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How building community connections can amplify the impact of grassroots giving

Originally published in The Tennessean, April 2023

In my role at BlueCross, I’ve had the pleasure to meet with representatives from Nashville’s nonprofit Interfaith Dental Clinic. During these meetings, they talk a lot about the act of smiling. They reminded me that, for most of us, smiling comes naturally. We do it without thinking, without concern.   

But when people have dental issues, they may not want to smile. That affects their ability to find work, especially within industries that involve customer service and have entry-level positions available.

Interfaith Dental provides dental care for under- and uninsured populations. Through their efforts to boost self-esteem and encourage their clients to seek employment, they’re addressing an overlooked community need, and in turn, giving back financially to the community.

They’re also helping people become more engaged community members.

I share this story because something as simple as a smile may not seem like it would need financial support, but basic parts of life are often unaddressed. At BlueCross, we’re focused on health equity and are working to identify gaps and improve health outcomes. 

I have the opportunity to work with our partners in the nonprofit space and help address these needs through our Community Trust.

A Trust for Tennesseans

Formed in 1999, the BlueCross Community Trust supports local charities and civic groups that enhance and emphasize healthy living, health care access and quality of life for residents of Tennessee.

We support programs across the state, and our efforts in Nashville also encompass support for organizations like HEAR Nashville, The Next Door, Renewal House, Rocketown and Siloam Health, to name a few. In 2022 alone, our trust donated more than $517,000 to Tennessee nonprofits.

The way we give back has evolved.  Post-COVID, we’re seeing a blend of operational and programmatic support — which remain a vital need for many of these organizations — and people wanting to get back together and be out in their communities doing what they can for others.

Our Community Trust is accepting funding requests for grants to be disbursed July through Dec 2023. Our four focus areas — chronic disease care and prevention, diversity and inclusion, youth development, and charitable clinics — provide us structure when reviewing applications. The deadline to submit requests for funding has passed for 2023. But we encourage interested organizations to learn more through our online portal.

What we’ve learned to accept over the years is that there’s always going to be need and there will never be enough resources. But we see that as an inspiring call to action and not a reason to despair.

There’s a lot of great work happening. And when we look at our team, at what we do as a company, and at our relationship to the community, we need to be innovative and adaptive so that we can help meet those needs in other ways.

Making more than a monetary difference

Our funding is limited, so we’ve had to be intentional about identifying additional resources we can offer with in-kind, volunteer, boots-on-the-ground support. That’s why when it comes to our application process, we say, “The more the merrier.” We want to know about programs in need and find ways to serve.

The efforts of our TeamBlue employee volunteers are one example.

I often say it’s fitting that most of our employees live and work in the Volunteer State, because they’re so giving of their time and talents. 

And a big part of that is having an employer who encourages them and makes it easy on their workloads and work schedules for them to take part in volunteer events, whether individually or as a team.

I urge all businesses to think beyond the dollar amount you write on a check.  That funding is essential, but today, charity is so much more than that. It’s about getting engaged, building relationships, and being an ambassador for the community partners who are themselves investing right back into their communities.

About Chelsea Johnson, Director of Community Relations and Foundations

A photo of the authorChelsea helps provide support to health-focused programs and organizations statewide. She works with our nonprofit partners to promote the well-being of communities and neighbors across Tennessee.

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