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Visions for a New Year: Helping our Community Heal and Move Forward

Colleagues, Collaborators, and our Central Texas Community,

As the clock turned to welcome a new decade, the year 2020 became one like no other in our lifetimes. While we yearn for a fresh start, a blank slate to begin anew, we face the reality that we remain very much in the throngs of a global health crisis. However, as we navigate our way out, there is light—a revival of sorts that organically emerges each January, encouraging us to reflect and inviting us to do better in the year ahead.

At St. David’s Foundation, we have much to reflect upon from the past year as we ask ourselves: What have we learned and how will those lessons move our work forward in 2021 to advance health equity in Central Texas?

For me personally, this month marks my one-year anniversary at St. David’s Foundation. Despite working from home for most of that time, I feel connected to my colleagues and Foundation team in a way that might not have occurred in a traditional, in-office environment. We have been forced to bring our whole selves to work most days—our homes, pets, children, and partners—creating an opportunity to see one another on a more human level. For this, I am grateful and respect the fortitude and flexibility of our team to accomplish so much under such trying circumstances.

As a mathematician, I gravitate toward discovering invisible structure in nature and quantifying that which surrounds us. This year has taught me that there is a continuum between quantitative and qualitative approaches that calls upon us to harness our own creativity and insights to weave together open-ended, exploratory methods with more well-defined measurement. Both are essential for effective philanthropy and imperative to our collective work. Further, the lessons learned from our work are not only vital to the Foundation’s future effectiveness, but also have the promise to further support Central Texas and beyond as we all work together to make our community better. To amplify this effort, we begin the year with a new leadership role, a Vice President of Evaluation and Strategic Learning.

In looking back on 2020, I reflect upon the pain, injustice, grief, and disproportionate impact on communities of color. This weighty reality strengthens our resolve to advance healthy equity and continue to dismantle systemic issues preventing access for our most vulnerable neighbors—barriers often rooted in racism. This moment calls on all of us to unite and do our part. Our work will largely be defined by the rebuilding and restoring of essential services that are helping individuals impacted by the pandemic and working to mitigate the ongoing threat and impact of COVID-19 for all. We will view our grantmaking efforts in the year ahead through this lens along with our strategic priorities.

We’ve made great strides in understanding and addressing these priorities by using 2020 as an opportunity to thoughtfully refocus our core values in a new light to ensure we can move more nimbly and effectively in response to the ever-evolving needs of our community. So today, I want to take a moment to recognize and celebrate the unity, strength, and resolve we’ve seen over the past year. We honor the resilience of our grantees, scholars, team, and the Central Texas community and the impactful work they’ve accomplished despite the many obstacles along the way.

  • In April 2020, we launched a $10 million COVID-19 Recovery Fund to support nonprofits and public entities on the front lines of the pandemic. We heard an outpouring of need and, across two phases of funding, granted more than 190 organizations with unrestricted funds to ensure they were able to carry out their essential work. Equity guided our funding decisions throughout the application process to ensure priority was given to those inequitably bearing the brunt of the crisis. In Phase II alone, 82% of grant recipients specifically addressed the needs of marginalized populations. Additionally, four organizations—Austin Black Physicians Association, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Scholars, Mission Capital, and the African American Youth Harvest Foundation—were awarded grants to help the generational work of dismantling systemic racism in Central Texas. We look forward to sharing stories in 2021 from our COVID-19 Recovery Fund grant recipients to shine an even greater light on the critical services each is providing.
  • In August, we welcomed 47 new aspiring health care professionals to the St. David’s Neal Kocurek Scholarship program. This year brought one of the most diverse groups of scholars in program history, with a wide range of career pursuits spanning from biomedical and medical engineers, physical therapists, surgeons, and health care administrators, to physicians, dentists, nurses, dermatologists and kinesiologists. They are first-generation college students, family members of current or past scholars, and young adults balancing work and school with the dream of improving health and well-being throughout our community.
  • Finally, St. David’s Foundation Dental Program nimbly and thoughtfully pivoted services to continue supporting the community when social distancing prevented in-person operations from continuing. Members of our Dental Program staff helped the community by delivering meals, sewing masks, facilitating telehealth visits, and beginning pen pal relationships with some of our most vulnerable citizens through unique partnerships with AGE of Central Texas and Meals on Wheels Central Texas. With advanced safety and infection control protocols in place, our dental team returned to Title I schools in August to provide dental care to students throughout our community.
  • Looking forward, I invite us all to channel what we’ve experienced, witnessed, and learned in 2020 into our resolve to redefine the narrative for tomorrow to drive greater unity, equity, and accessibility for our family, friends, and neighbors.

The new year is filled with the promise of hope. We cannot allow the events of 2020 to define who we will become in the new year ahead, but rather help us inform how we wish to move onward together. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I encourage us all to maintain a perspective of optimism and use it as our inspiration, regardless of what life sets along our path, as we work to pursue a better and brighter tomorrow.

Looking forward,

Edward Burger

President and CEO, St. David’s Foundation