The Itasca Project, an 8-year-old employer-led civic alliance in the Twin Cities that focuses on quality of life, has brainstormed and implemented initiatives to improve outcomes such as education, job opportunities, public safety and healthy lifestyles.
“About 70% of what determines health has to do with a healthy, thriving community,” says Mary Brainerd, president and CEO of Bloomington, Minn.-based HealthPartners and an honorable mention for Modern Healthcare's inaugural Community Leadership Award
program, who has spent the past five years chairing the project.
The group of more than 50 corporate, foundation and governmental leaders, including the governor of Minnesota and mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, has taken on challenges such as education reform and health disparities. Two recent task forces have worked to identify strategies for higher education that drive long-term economic growth, and to develop policies that attract and retain high-quality jobs.
As part of that group's work, Brainerd has co-chaired a Disparities Task Force aimed at addressing differences in these quality-of-life outcomes among racial and ethnic groups, income groups and people in disparate geographic locales. In an area with significant communities representing places as far-flung as Somalia and Tibet, Brainerd says, “The focus will be on what employers and businesses can do. Part of the disparities we see are very different unemployment rates across minority groups.”
Brainerd's entrepreneurial philanthropy doesn't end there. She's also the originator of the East Metro Mental Health Roundtable, a group of 25 community leaders who help boost awareness of and construct responses to pressing mental-health issues.
For example, the roundtable launched a crisis intervention center and an initiative to provide medications for those suffering from highly treatable mental illnesses who are otherwise unable to gain health insurance coverage, Brainerd says.
Another Brainerd brainchild is the GiveMN.org website, a one-stop donation vehicle for charitable organizations of all types. The site had taken in more than $50 million for more than 6,000 not-for-profits in the past three years, including
$13.4 million in one day alone, the 2011 iteration of the annual Give to the Max Day. This year, that day was Nov. 15, when Brainerd hoped to collect about $15 million.
Most recently, HealthPartners has thrown its support behind an initiative called YumPower, working with school districts in the Twin Cities to sharpen their focus on healthy eating. As a group, the districts have seen a 10% increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, Brainerd says.