Highmark Bright Blue Futures Awards: Recognizing and Supporting Transformative Organizations Across Our Footprint

We hosted our first-ever Highmark Bright Blue Futures Awards ceremony this year in Pittsburgh, where we recognized nonprofit organizations throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, Western and Northeastern New York, and West Virginia. Made possible by the Highmark Foundation, the theme for the inaugural event was, “A Look at Health Equity, Social Determinants of Health and Philanthropy to Advance Community Health.”

The event not only marked the start of an exciting tradition of recognizing organizations across our footprint, but it gave professionals a chance to highlightprogress in their respective industries, and exchange ideas for achieving more equitable, impactful outcomes for the demographics most in need of their services.

The keynote presentor was Dr. Myron Rolle, a neurosurgeon and former football safety who played for the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers. Rolle discussed how the values instilled in him from a very young age as a Bahamian American immigrant have translated into his passion for education and community service, and his commitment to health equity and improving health care quality and access for underserved populations in Orlanda, Florida, where he and his family currently live.



Below are the stories of the five organizations that were awarded Highmark Foundation grant funding in honor of their cutting-edge achievements in various categories, as well as 11 Rising Star organizations also recognized for their impact in our service regions.

Collaboration: A community of passionate changemakers is always greater than the sum of its parts. The Highmark Foundation’s collaboration award recognized organizations that work alongside community partners to build collective solutions, improve community health status and achieve long-lasting results for populations most in need of care.

POISE Foundation

The Food Trust

The Mon Health Medical Center Foundation

Mainstay Life Services

Phoenixville Community Health Foundation

Rising Star Awardees

Doctor checking child's height

POISE Foundation

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The POISE Foundation's Black Equity Coalition (BEC), born during the COVID-19 pandemic, was the recipient of Highmark's Collaboration award, an honor given based on the organization's spirit of partnership and the collective impact it has created so far for the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) of Black communities in the Pittsburgh region.

POISE was founded 43 years ago, and its mission has always been to help Black communities develop self-sufficient practices through collective asset building and grantmaking, and to serve as a fiscal sponsor for charitable organizations that align with its core mission. As POISE has evolved over the years, its team has continued to grow assets that support critical projects for creating education and business opportunities for a vibrant, thriving Black community in Pittsburgh and beyond.

The proposal POISE submitted for award funding focused on the collaboration that lies at the heart of POISE and BEC's relationships with other like-minded institutions in the region, and how they bring people and organizations together to create meaningful change.

"For us and The Black Equity Coalition, this award represents the recognition of our efforts to date and lets us know we're on the right path when it comes to generating a healthier community and equity as a whole," said POISE Foundation President and CEO Mark Lewis.

Lewis and Fred Brown, president & CEO of The Forbes Funds and Co-chair of BEC, came together several years ago on a project to create a large support network for communities of color based on increasing needs and concerns related to COVID-19.

Alongside several University of Pittsburgh epidemiologists, BEC surveyed nearly 400 Black Allegheny County residents about their vaccination status. Among those who hadn’t been vaccinated, the primary reasons given were fear of illness, not knowing the long-term effects, and fear of side effects. These results pointed to an overwhelming distrust of medical professionals, and a need for better education, resources and support around vaccination and health care.

The amazing staff of the BEC developed a framework to coach ambassadors to lead various trainings to educate people about vaccination rates and non-traditional approaches to reduce SDOH risk factors.

Three years later, the BEC team has recruited 181 ambassadors across the state, and the BEC network now consists of 120+ organizations that will reach more than 50,000 residents through education and an increase in vaccine uptake.

The Coalition has also reached diverse audiences through a radio partnership with WQED, with a series titled "A Matter of Trust," highlighting issues of vaccine hesitancy in communities. As a testament to its powerful message and reach, the project was nominated for an Emmy award.

POISE's efforts have evolved into a multi-million-dollar project focused on the holistic impact of education, the built environment, financial stability and housing on people’s health and quality of life, particularly during COVID-19 and times of crisis.

When describing their collaborative efforts, Fred Brown said, "Change moves at the speed of trust." This is a powerful motto for any organization looking to build relationships and create lasting, collective change in communities, and it certainly sums up POISE’s long-standing role as a builder of trust, community support and new opportunities.

Impactful Programming: The connection between physical, mental, and emotional health is undeniable. This award was given to programs that have made great strides in enhancing the health and well-being of individuals through holistic, hands-on solutions that achieve measurable improvements in people’s everyday lives.

The Food Trust

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As with many other health and lifestyle factors, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly exacerbated the longstanding issue of food insecurity and lack of access to healthy, affordable foods in Pennsylvania and beyond.

According to data from Feeding America, 108 billion pounds of perfectly healthy food are wasted every year, yet families everywhere still struggle to determine where their next meal is coming from, and if they’ll get the nutrients they need to not only survive, but to live long, healthy lives.

The Food Trust, a national organization that has operated out of Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey for the past 30 years, understands that everyone — from community and state institutions to retailers, farmers, and policymakers — needs to come to the table to ensure the availability of delicious, nutritious food for all.

The Food Trust received Highmark Bright Blue Futures' Impactful Programming award for its continued commitment to food education, access and affordability, and the outcomes its efforts have yielded for improving nutrition and its associated health factors.

"No one should have to choose between eating healthy and eating enough," said The Food Trust’s Associate Director of Nutrition Incentives Julia Koprak.

Since the development of the organization's Food Bucks Rx program, described as a Produce Prescription Program, many fewer people have had to make this choice. A pioneer in the 'food as medicine' movement, Food Bucks Rx allows providers to "prescribe" a produce subscription to patients that provides them with redeemable coupons to use for fruits and vegetables at various retail settings.

In 2022 alone, patients redeemed over $300,000 in produce through this program, demonstrating the dire, ever-growing need for this support in communities everywhere. The organization has partnered with more than 40 clinical distribution sites and 100+ redemption sites.

Not only does this program provide patients with autonomy over their health and nutrition practices, but it enables The Food Trust to tie coupon redemptions back to measurable health outcomes, including reduced A1C, blood pressure, and other clinical indicators.

Statistics reflecting the work of The Food Trust and similar organizations over the years show that people working with incentive programs eat more fruits and vegetables overall than those not utilizing programs.

The grant funding awarded to The Food Trust by the Highmark Foundation will not only aid the organization in feeding communities and ensuring the benefits of healthy food, but it will help it expand and develop an even greater charitable reach as the demand for immediate access to affordable produce continues to grow more every day.

The Mon Health Medical Center Foundation

Morgantown, West Virginia

The perinatal period is defined as anytime from a pregnancy's conception to one year postpartum, and during that time major changes occur in every aspect of a mother's life. One challenge that is faced by many women, up to one in five, are perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) including anxiety, depression, OCD, etc. Although this information is most discussed in relation to the postpartum period, it can impact women throughout pregnancy as well. 

Many women living with PMADs suffer in silence because they're afraid to ask for help or they don't know how, but The Mon Health Medical Center Foundation's Progressing through Postpartum (P3) Program, another impactful programming award winner, offers a proactive approach to helping moms address the challenges of perinatal mental health.

In 2020, Mon Health Medical Center launched the P3 Program using an integrated health framework to support new mothers experiencing PMADs. The program follows the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendations for screening for mood changes in pregnancy and postpartum. By universally screening patients, the P3 Program is able to identify and address concerns during pregnancy and give moms a leg up before their babies arrive.

The P3 Program also proactively outreaches within four days of delivery for all patients who deliver at facilities in its obstetrics network, and several times over the first three months postpartum. They offer six online support groups weekly, outpatient lactation services, and care coordination for specialized mental health services via telehealth. The virtual nature of the P3 Program and the telehealth services it offers help curb the geological barriers many families in the region face.

P3 is a free service that falls under the global fee for pregnancy and postpartum care and is supported by charitable contributions. This program is the first of its kind in West Virginia, and it has offered support and resources to more than 4,000 mothers to date through screening and proactive outreach.

Mon Health’s impact and the positive feedback it has received from patients and families has proven the effectiveness of its care model for helping new mothers prepare for and navigate mental health challenges. In 2023, 1022 patients were texted through Mon Health's P3 service, 104 patients were referred to therapy or psychiatry, 207 patients utilized medication for their mood, 112 lactation consultations were conducted, and 81% of contacted moms responded at least once.

"Our ultimate goal is for proactive outreach to become the gold standard for pregnancy and postpartum care," said Jennifer Bender, a registered nurse and perinatal nurse aavigator with Mon Health's P3 program. "We know that maternal mental health is a huge issue — it’s in everything you read right now, which is a good thing — and that’s why we talk about coming out of the darkness, because when these mood changes hit, it’s terrible for families, and no one wants to feel this way."

Mon Health applied to Highmark's impactful programming award category based on the organization's focus on risk factors present in West Virginia moms. Its integrative framework involving early outreach and text messaging to patients has enabled Mon Health to mitigate the barriers many patients in the region face when seeking out mental health care.

"I think we've known intuitively that we're doing really great work, and that we have a unique and beneficial modality, but to have Highmark affirm that the work we're doing is impactful and beneficial to our patients is really validating and encourages us to keep going and making meaningful changes in the lives of Appalachian families," said Lora McDonald, a perinatal social worker for Mon Health's P3 Program.

Organizational Excellence: Improving health equity and social determinants of health lies at the core of Highmark's mission and partnerships. The organizational excellence award was given to organizations focused on improving health in their service communities through this lens of social equity and access.

Mainstay Life Services

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

People with intellectual disabilities and autism (ID/A) are sometimes misunderstood, stigmatized and even ignored in our society, and this treatment has a tremendous impact on mental and physical health and quality of life.

Compared to the general population, people with ID/A have 1.6-3.4-fold higher age-adjusted odds of having a diagnosis of obesity or diabetes mellitus.

6.5 million people in the U.S. have an intellectual disability, and it behooves everyone — from health care providers to educators and community organizations — to work harder to understand and prioritize the needs of this population.

Highmark awarded its organizational excellence recognition to Mainstay Life Services, a nonprofit that provides lifelong, high-quality support services and promotes health, wellness, safety and independence for people with ID/A.

"Mainstay works with people and families to empower them to be active citizens of their community and be as independent as possible, and take ownership of their overall health and wellness," said Kim Sonafelt, Mainstay’s CEO.

By offering telehealth and virtual coaching to the people they support of all ages, Mainstay has achieved improved health outcomes by helping persons served access preventative care and resources, as well as social outlets, that they might not otherwise have without modern technology.

"Loneliness really impacts people's mortality," said Kim. "It's a social determinant of health, and people with disabilities tend to have smaller social circles. Technology is the great equalizer. It allows them to visit with family and friends more easily and maintain those connections."

Through "techuity," or tech equity, Mainstay has been able to track measurable, life-changing outcomes for the people and communities it works with, including decreases in loneliness, as well as physical health improvements like lower blood pressure and less frequent ER visits.

"The joy you see on someone’s face when they tell you they've met their health goals and they're no longer on as many medications, or they’re working at a new job, and they just got their first paycheck — you can't replace the joy that comes from that,"said Kim.

Mainstay's partnerships have resulted in positive health outcomes and system savings. Through work with StationMD’s ID/A-specialized telemedicine services over the last two years, Mainstay was able to provide 245 telemedicine visits across its residences, resolve medical matters for 92% of individuals served, reduce ER transfer rates by 27%, and decrease hospital and operations costs by an estimated $98,758.

Highmark’s funding and support will help Mainstay continue to reach target communities through remote monitoring, and provide competitive employment opportunities, as well as address the health disparities people with ID/A face daily.

Philanthropy: Highmark Foundation reserved this match award for a philanthropic organization whose leadership has paved the way for community-driven health care solutions and made meaningful progress in addressing widespread community health challenges.

Doctor checking child's height

Phoenixville Community Health Foundation

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

Like every region, residents in Phoenixville, Pa. face specific health and wellness concerns and disparities related to geography, demographic makeup, and access to certain resources and health care. Phoenixville Community Health Foundation's (PCHF) 2022-2024 Strategic Plan revealed the top two areas of need for residents in the greater Phoenixville region are access to mental health services and affordable housing. Other areas of need include affordable health insurance, substance abuse programs, and access to primary care providers. Additionally, there is a strong consensus that those whose first language is something other than English is the most under-served population in the area.

PCHF's mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all people in the greater Phoenixville region. The Foundation focuses on social determinants of health and housing as it continues to provide strong safety nets and support to more than 65 nonprofit organizations. They enhance collaboration between nonprofits through establishing relationships, capacity-building programs, and increasing the ability to serve the most vulnerable community members.

"At PCHF, we're building a brighter future for our community by being open and listening to those at the front lines, to better understand the needs, and adapt and provide for those needs," said Viviann Schorle, PCHF’s program officer.

PCHF chose the Phoenixville Free Clinic for the 2023 Highmark Bright Blue Futures Award due to its mission to provide quality healthcare to the uninsured and underserved with dignity and respect. The clinic staff is composed of one primary care physician, one nurse practitioner, three nurses, 22 volunteer doctors, and 26 volunteer nurses who provide services in areas ranging from pediatrics to neurology and cardiology in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages.

From the beginning, they aimed to help patients look at their health from a holistic perspective and receive all the services and resources they need to have a successful life. Through its free clinic services, as well as a Behavioral Health program the Phoenixville Free Clinic recently launched, they are keeping their promise to care for the whole person.

Highmark’s funding will play a critical role in supporting The Phoenixville Free Clinic's continued expansion and ability to service more people and impact lives throughout the Greater Phoenixville region.

The grant funding is being used to provide 6,200 patient visits to uninsured members of the community, initial and follow-up primary medical care to 1,800 unduplicated patients, perform approximately 5,600 laboratory tests for patient diagnosis and treatment planning and provide 100 behavioral health care visits per month.

"With Highmark's matching grant, we'll be able to open about 100 slots in the behavioral health realm, for the community. With limited funds and access to mental and behavioral health services, that’s a huge impact," said Viviann.

Doctor checking child's height

Rising Star Awardees

In addition to the awardees above, the Highmark Foundation also recognized 11 Rising Star organizations across our service regions that received mini grants for their unique ideas and advancements impacting community health.

American Red Cross of Western New York
(Buffalo, New York)

The Red Cross of Western New York biomedical blood service project on Sickle Cell Disease involves ongoing efforts to reach a larger, more diverse blood donor base that represents its patient populations, and ensure individuals suffering from Sickle Cell Disease have access to healthy and safe blood transfusions. More than 68,000 African American blood donors nationwide donated to the Sickle Cell Initiative between July 2021 and June 2022, and the number of first-time African American blood donors who gave with the Red Cross increased by 60%. In the second year of the Sickle Cell Initiative, the number of first-time African American blood donors who gave with the Red Cross increased by 31% year over year. The American Red Cross aims to nearly triple the amount of Black blood donors by the end of year 2027.  The American Red Cross of Western New York continues to partner with local organizations to gain the visibility and support needed to continue the fight against sickle cell.

Lori’s Hands, Inc.
(Newark, Delaware)

Founded in 2009 by students at The University of Delaware, Lori's Hands, Inc. is a community health service learning organization that provides instrumental and social support to community members living with chronic illness, while offering educational opportunities for students pursuing careers in the health care field. A recent internal survey determined that 98% of Lori's Hands clients reported improved quality of life as a result of participation. The program's success has led to the establishment of two new chapters in the past three years.

AIDS Resource Alliance
(Williamsport, Pennsylvania)

AIDS Resource Alliance, Inc. is committed to empowering individuals living with HIV and LGBTQ+ individuals by providing them with high-quality, affirming programs. Through their efforts, they strive to reduce HIV transmission, promote increased awareness and testing, and change the way people experience healthcare. Their primary care clinic, AR Health, provides compassionate care in a welcoming environment, ensuring our targeted populations receive the care they deserve.  The organization has provided stable housing for all its previously homeless clients and ensured that 97% of its clients living with HIV see a physician at least every six months.

Children’s Therapy Clinic, Inc.
(Charleston, West Virginia)

Children's Therapy Clinic provides families in Charleston, West Virginia with comprehensive therapy that caters to the unique needs and abilities of each child while offering a team approach to help children reach their full potential. Through occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, music therapy and social skills services, the team at Children's Therapy Clinic works to improve the functional abilities of children with a variety of diagnoses. Therapists at Children's Therapy Clinic review children's treatment plans at least every six months, adding and modifying goals according to individual needs and progress, and engage children and their families in new activities to support growth and development over time.

Delaware Regional Dream Center
(Newark, Delaware)

The Delaware Regional Dream Center is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven charitable organization that finds the forgotten and helps them build a firm foundation so that they will flourish in life. It aims to provide community outreach to individuals by coordinating services and/or referrals that deliver life’s necessities. Thus, motivating those individuals to achieve a more fulfilled standard of living.  They create, develop, and sustain programs to address hunger relief for our community's needs.  In 2023, there were more than 17,600 participants in their drive-thru program, 150 home deliveries, and 7,500 Boxes of Hope filled with 25 pounds of non-perishable food provided.  With the help of a robust team of volunteers, in total they have distributed 183 tons of food valued at over $307,000.  

Homeless Children’s Education Fund
(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Founded in 1999, The Homeless Children's Education Fund's (HCEF) mission is to advance the education of students experiencing homelessness in the Southwestern Pa. region, and guide them to be productive, empowered citizens. HCEF's continuum of care model encourages learning, curiosity and growth for students from birth to 24 years old. At the intersection of formal, informal, and social-emotional learning, HCEF provided direct service supports to almost 600 students in 2023 and seeks to further expand in the coming years.

MAYA Organization
(Swissvale, Pennsylvania)

MAYA is a Swissvale-based nonprofit organization that empowers, educates, and advocates for marginalized birthing people and incarcerated individuals. The organization’s aspiration is to create a city without racial disparities in maternal-infant outcomes; one that provides safe and equitable spaces where all birthing people can carry, deliver, and care for their babies. MAYA's mentors, doulas, and counselors provide vulnerable expectant and new parents with the tools they need to take on the critical tasks of giving birth and raising new lives. During 2023, 88.2% of MAYA's Black program participants gave birth to full term babies, and 82.4% of those babies were a healthy birth weight. 

The Open Door Inc.
(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Since its establishment in 2006, The Open Door, Inc. has been dedicated to offering affordable, secure, and supportive housing for individuals with HIV who do not qualify for conventional housing programs. Over the years, The Open Door has assisted more than 300 individuals through its programs, leading to significant enhancements in clinical outcomes and the overall quality of life for its participants. In 2023, the organization extended its reach by engaging 25 new individuals in Representative Payee services, achieving viral suppression for 90% of participants. The success of The Open Door's model has now been replicated in Youngstown, Ohio, Philadelphia, Pa. and Birmingham, Ala.

Seneca Street Community Development Corp.
(Buffalo, New York)

The Seneca Street Warming Center was established after two residents of Seneca Babcock died during the blizzard of 2022. A commercial generator was installed to provide heat and electricity. Blankets, pillows, towels, toiletries, hygiene products and food are ready if needed. Nearby neighbors are on call to open the building during an emergency, prepare food, shovel snow, and get stranded people to the Warming Center by snowmobile.  In addition, Seneca Street CDC has collaborated with medical organizations to provide needed healthcare services to the Seneca Babcock community. This has included a mobile medical van that provides physical, behavioral health and dental exams; the Roswell Park Cancer Institute mobile lung cancer screening van that provided CT scans to more than 50 people in 2023 and a vaccine clinic.

Stitch Buffalo
(Buffalo, New York)

Art is a powerful form of expression that can bring people together and inspire empowerment, collaboration, and connection. Stitch Buffalo had this in mind when founding its nonprofit in 2014 on the west side of Buffalo, New York. It began as a weekly embroidery workshop for refugee women and has since grown into a textile arts center for people to gather, create, and pursue economic empowerment. Many women return to the program year after year due to its continued positive impact on their lives. Several artists in the Refugee Women's Workshop are approaching 10 years of participation in Stitch Buffalo's programs, and participants have self-reported that the organization has played a critical role in their community integration, sense of self, and ability to care for themselves and their families.

Focus on Renewal Sto-Rox Neighborhood Corp.
(McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania)

Focus on Renewal Sto-Rox Neighborhood Corporation's (FOR) was born out of residents' desire to establish an umbrella organization that offers much-needed social services for the Sto-Rox community. The organization operates out of four locations in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, providing early childhood education, nutrition resources, mental health support groups, and arts programs to community members in need of assistance. FOR's Steel Chef program, which was created to address the gap in SDOH equity related to education and access to nutritious foods, has taught nutrition and healthy eating to 30 participants since its inception in 2018-2019, and provided warm meals to 110+ homeless and near homeless individuals through its "Welcome to the Table" initiative.