Washington’s Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Fund Announces First Grant Awards to Recruit World-Class Researchers to State

Published by Washington's CARE Fund

Washington’s Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Fund is excited to announce the inaugural recipients of the $500,000 Distinguished Researcher Grant Awards. Three Washington institutions will receive recruitment grants to bring five world-class cancer researchers to the state. See the full announcement here.

Created in 2015, the CARE Fund is a public-private partnership that aims to enhance the cancer research field by supporting the recruitment of distinguished researchers and funding research that has the potential for the next big breakthrough discovery. Empire Health Foundation, based in Spokane, WA, selected as CARE’s program administrator, will be responsible for administering the grants. For more information on the CARE Fund, please visit www.wacarefund.org or contact Peter Choi, CARE Program Coordinator (peter@empirehealthfoundation.org).

Recruiting takes time, relationship building and belief

By Daphne Williams, EHF Director of Human Resources and Operations

Walk into the doors of Empire Health Foundation (EHF) and immediately you know this place is different than other organizations in Spokane. You just aren’t sure how. Then you realize – the heavy focus on results, hiring the best people to perform the functions needed within this organization and ensuring that employees have everything needed to do the best work. One thing the organization lacked when I first started, and we knew it would be challenging to attain in our majority Caucasian town, was diversity. And that was it, my marching orders. “It’s not about finding that rare unicorn. It’s just going to take time and a belief it can be done.” Trust me, the first few times I’d heard Antony Chiang, EHF President, give me that rousing speech of encouragement, I was extremely doubtful. But, I knew I had nothing to lose if I put in serious effort.

On a Friday night, I began calling friends, emailing their contacts and meeting with different people in the community, all of whom were people of color. Talking to people on the street and at restaurants as they passed by no longer gave me pause. And a year and half later from my first day, our organization went from 11% racially diverse to 49% racially diverse (59% racial, LGBTQ, disability, veteran combined).

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Really, it’s not about unicorn hunting. It just took time, initiating relationships and a belief it could be done. And we did it! We now have the ability to better relate to and help more diverse communities in Spokane because we have staff who live in, relate with and understand these communities. Internally, EHF provides a place that supports our staff and their authentic selves as well as one that fosters personal and professional growth. And for people of color and minority groups in Spokane, when you walk in the doors of the Philanthropy Center, there is someone who looks like you, understands or lives in your community, and is advocating for your whole-person health. 

Rising Strong gives troubled Spokane parents another chance to keep their children

Written and published by The Spokesman-Review, December 26, 2017

Cassandra Moffitt knew she needed a change when she went to the hospital to give birth to her son, Zek.

Moffitt, 26, had already lost custody of her four older children when she went to Deaconess Hospital for her C-section in October. She remembered shooting up with meth before the birth.

“All my kids were born drug-addicted,” she said.

Normally, that would lead to the state seizing her baby. But this time, Moffitt was given another option: enroll in a residential treatment program, and keep her newborn.

Moffitt and 2-month-old Zek are one of eight families now enrolled in Rising Strong, a live-in treatment and parenting program for families in danger of losing custody of their children, often due to drug use.

Parents began moving into the dormlike rooms at the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary convent in October, with kids following a week or two later.

The program is run by Catholic Charities with funding and support from the Empire Health Foundation, as well as Premera Blue Cross and Providence. The goal is to keep kids with their biological parents and give those parents the skills they need to get clean and find jobs.

When Moffitt was growing up, her mother was in and out of prison and jail for drug possession, forgery and identity theft.

“At 12 years old, she showed me how to make bathroom crank,” she said. Moffitt was using it a year later.

When she was young, she promised herself she’d be nothing like her mother.

“I sit back now and I’m the spitting image of her and it sucks,” she said.

For a while, she held down a job, but that ended as her addiction deepened. She lost custody of her three oldest children, who are with her grandmother. Her fourth child was taken away from her after birth because she was still using meth.

She’s had no stable housing for the past decade, and she said that before she enrolled in Rising Strong, she usually slept around the Safeway on Market Street. She argued with caseworkers and the court commissioner assigned to her children and was angry most of the time.

“I’ve worked on my anger, worked on my temper,” she said, though she can still swear a blue streak. 

One of her counselors was able to help her calm down by finding a meditation video called, “(Expletive) It and Let that (Expletive) Go,” which blends New Age music, the relaxing voice of traditional meditation and a heavy dose of cursing.

Moffitt said it’s done wonders.

At Rising Strong, she’s learned how to swaddle Zek in a wrap covered with blue whales. He was getting over a bout of bronchitis and the flu this week, she said while bottle-feeding him.

“Every time I burp him, it comes out the wrong end!” she laughed.

Rising Strong will eventually take a total of 20 families for the pilot program. When parents graduate, they will be clean and will have earned either a GED or associate degree.

Child care is provided on-site for kids who aren’t school-age, and parents have a demanding all-day schedule of classes and group sessions focusing on addiction recovery, parenting skills and job readiness. Several said having a daily routine is helping their recovery by keeping them busy and out of old habits.

A single van serves as transportation for the families to get to doctor appointments, school and other places.

“We’re not going to let them fail. We’re going to help them stand up until they can,” said Teri Kook, the vice president of family resiliency at Empire Health. She’s “on loan” to Catholic Charities temporarily to help get the program off the ground, and gets to help cradle and feed the babies while parents are in classes.

“It’s the joy of my life to do this,” Kook said.

The on-site staff include peer support specialists who have experience losing their own children to foster care.

One of those specialists, Melissa Zielstorf, said she started using opioids at 14, then added other drugs. She moved to Spokane five years ago because her mother was here and she wanted to get off heroin.

“I called her on Christmas and said, ‘I need help,’ ” she said. After her first try at drug treatment, she kicked the heroin but picked up a meth habit. She lost custody of her kids 20 days later.

“Losing my kids was the worst thing I’ve ever been through,” she said. A second round of treatment helped her get clean and get her kids back.

Zielstorf now works with families at Rising Strong to show them recovery is possible and offer support. 

“I truly believe I went through everything because this is what I was made to do,” she said.

Tiffany Link and Anthony Whitehead share a room on the third floor of the convent with their infant daughter, Zamariah, who was born in July.

The couple have three older children who are 5, 3 and almost 2, who are scheduled to move into neighboring rooms Dec. 22. That just happens to be their third wedding anniversary.

The couple were homeless before joining Rising Strong. Whitehead was working in a restaurant while Link cared for the kids, but the two struggled to stay off meth and afford an apartment while supporting their children. They voluntarily surrendered their older children because they couldn’t care for them without housing and struggled to get custody back because of drug use.

“This program was our saving grace,” Whitehead said. “If it weren’t for this, we wouldn’t have our kids.”

Whitehead quit his job to move into Rising Strong and dedicate himself to recovery full time. He’s formed such a bond with Zamariah that she starts screaming if he leaves the room.

Residents support each other, and while there are tensions and frustrations, there are also inside jokes and moments of caring.

The group has started calling the small cribs provided for babies “taco beds” because they’re oblong and fold up to be stored. Whitehead is known as the “sheriff.”

Moffitt calls Zamariah the group’s “lucky bald baby” and said many of the babies in the convent like to wake her up first thing in the morning to play.

While walking through the halls, Link looked wistfully at the small kitchen on the fourth floor near Moffitt’s room.

“This is the nicest kitchen,” Link said.

“That’s because we keep it clean!” Moffitt responded. The refrigerator is covered with children’s artwork, inspirational quotes the parents have written for each other and sobriety certificates. Moffitt is on day 59.

For her, even the worst parts of parenting have become a privilege.

“I have yet to have any kind of urge to use,” she said as Zek stretched and started to cry in her arms. “This little cry right here is the reason why.”

‘I’m driven to make the world a better place:’ Antony Chiang, president of Empire Health Foundation, uses bold thinking to drive social change

Written and published by The Spokesman-Review, December 23, 2017

At Empire Health Foundation, Antony Chiang’s coworkers often tease him about his relationship with his white board. 

Some of the region’s thorniest social problems get listed on the board above his desk. Marker in hand, Chiang - the foundation’s president - diagrams and analyzes strategies for addressing them.

Childhood obesity? Bring scratch cooking back to school lunches.

Adults with tooth pain cycling through local emergency rooms? Help them find a dentist.

High numbers of kids in foster care? Allow families stay together while the parents get drug treatment. 

Under Chiang’s leadership, Empire Health Foundation has developed a reputation for bold thinking. It finds successful programs in other communities, then works with local partners to adapt them for Eastern Washington. 

The foundation’s work goes beyond writing checks from its $80 million endowment. By partnering with others, Chiang wants to make system-wide progress on issues like reducing kids’ waistlines, getting people access to health care, reducing school suspensions and building resilient families. 

“We’ll do whatever it takes to move the dial,” Chiang said. “My dream is that no matter who you are in this community, you would have vibrant health. When everyone has access to good health, the community wins. Everybody wins.”

Chiang, 49, is the son of immigrants from Taiwan who spent part of his growing up years in California’s Silicon Valley. People who work with Chiang describe him as entrepreneurial, analytic and compassionate. 

“He’s a visionary leader. He’s always pushing people to think bigger and bolder,” said Sarah Lyman, the foundation’s executive vice president. 

When people leave meetings with Chiang, “they’re both overwhelmed and inspired,” she said. 

Innovation and making a difference

Chiang joined Empire Health Foundation in 2010, shortly after it was created with funds from the sale of Deaconess and Valley hospitals to a for-profit Tennessee hospital chain.

He was recruited away from TechSoup Global, a nonprofit that administers corporate philanthropy for Microsoft and other tech companies. At the time, Chiang and his wife, Caroline Yu, were living in San Francisco with the oldest of their two daughters, now ages 12 and 5. 

In some ways, Chiang was an unlikely choice to lead Empire Health Foundation. He has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and a Stanford University law degree.

“I wasn’t a doctor or a public health official. I’d never done grant-making,” he said. And until the interview, “I’d never set foot in Eastern Washington.”

But the board’s vision for Empire Health Foundation appealed to Chiang’s entrepreneurial instincts. 

“We wanted to create a new foundation, a learning organization. We didn’t have any of the answers, but we were passionate about advancing health equality,” he said.

At TechSoup Global, Chiang led a team that streamlined the cost of administering grants in other countries. He also had started two tech companies that serve nonprofits.

“I’ve always been at this intersection of innovation, making a difference and systems,” Chiang said.

Busting stereotypes

Chiang credits two sets of parents for influencing his outlook and career path.

His dad and mom divorced when he was 5. He grew up close to each of his parents and their new spouses. Since both parents moved multiple times for jobs, Chiang attended a dozen different schools before he started high school.

In some schools, he was the only student of color in his class. Others schools were racially and ethnically diverse. Chiang said his school experience reinforced the importance of “busting stereotypes” by getting to know people of different backgrounds.

At Empire Health Foundation, he’s worked to create an inclusive culture. “We have a diverse staff and a diverse board,” he said.

Chiang’s family also is racially diverse. “My dad remarried a blonde, Caucasian woman. My siblings are ‘hapa,’ which in the Asian American community is the term for half-half,” he said.

The only grandparents he ever knew were his step mom’s parents.

“They could have stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said. “Some of the most loving people in my life didn’t look anything like me.”

‘A nerdy kid with a big backpack’ 

Chiang graduated from high school in Cupertino, California, better known as the home of Apple. He was “a nerdy kid with a big backpack,” whose mentors steered him toward computers and engineering.

Chiang thought he wanted to work for NASA - his step dad was a rocket scientist. But after the 1986 explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, he wondered about the future of space missions. He decided to go to law school. It was the first of several abrupt career turns for Chiang. 

“I went into public interest law thinking I was going to fight against evil in society,” he said.

After he graduated, he worked as a law clerk for several nonprofits. But Chiang found fewer bad guys than he expected. Sometimes, the system itself was the problem.

“It felt like what we were doing was band aids. I wanted to address the root cause,” he said. He gravitated to philanthropy, in jobs where he could take a systems-wide approach to social change.

Looking back, Chiang sees the strong influence of his dad and step mom on his eventual career.

His father, whom Chiang describes as a “big personality,” started several companies, including a thriving Silicon Valley real estate business. His step-mom was an elementary teacher and “the most loving, caring person I know.”

“I guess it’s in my DNA to want to be entrepreneurial,” he said. “I’m driven to make the world a better place, using all the best approaches from the for-profit and the nonprofit worlds.”

“Everyone deserves health’ 

In Spokane, Chiang has found an ideal environment for innovation. 

“I call it the Goldilocks factor,” he said. “Eastern Washington is not too big and not too small. It’s just the right size to have a sense of community and shared values. There’s a ‘help your neighbor’ ethic.”

Cooperative efforts are essential to Empire Health Foundation’s work. The income from foundation funds about $4 million of work annually. Through partnerships and other grants, millions of dollars flow into the initiatives.

“It would be ridiculous if we went around saying we would lower obesity rates by ourselves, or reduce the foster care rate,” Chiang said. “We have to do it with key partners.” 

Childhood obesity was one of the foundation’s first big projects. About one in three Eastern Washington students is overweight or obese. Rather than trying to change individual students’ eating habits, the foundation took a system-wide approach, zeroing in on processed food in school lunches. 

“Instead of relying on kids to choose a salad, we’re offering all healthy choices,” said Lyman, the foundation’s executive vice president. 

Since 2011, the foundation has worked with nine school districts to bring scratch cooking and local produce back to the lunch menu. To transform school kitchens, the foundation provided $2 million in grants for new equipment and staff training. 

This year, the districts will serve 4.7 million scratch-cooked meals. The foundation is tracking changes in students’ body mass index. To date, Cheney School District has seen the most progress. Among K-5 students, the BMI has dropped 4.5 percent.

At Spokane Public Schools, Superintendent Shelley Redinger also credits Empire Health Foundation for training that helps staff work with students who’ve been exposed to trauma. Those students also receive training to help them “self-regulate” emotions to reduce disruptive behavior. 

The foundation’s work with Spokane Public Schools addresses both physical and mental health, said Kevin Morrison, director of communications.

“If we have students coming to our classrooms who are hungry, or having sugar highs or unregulated behavior, our teachers can’t teach,” he said.

Empire Health Foundation also works on initiatives to improve graduation rates and reduce school suspensions. 

In the health field, the foundation is a partner in efforts to increase the number of family doctors in Washington and help people sign up for health insurance. In rural areas, the foundation works on aging and Native American health issues.

Strengthening families to keep kids out of foster care is another focus.

In Spokane County, children are in foster care at higher ratios than the state average. So in October, the foundation and Catholic Charities launched Rising Strong, a residential program that allows parents to stay with their children while they’re getting drug and alcohol treatment.

“What we’re doing is leveraging the power of the love for their children to become clean and sober, and change the trajectory of that family,” Chiang said.

Chiang wants Empire Health Foundation to be known as a champion for health equity, and an organization that makes real impacts on people’s lives. 

“Everyone deserves health,” he said, “no matter their economic station in life, no matter their race, no matter their religion.”

Foundation helps schools launch scratch-cooking programs

Written and published by Food Management, December 4, 2017

This fall, LJ Klinkenberg introduced a new menu item at Cheney School District in Washington: chicken and lentil Korean street tacos. 

Klinkenberg, director of nutrition services, says students like that it’s a trendy-sounding food. “But they’re also getting lentils that are coming in from literally less than an hour from here.” 

Cheney students eat a variety of meals like this one, all made by district cooks: chicken and waffles, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, deep-dish turkey potpies and pizza made with a naturally fermented crust from a local purveyor. About 80 percent of the food purchased by the district comes in the form of whole commodity or locally sourced ingredients.

A total of nine school districts in eastern Washington run scratch-cooking programs like this one, launched through partnerships with Empire Health Foundation. Cheney started its program in 2011 as one of the foundation’s pilot partners, at the dawn of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. 

“Our very first strategic initiative was to see to see what we could do to reduce childhood obesity rates in eastern Washington,” says Laura Martin, program associate for the foundation. 

The foundation has invested nearly $3 million dollars in its Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools initiative, which serves a mix of people living in urban, suburban and rural areas in a seven-county area and on tribal lands. The population mirrors those in other parts of the country: About one in three children are considered overweight or obese.

Partner districts deliver 4.7 million scratch-cooked meals yearly, serving 44% of the total K-12 student population in the region. In the Cheney School District, they’ve seen a 4.5 percent (statistically significant) reduction in the number of students classified as overweight or obese over a period of five years. It appears that they’re on the right track.

The foundation provides training for kitchen employees, connects schools with funding streams for needs such as kitchen equipment and helps districts reimagine their meal programs—from menu modifications to marketing plans. 

Klinkenberg, who served as the foundation’s liaison to school districts before he took the position in Cheney, says training kitchen workers to be school cooks is the foundation’s top priority. “There was a generation of people who had only been opening bags” to prepare school meals, he says. 

To help employees acquire an entirely new set of skills, the foundation brings teaching chefs into the schools through its culinary academy. Kitchen workers attend a four-day program where they learn bedrock culinary tasks such as knife skills, vegetable preparation and proper raw protein handling. They also learn management skills such as food buying practices and efficiency in the kitchen. 

If training is the most important aspect of launching a scratch-cooking program, marketing is the most important aspect of maintaining one, Martin says. To make it worthwhile, a district needs to change its food culture. 

“School food is pretty synonymous with hot dogs and tater tots and chips, so when you’re replacing those with roasted potatoes and baked chicken that has actual bones in it, marketing these programs to the kids and making it fun is imperative,” she says. “You can pat yourself on the back if you’re pumping out food that’s nutritious, but unless you’re actually getting those kids to eat the food then, to me, it’s not a success.” 

Employees are encouraged to reimagine their role in the lunchroom. Kitchen workers are educators who create opportunities for kids to try new things and promote healthy food choices. They begin with tasting events, where staff and students preview new menu items and share their opinions. Districts launch new menus at the start of the school year, so they hold promotional events in the spring, complete with voting boxes at elementary schools so students can rank dishes.

Throughout the year, workers describe new dishes in familiar ways to skeptical or inquisitive students. (A pasta casserole may be described as “curly noodles, tomato sauce and cheese.”) They also stock small cups on the line so they can offer samples. At the secondary level, table tents inform students about nutrition and new menu items. 

Districts also aim to elevate the appearance of school food, to make it look less industrial. Martin says it’s important in an age when more and more students pay attention to aesthetics: “From fifth grade up, that’s a pretty savvy customer group,” she says. 

The foundation has seen firsthand that, with resources and creativity, schools can make nutritious scratch meals that appeal to almost any student. 

“It can happen,” Martin says. “Kids actually will eat vegetables.”

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