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Honoring California’s Health Leaders

Reflections from Judy Belk, February 24, 2015

I’ve noticed more and more efforts within the nonprofit community to recognize, refresh and develop its leaders. These include recognition events honoring nonprofit executives; programs to develop the next generation of leadership; and respite programs to refresh nonprofit chief executives. Earlier this month, The James Irvine Foundation announced the recipients of its 2015 leadership awards, honoring five leaders who are implementing effective solutions to significant state issues.

Just last week in Sacramento, I had the privilege of kicking off the Insure the Uninsured Project’s awards dinner honoring exemplary leadership in community health. Congratulations again to all the honorees, and especially to two who are past recipients of Cal Wellness’ Sabbatical Program Award: Jane Garcia, CEO of La Clinica de La Raza in Oakland (2004) and Lynn Dorroh, CEO of Hill Country Health and Wellness Center in Round Mountain, Shasta County (2009).

California’s health leaders are talented individuals who care deeply about the health and wellness of their communities. They are pushing the envelope as the heads of clinics, advocacy organizations and education programs, and advocating for health improvements that create safer, healthier places to live. Without a doubt, we cannot do our jobs in philanthropy without these dedicated and talented folks. They are on the front lines, working in underfunded, underserved communities for long hours and oftentimes low pay. We honor all of them for their commitment to addressing California’s health and wellness.

This insight has been evident at Cal Wellness since our very early years. Calling attention to the work of exceptional leaders has been a hallmark of our grantmaking since the launch of the Foundation’s first initiative: the Violence Prevention Initiative.

In 1993, we debuted the California Peace Prize to honor exceptional individuals working in communities across California to prevent violence against youth.  In the years that followed, the Foundation launched three more leadership recognition awards programs: the Champions of Health Professions Diversity Award honors the work of committed professionals who have helped students and changed systems to ensure that underrepresented minority candidates can succeed in the health professions; the Sabbatical Program Award provides an opportunity for much-needed rest and rejuvenation for executives at nonprofit health organizations, allowing them to return to their organizations in better health and with renewed focus; and the Public Policy Leadership Award (which was presented in 2004, 2006 and 2008) recognized legislators who made substantial contributions to the advancement of public policies that promote the health of underserved Californians.

I’m pleased to announce that the California Peace Prize, the Champions of Health Professions Diversity Award and the Sabbatical Program Award will resume in 2016.

Our awards are valued by the honorees who appreciate the attention given to the health issues they’ve dedicated so much time and energy to addressing, and there is another dimension at play. Well-deserved public recognition that comes from one’s peers in the community simply feels good. It’s a motivating force to keep working, pushing against barriers, and building a corps of supporters — the next generation of leaders who will build upon their work.

Beyond the award programs we are also looking now at other ways we can ease the burden on leaders at the organizations we fund. Our Board and staff are committed to finding ways to get money out the door faster — we want to reduce the length of time between when a letter of interest is received and when a grant check is cut, while sustaining the due diligence required by the public’s trust. We will also be looking at how, when and where we can exercise our own voice – to bring greater attention to the issues we care so deeply about.

Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge three influential leaders in health advocacy who have recently passed away.

Lark Galloway-Gilliam died December 1, 2014, after a long illness. As the founder and executive director of Community Health Councils, she pushed for quality health and health care in South Los Angeles.  She was an advocate with a real commitment to public health and communities of color. 

Peter Harbage died this year on February 3 after a courageous fight against leukemia. His passionate voice and keen expertise were instrumental in health care reform efforts in California and the U.S. He was an incredible partner to Cal Wellness several years ago as we assessed our Foundation’s opportunities to impact implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California.

Risë K. Phillips, president and CEO of T.H.E. (To Help Everyone) Health and Wellness Centers, died on February 10, 2015 at her home in Los Angeles. She was a passionate leader with a deep commitment and drive to providing quality, accessible health care to all residents of South and West Los Angeles.

All of us at Cal Wellness express our condolences, and deepest respect and appreciation for their tenacity and commitment to health equity.


Judy Belk
President and CEO

Leadership Recognition Resources

Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector
CompassPoint, January 2010

An Evaluation of Five Years of The California Wellness Foundation’s Sabbatical Program 2009
The Center for Community Health and Evaluation, January 2009

Reflections on Leadership Recognition — TCWF’s Champions of Health Professions Diversity Award
Cal Wellness, December 2007

Reflections on Leadership – The California Peace Prize
Cal Wellness, November 2005

The Impact of the VPI Leadership Programs
Cal Wellness, June 2003

Our Work

  • We use our resources to advance our mission through grantmaking, investments, sharing our learning and lifting our voice.
  • We fund direct services that address the urgent needs people are facing in their communities, particularly the needs of low-income individuals, people of color, youth and residents of rural areas.
  • We recognize, encourage and strengthen leaders to be powerful agents of change.
  • We support advocacy and civic engagement so that communities can build power and create public policies that reflect their vision, will and needs.
  • We trust and invest in nonprofit organizations so that they can operate at full capacity.
  • We partner with community-led organizations, philanthropic organizations, businesses, government and individuals who want to improve health and wellness for Californians.

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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