January 11, 2023

Advancing our Future: 2023 and Beyond

Dear Howard County friends,

2022 was another year full of both celebration and challenges. We are still coming back together from the COVID-19 pandemic and grappling with its effects. We achieved some amazing policy victories like record funding for biking and walking, enhanced mental health supports in Howard County schools and normalizing advance care planning as a routine part of every person’s health care. At the same time, it was impossible to ignore continuing injustices in our country such as the rollback of reproductive rights, gun violence and threats to undermine our democracy.

Though the challenges ahead may feel daunting at times, I am looking forward to the new year with energy, determination and hope. I am excited to announce that we have commenced a new strategic planning process that will be taking place through most of 2023. It will involve deep listening of the community to help direct the Foundation and its work for the next five years. It will focus not just on the issues we should care about moving forward, but also on how and why we do our work.

Our strategic planning process is conducted under the Howard Community Health Foundation, the sister organization of the Horizon Foundation that is responsible for setting and evaluating our strategic plan, which the Horizon Foundation then carries out. Many of you may remember, or even participated in, our previous strategic planning process in 2018. We are deeply proud of the work we have done and the partnerships we have created since then. Still, so much has changed in the last five years – and so have we.

During our last strategic planning process, we conducted around 100 interviews with community members to hone in on the issues the Foundation should prioritize. This time, we want to co-design what our new strategic plan and programs look like with the community. So, we plan to at least double that number by connecting with grantees, partners, community members, and other stakeholders through one-on-one interviews, surveys, focus groups, small group roundtables, and a Community Summit that will take place on April 29th. (More to come on that soon.)

Last time, we brought on two community leaders to sit on our Planning and Evaluation Committee along with current Board members to help guide our strategic goals and measure our impact. This time, we are expanding that committee and ensuring that its makeup is a 50/50 split between board members and outside community members to help hold us accountable and steer us in a direction that best suits the needs of the community. This Committee will make final recommendations related to the strategic plan to the full Board. We are seeking to share power and not just receive input.

Last time, we were just beginning our journey to better understand and prioritize racial equity in our work. This time, we intend to go even deeper to determine how we center anti-racism and trust-centered philanthropy in our work. We want to ensure good health for all in Howard County, especially for people of color, who face the most significant disparities in care – not through any fault of their own, but because this country’s systems of health care, education, housing, the economy, and more have historically discriminated against them and impacted their overall health.

Doing all of this means we must embark on a more inclusive strategic planning process, share decision making with community members who have traditionally held less privilege and income, and prioritize Howard Countians  of color. It means we must go deeper on policy work to upend and change policies and practices that have marginalized people of color.

I cannot yet promise what the next five or so years of work for the Foundation will look like, but I can promise that we are committed to being as transparent, equitable and inclusive as possible so we can co-create a shared future that will make good health achievable for everyone in Howard County. Many of you will be hearing from us directly in the coming weeks and months about participating in this process. Please visit our Howard Community Health Foundation website to learn more about our plans and get in touch with us with any thoughts you have about the Foundation and our work. And stay tuned for updates on our Community Summit in the spring where we will share what we have learned in this process so far, discuss root causes of many of these systemic issues, and prioritize the work ahead. If you’re interested in hearing more about the Summit, sign up for updates here.

You’ll be hearing more from us soon. We look forward to connecting with you, listening to you and bringing inspiration, joy and enrichment to the process. Onward to a happy, healthy and fulfilling 2023!

With gratitude,

Nikki Highsmith Vernick
President & CEO


Learn more about our strategic planning process>>