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FHSP and Bayfront Health award $4.8M in equity-driven grant funding

Ashley Morales



The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, which supports racial equity and health equity in Pinellas County, partnered with Bayfront Health to award $4.8M in grant funding to 30 nonprofits Wednesday morning. Photos: Ashley Morales.

The room was packed Wednesday morning at the Center for Health Equity, as local nonprofits and community leaders learned which organizations would receive $4.8 million in funding.

The joint grantmaking funds came from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and Bayfront Health through a partnership announced last summer. The organizations came together to fund nonprofits working on mental health and wellness for Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and economic equity and justice initiatives in the three zip codes of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

“This is the room of people who are making life better, stronger and more equitable for our neighbors, family, friends and ourselves,” Dr. Kanika Tomalin, President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg (FHSP), said onstage. “The funds that this community needs are going to work right out of the gate. These organizations span a continuum of strategic advancement, the very base of the movement toward our shared goal of increasing access and improving outcomes for the historically underserved residents of South St. Pete.”

Through the request for proposal process in 2023, FHSP received 125 applications seeking a total of $26 million in grant funds. Of those, 31 proposals received a piece of the $4.8 million in joint funds for the 2023/2024 grant cycle.

Grant recipients could receive funding for initiatives in four categories: 

  • Capacity Building (up to $10,000)
  • Professional Development/Training (up to $100,000)
  • Programmatic Operations (up to $250,000)
  • Multi-Sector Collaboration (up to $500,000)

The full list of 2023/2024 funded partners is available online here.

Of the funded partners announced Wednesday, the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas received one of the largest grants: $500,000 to support the creation of a BIPOC Doula Network. The Healthy Start Coalition was founded In 1991 after Florida’s Healthy Start legislation was passed to create 32 Healthy Start Coalitions as a statewide system of care for pregnant women, newborns and their families. One way the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas fulfills its mission is through a network of contracted doulas, or traditional birth attendants, who support pregnant individuals before, during and after the birthing process through nonmedical support services.

“When we look at the data nationally, Black and Brown women are about three times more likely to die during childbirth. We are seeing the data locally match what we see nationally, and that’s that those highest risk women may have negative birth outcomes, like fetal mortality or maternal mortality,” said Julia Sharp, Community Development Coordinator for the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas.

“Our goal is to improve health disparities. As the doula network started to grow, we had more clients who needed care, so we started looking for more funding out of necessity. It has slowly grown from providing services to about 30 women a year to 100 to now about 400 a year. This funding specifically from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and Bayfront Health will allow us to serve another 100 women a year during their prenatal, delivery and postpartum period.”

Sharp said the $500,000 grant will also support additional training, credentialing and professional development, which Andrea Vaughn, a traditional birth attendant with the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas, lauded as one of the most meaningful parts of the initiative.

The Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas was one of the organizations that received funding for initiatives focused on mental health and wellness for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and economic equity and justice in South St. Petersburg.

“Education can also be self-care. Sometimes birth worker education might include a conference that will have time for you to step back and just be poured into, as well,” Vaughn said. “So the biggest part of this is that it wasn’t just about how much more can they pull from us. It was like, ‘We’ve got to pour back into them so that they can pour into the community.’ They recognize our value.”

According to a 2023 study published by the National Institutes of Health, patients receiving doula care had a 48% lower chance of labor induction and were less likely to have cesarean deliveries, which research shows is less safe than vaginal birth. Patients in the study were also 89% more likely to start breastfeeding by six weeks when compared to standard-care patients. Isha Joseph, another traditional birth attendant with the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas, said in addition to support, guidance and education, birth attendants often act as advocates during the birthing process. 

“A lot of times, especially in a hospital center where things are a little bit more rushed or you’re trying to turn out as many patients as possible, the staff may not necessarily understand some cultural differences. So having someone there to kind of mitigate whatever biases that are already institutionalized in the hospital is so important,” Joseph said.

“I want to get the message out there even more to the organizations that are funding us that this money is so appreciated,” Vaughn said. “It’s so needed, and you’re definitely going to see the difference in the health of these birthing parents and these babies in the future.”

The $4.8 million in funding was granted to organizations large and small, focusing on a diverse range of initiatives like equity-focused entrepreneurship, art therapy, health education, financial literacy training, BIPOC mentorship and more. However, one message was universal among the dozens of nonprofit leaders and community changemakers in the room: This is just the beginning.

“This will be transformational,” said Bayfront Health St. Petersburg President John Moore. “This is but one step. This is just one year, but it will continue, and I know it will be transformational for our community.”

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  1. Avatar

    Carl Lavender

    January 25, 2024at9:00 am

    Outstanding work! Smart community investments. Implications and expectations for deepening the mission of intentional Equity is evident in the choices. Looking forward to hearing, and reading about impact per zip code.

  2. Avatar


    January 24, 2024at6:31 pm


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