jumped right in and made her mark as Cal Wellness announced its Advancing Wellness grantmaking program, which emphasizes health equity and is guided by the social determinants of health.

In her role as CEO, Belk is a tireless advocate for “leveling the playing field” for underserved communities. She is committed to using not only the Foundation’s dollars, but also its voice, to advocate for health equity and access. Belk also instituted changes in Cal Wellness’ grantmaking to help serve grantees more efficiently, such as moving to an online application process and cutting down on wait times for grant approvals and funding.

She is a frequent writer and speaker on race, social change, health equity and organizational ethics, and her work has been recognized with several state and national awards. Her pieces have aired on National Public Radio and appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Huffington Post.

Prior to joining Cal Wellness, Belk served as senior vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and as vice president of global public affairs at Levi Strauss & Co. Throughout her career, she has been a strong advocate for promoting diversity, inclusion and equity both within and outside of the philanthropic sector. She has been a passionate voice in raising awareness of the needs of women and girls, as well as communities of color. She has been actively involved in the D5 Initiative, a national coalition of philanthropic leaders committed to increasing philanthropic resources for women, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities, and people of color.

How to Apply to the Advancing Wellness Grants Program

  1. Click on How To Apply.
  2. Review the instructions for completing the online letter of interest.
  3. Click “Start a New LOI” to create an account and complete the LOI. All applicants new to the Cal Wellness Grants Portal must create a password-protected account before completing the LOI.

Our Mission

To protect and improve the health and wellness of the people of California by increasing access to health care, quality education, good jobs, healthy environments and safe neighborhoods.

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