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Collaborating to Support Residents & Nonprofit Capacity Building in Rural Communities

The Michigan Health Endowment Fund has joined Otsego Community Foundation in support of the Otsego County United Way’s START (Services, Tools, Assistance, Resources, Talents) Collaborative.

Image captured during a recent START Collaborative retreat in Otsego County.

The Michigan Health Endowment Fund (Health Fund) has joined Otsego Community Foundation (OCF) in support of the Otsego County United Way’s (OCUW) START (Services, Tools, Assistance, Resources, Talents) Collaborative, a multi-sector initiative in Otsego County that aims to address the unmet needs of vulnerable individuals through collaboration between nonprofits, schools, hospitals, government entities and businesses.

The Health Fund and OCUW and OCF’s Tornado Response Fund (TRF) are supporting the START Collaborative to build a more effective, equitable service system that improves the health and well-being of all county residents.

“We were able to partner with the Health Fund, and it was very meaningful that they cared about our rural community in this way. It’s an opportunity we really appreciate,” Dana Bensinger, executive director of OCF said.

The Health Fund’s support will go towards hiring a full-time START Navigator position and consultant through its Community Health Impact program, which supports bold ideas that empower communities to solve their most pressing health challenges. 

The START Collaborative will strategize innovative solutions, promote collective action and overcome health challenges by addressing service gaps, social factors and limited healthcare access in the community through the help of the newly established community navigator position and a consultant.

“The START collaborative really showcases the deep connections and will to work together that are major assets in Otsego County and so many other rural communities across our state,” Megan Murphy, director of Community Health and Capacity Building at the Health Fund, said.

Nearly two years after a devastating tornado touched down in Gaylord, OCF is leveraging funding from the TRF to advance community solutions like the START Collaborative to ensure that Otsego County is prepared to support vulnerable residents.

As CMF reported, the TRF was established shortly after the tornado hit to support collaborative work with the nonprofit, government, philanthropic and private sectors to accelerate recovery for a thriving, resilient and even stronger Gaylord.

According to OCF, the new consultant, Dr. Pennie Foster-Fishman, Ph.D., has over 30 years of experience leading this type of collaborative facilitation. Foster-Fisherman’s interests primarily emphasize systems change, particularly how organizational, inter-organizational, community and state systems can improve to better meet the needs of children, youth, and families.

Melissa McDonnell will serve as the START Navigator and will train with community partners and participants of the Gaylord Long-Term Recovery Group (GLTRG) and the Department of Health and Human Services, Human Services Network.

“We have always known that our nonprofit partners needed a position like this to effectively support vulnerable residents in Otsego County,” Bensinger said.

McDonnell will support vulnerable individuals during personal emergencies like food insecurity or larger crises like a natural disaster.

“When our partners at OCF and OCUW shared their vision to align local services to better address natural disasters, health emergencies and the needs of vulnerable community members, it was a strong fit with our commitment to nonprofit capacity building. We’re excited to contribute resources to help build on the local knowledge and expertise, so they don’t have to go it alone,” Murphy said.

Bensinger shared that OCF and OCUW are thankful for the Health Fund’s support because Otsego County is considered a private foundation desert.

“I’ve been in conversations with other rural communities that this is an equity concern that we don’t have access to resources to support our communities at this level. To be able to work with OCUW and the Health Fund successfully addresses one of our grantmaking priorities of leveraging funding from outside our community,” Bensinger said.

Bensinger shared that recently, OCF and OCUW hosted a retreat with over 60 human services organizations led by the START Collaborative to work towards a common vision, which she shared will be very impactful for the future of the community.

“We’re all partners; whether we bring knowledge, people power, or financial resources to our community, we need it all. We need partnerships because we don’t have the capacity to do it alone,” Bensinger said. 

Want more?

Learn more about the START Collaborative.

Read more about how the Michigan Health Endowment Fund has supported communities in creating another new staffing position to support community members facing behavioral health crises and officers responding to situations addressing complex behavioral health needs.

Learn more about the Otsego Community Foundation’s Tornado Response Fund.