The Theodore Edson Parker Foundation spotlights grantees who have taken intentional and concrete steps in becoming more equitable and inclusive. With the understanding that no organization has “made it,” our goal is to inspire others with practical examples of progress.
Equity & Inclusion Is a Journey
Lowell Community Health Center (CHC) is a community-based health care provider that serves more than 50,000 people in Greater Lowell— roughly one out of every two Lowell residents. Since its inception almost 50 years ago, the Health Center has focused on serving the many communities of Lowell. In recent years the organization’s leadership realized that in order to fully serve these communities—even as demographics shifted—the various groups must be represented throughout the entire operation, including board and staff.
Lowell CHC has achieved notable results on its journey toward greater equity and inclusion. The transition has been a long-term process through which the organization left no level of operations unanalyzed.
Focus on People
The Health Center has sought funding for a number of initiatives aimed at its own team, such as equity-focused leadership retreats and all-staff trainings on culturally appropriate care. It accessed resources from Seattle’s Cross Cultural Health Care Program to shape staff training in Lowell.
Turnover in staff and board members became opportunities to diversify the Health Center’s leadership. For example, after intentionally evaluating its requirements for mental health and HIV case workers, the organization started to prioritize language and first-hand cultural experience — rather than level of education attainment—in hiring as well as increased on-the-job trainings to encourage a more diverse applicant pool and internal promotions.
These moves toward a more equitable and inclusive organization would not have been possible without the leadership and support of board members and executive directors. All have remained committed and became “comfortable with discomfort” as tough issues were and continue to be discussed.
Even with the Health Center’s recent move into a new building, the board used the transition as an opportunity to focus on the people it serves by re-articulating its mission, integrating language about its commitment to reducing health disparities, a core equity issue in the health care field.
Making Equity and Inclusion a Top Priority
For organizations interested in learning more about equity and inclusion, the Health Center’s experience points to key elements of progress:
- Make sure the board and executive director are on-board and in the (shared) driver’s seat
- Recognize that the effort is an on-going conversation requiring continual attention and action
- Use board and staff transitions as opportunities for change
- Diversify the board by adding constituents
- Be authentic and patient; this is not a program
- Embed the goal into your mission and into policies and procedures, tracking and celebrating progress
About the Lowell Community Health Center
Lowell Community Health Center’s mission is to provide caring, quality and culturally competent health services to the people of Greater Lowell, regardless of their financial status; to reduce health disparities and enhance the health of the Greater Lowell community; and to empower each individual to maximize their overall well-being.
Lowell CHC is a community-based health care provider that serves more than 50,000 people in Greater Lowell— roughly one out of every two Lowell residents. Its employees speak 28 different languages, and at least 40 are trained medical interpreters. In 2000, it opened one of the nation’s first fully integrated East Meets West health care facilities, Metta Health Center, which focuses on Lowell’s Southeast Asian and other refugee populations. Because Lowell CHC is a federally qualified health center, patients represent 50 percent of board leadership.
About the Parker Foundation’s Equity and Inclusion Initiative
The Theodore Edson Parker Foundation favors applications from organizations with balanced representation in staff and management, reflecting constituents served and the diverse community that Lowell has become. In celebration of the Foundation’s new equity and inclusion initiative, Parker staff Chaletta Huertas and Elizabeth Drewry interviewed a number of grantees to highlight the extraordinary work they are doing to create a more diverse organization that represents the Lowell area’s breadth of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The Parker Foundation is grateful to the Lowell Community Health Foundation’s Susan West Levine and Sheila Och for their time in crafting this grantee spotlight.