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A Letter from Liz: Looking Back and Looking Ahead to 2022

By Elizabeth Star Winer


Welcome to 2022!


I am so excited that all of you have committed to partnering with me on improving the lives of families in North Carolina.


2021 was a year of transition for many of us. I have found that the most difficult moments can bring the greatest growth, perspective, and insight. The challenges we face can make us more receptive to opportunities that can only come from staying open to life and to change. With close and committed partners, we launched the nation’s first ACEs-Informed Courts Task Force and began convening a statewide group of funders dedicated to reducing racial disparities in maternal health. We have deepened relationships with colleagues we hold dear, and met many amazing new leaders along the way. While we are still battling COVID-19, we are learning new ways to work, connect, and invest in the communities that need it most.


We’ve been busy since we released our new strategic vision and giving report in May 2021.

Our efforts have focused on advancing a trauma-informed court system in North Carolina, addressing racial disparities in maternal health, building the resilience movement in our state and across the nation, and continuing to build connections and convene stakeholders for greater systemic impact. Read some highlights below.


Advancing a Trauma-Informed Court System in NC

People are more likely to be victims or defendants in the criminal justice system if they have experienced trauma in childhood. So when more than half (57.5%) of North Carolinians have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), there is significant opportunity to improve conditions for children and families. In May 2021, WFF supported the official launch of the nation’s first ACEs-Informed Courts Task Force, championed by Chief Justice Paul Newby. The mission of the Task Force, which has begun holding quarterly meetings in various regions of the state, is to enable Judicial Branch stakeholders to understand how exposure to traumatic experiences impact children, and to develop strategies for addressing adverse consequences within North Carolina’s court system.


Serendipitously, last year the Bolch Judicial Institute at Duke Law proposed developing a first-of-its-kind educational program for North Carolina court judges and other court administrators. The program is now poised to spread nationally to other state court judges and administrators. Check out this All Things Judicial podcast episode to learn more about both of these initiatives.


Addressing Racial Disparities in Maternal Health

The racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes, in our state and across the nation, are unacceptable; we broke down some of these stats in a previous newsletter edition. In 2021, we embarked on a learning journey to better understand: who are the leaders in communities doing the work every day to mitigate these disparities? What barriers do they face in their work, and how can we and other public and private entities better support maternal health outcomes for Black and African-American birthing people?


We are hearing and seeing a major opportunity in supporting a more diverse birthing workforce, including community-based doulas and lactation consultants. Birth workers are a critical resource for families – especially during the pandemic. As Joy Spencer, executive director of Equity Before Birth, noted on a webinar: “For our families, doulas can mean life or death. Doulas were the only person-to-person contact during the pandemic. It was doulas that were coming with information and responding.”


We have been fortunate to meet Black-led, community based organizations across NC that are training birth workers, and have provided initial seed grants to organizations like UNC’s Alliance for Black Doulas for Black Mamas and RAO Community Health to build their new doula training programs. We supported initial costs of developing a NC Community-Based Doula Accreditation program, led by MAAME, Inc.; Momma’s Village; and SistasCaring4Sistas. We look forward to continuing to support community-led maternal health and birth equity initiatives, as well as strengthen the flow and coordination of public and private resources towards those who have been most marginalized, in 2022 and beyond.


Building the Resilience Movement in NC and Nationally

North Carolina’s wealth of community trauma and resilience initiatives, and the connections between them, grew substantially in 2021. We kicked off the year by co-sponsoring the first NC Community Resilience Conference, hosted by Prevent Child Abuse NC. The virtual convening saw an impressive turn-out – 445 participants tuned in – with headliners including now-NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley and Georgetown Business for Impact Executive Director Leslie Crutchfield. A vast majority of participants (over 90%) reported having a better understanding of frameworks that can address resilience and adversity, and how to infuse a racial justice lens to local coalition work after attending the event. Check out a summary report here.


We supported the Kellin Foundation to develop the Resilient NC report, which identifies community resiliency initiatives across North Carolina, and explores how states across the country have implemented statewide efforts for building resilience. Informed by this landscape analysis, the report identifies an initial set of eight equity-focused strategies that can bring our state’s resilience efforts to the next level, by connecting and building on the strengths of the many resilience initiatives already underway. As a next step, the Kellin Foundation is coordinating action teams that can bring these strategies to life.


WFF also made our first-ever grant to a national organization, the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP). CTIPP is building major national momentum in the resilience movement, engaging advocates in communities to policymakers in Congress, working across sectors, from education to opioid use to the court system. Check out their new podcast,

Cultivating Resilience: A Whole Community Approach to Alleviating Trauma in Schools podcast, which is releasing new episodes every week through May alongside resources for educators. Additionally, CTIPP and the National Prevention Science Coalition are co-hosting Building a National Movement to Prevent Trauma and Foster Resilience, a series of eight workshops starting this month – don’t miss it!


Convening, Collaborating, and Learning

WFF continued co-chairing Invest Early NC, hosting learning and action conversations with more than 30 early childhood funders in NC. We also began bringing together funders interested in tackling the racial disparities in maternal health outcomes in NC.


WFF benefitted greatly from joining the United Way of Central Carolina’s Racial Equity Funders Collaborative, which convened Charlotte-area funders to increase our understanding of more equitable philanthropic practices and align our resources to support broader impact. As a result of our involvement in the collaborative, WFF supported fellow member Smart Start of Mecklenburg County’s second annual Innovation Grants, which provided more than $300,000 to 13 local organizations advancing equity in early education and maternal health.


Lastly, but certainly not least, WFF co-invested in the nation’s first Philanthropy Liaison position, which is situated within the NC Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP), another WFF grantee. Joy Vermillion-Heinsohn, longtime philanthropic expert in North Carolina, has been hard at work strengthening the connections between state government and the philanthropic sector, educating philanthropy and government about each other, and encouraging collaboration on projects across the state. See the initial press release about the Philanthropy Liaison position here, and learn more about OSP’s work here.


Thank you all for coming on this journey with me, and I am so excited for what 2022 will bring.



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