Grassroots Health is thrilled and grateful to announce a seed gift from The Risa Fund to support our initial pilot of programming in Philadelphia, which is scheduled to get off the ground this month. The Risa Fund has been supporting DC-based organizations active in promoting mental health, wellbeing, and social justice since 2013. They wanted to support our expansion outside of DC, and hope that this gift can not only support our start-up costs, but also help us build momentum in growing our base of support from other donors in Philadelphia.
Our Founder and Executive Director, Tyler Spencer, sat down with Gail Schonfeld, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Risa Fund for a quick Q&A.
Tyler: Could you tell us about yourself and your work in leading the Risa Fund and providing funds and other types of support to mental health programs?
Gail: In January of 2013, our family launched the Risa Fund in memory of our middle daughter Marisa who we lost to suicide in 2011. We sought to honor her passion for social justice and improve the mental health and wellbeing of DC youth. Our intent is to create partnerships and serve as a catalyst to get foundations, non-profits, and other agencies to support meaningful mental health initiatives. We’ve worked to align diverse stakeholders that influence youth mental health, including healthcare providers, foster agencies, artists, schools, and city agencies. We are continually looking for ways to impact mental health resources and health outcomes.
Oh, and about me :)…I grew up in NY and have an undergrad degree in Rehabilitation Services and a Master’s in Public Health. I started out working in the public sector under the Carter Administration before moving to the private sector where I worked with major corporations on their health and disability management strategies. Currently, I spend my time working for the Risa Fund, painting, playing lots of pickleball, hiking, and reading.
Tyler: What has been one of your most memorable/ proud moments with the Risa Fund?
Gail: I have always been proud of our relationship with all of our grantees and what they ultimately accomplish. To me, it’s most rewarding to receive regular feedback from our grantees. For example, we have always supported ArtReach’s art therapy program at THEARC. Hearing that even through the pandemic the participants wanted to maintain classes via zoom and receiving positive feedback from the participants about how meaningful the program is makes what I do all worthwhile.
Tyler: What inspired you to support Grassroots Health, and particularly our expansion to Philadelphia?
Gail: I was initially drawn to Grassroots Health because I was fascinated by the concept of pairing D1 athletes and middle schoolers in a way that would benefit both groups. I was fortunate to be able to attend a training last summer and was blown away by how passionate the staff and athletes are. I was further struck by how open the athletes were in sharing their personal stories and how equipped they appeared in educating middle schoolers in mental health, sexual health, and nutrition. I also love that the curriculum was implemented throughout a three-year program. I was interested in your expansion to Philly because of a few reasons. One of our other long-standing partners, Leveling the Playing Field, had recently expanded to Philly and my sense is that they are a like-minded organization which lead me to think that it would be a good place for Grassroots too. In philanthropy, there is a saying “give where you live”. That is what we normally do. However, as I think about the Risa Fund and our strategic planning, I often think about how great our grantees are and perhaps we should be helping them expand with the lofty hope that some may become national programs.