Two Decades of Progress

Only a little more than a month ago there was a small celebration at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury. Three women lined up for a photo opportunity to mark an important occasion. Nancy Heaton, flanked by State Rep. Maria Horn, D-64, and New York Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-Dutchess/Columbia County), received citations for her work and for the contributions of the Foundation for Community Health (FCH) to our Connecticut and New York communities over the last 20 years.

Heaton, as president and CEO of FCH, has overseen the Sharon-based philanthropic organization as it has granted more than $21 million through 609 grants to 118 organizations, and invested thousands of staff hours to support better health in our regional communities, many that historically have been underserved.

Our front page story this week by Debra A. Aleksinas provides a comprehensive look at the foundation’s work since its inception in 2003 with a goal to promote healthier individuals and communities. Aleksinas’ story also explains FCH’s connection to Sharon Hospital’s sale back then to a for-profit company. Since the early years of the 20th century, many generous donors had contributed to the hospital to help support its nonprofit work. After it was sold, then Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal petitioned to create the Foundation for Community Health “to maintain and improve the physical and mental health of all the residents historically served by Sharon Hospital, Inc.” His move was approved in Litchfield County Court, and the charitable funds were transferred to the foundation.

FCH has met its mandate, stewarding the funds from that sale for the benefit of a rural community that stretches across 17 towns in Northwest Connecticut and the Greater Harlem Valley in New York. Approximately 52,000 people call this community home.

Under Heaton’s leadership the foundation can be credited not only for what it has accomplished in awarding grants, but how it has carried out its mission. As it states on its website, it invests “in people, programs and strategies” to improve health in our community. That includes access to food, safe and stable housing and the opportunity for positive childhood experiences, along with services for seniors, mental health support, and support for immigrants and more. It also includes supporting strategic planning initiatives, focusing on infrastructure needs, and lending a hand to build leadership skills and organizational restructuring.

What this means is that besides funding, FCH has been “focused on strengthening the capacity and sustainability of … organizations so they can do their work more efficiently,” according to Heaton.

With two decades of success under its belt, FCH and Heaton envision new growth in 2024 and have new faces on the board. In 2023, the FCH board added Jill Feldstein, of Dover Plains. She is business manager of the Louis August Jonas Foundation in Rhinebeck. Dr. Zachary McClain of Falls Village, medical director of the Wieler Health Center at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, also joined the board.

Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, Heaton said FCH will be exploring a role in statewide advocacy efforts.

We applaud Nancy Heaton and her staff at the Foundation for Community Health for their stewardship and contribution to a healthier community.

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