A year at the HEF with Program Officer Saraya Perry

For the past year, the Health Equity Fund has been guided by Program Officer Saraya Perry. Saraya came to the HEF by way of a childhood in Toledo, Ohio; degrees in public, non-profit, and health services administration from the University of Central Florida; and time with various nonprofit and public agencies participating in healthcare related work. Saraya is now moving on to new adventures in Georgia, and the Health Equity Fund is hiring a new Program Officer with an application deadline of Feb. 2.

As she prepares to leave this role, Saraya reflects on the unique approach and impact of the HEF, and the people she’s met advancing health equity across our community. She also offers some advice for those interested in applying for this important position: 

What made the HEF Program Officer position appealing to you?  

This is a position that marries the two worlds of nonprofit partner engagement and the public sector to deliver services to populations most in need. I jumped at the opportunity to apply because I thought it aligned with my educational experience and some of my service-related experience—I got to use what I’ve learned over the years both in the educational environment, and in community spaces. The most exciting part about being involved with the Health Equity Fund was connecting with the Richmond community. I’m not originally from Virginia, and this role has allowed me to learn from community members and organizations who have been providing services for decades. 

As someone who’s lived in lots of different places, what stands out to you about Richmond? What have you learned about this community in your work with the HEF?  

The first word that comes to mind is connection. Richmond is not a tiny city, but it feels like a close-knit community where most of the people that work in public health or equity have also dedicated our personal lives to continuing that work. Because of community connections, no person feels unreachable, and it doesn’t feel like too big of a dream to work across sectors or across community organizations.

And then I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned from the communities that the Health Equity Fund recipients serve is that we don’t know everything, and as a healthcare professional, it’s okay to not know everything. It’s our responsibility to be in tune and listen to the communities to learn about the most effective approaches in delivering needed services and resources.

For example, the HEF funds Sacred Heart Center and part of their work involves promoting vaccine education and outreach. This information is broadcast live on Facebook via the Sacred Heart account, and through two AM/FM radio shows weekly in Spanish: Radio Poder 1380 AM on Wednesday mornings, and Ultra Radio Richmond on 94.1 FM on Friday mornings. Now I don’t personally listen to the radio, so that wouldn’t be an effective approach for me, but Sacred Heart knows their community and they’ve expressed that this is a helpful venue of communicating information. And so it’s okay to detach yourself from whatever the trends say are most effective and really listen to what the population and the community says is most effective for them. 

How does this latest cohort of recipients reflect the HEF’s goals?  

With this cohort and all of the other cohorts that have been announced previously, we are really lucky to be partnered with organizations that have been doing the work for a long time. As Mayor Stoney said at our last press conference, we are a resource to assist these organizations in continuing the work that the community already knows them for.

The four partners that were just announced on Monday do such unique work. In all my years of work in the nonprofit healthcare world and in different places, I’ve never seen some of these structures. I’ve never been familiar with a team like Virginia Prison Birth Project, which has four certified prison Doulas who go into Henrico County Jail and Richmond City Justice Center to provide doula services and perinatal services for birthing people in these justice centers. Another example is Gateway Community Health’s Love Cathedral Education Academy. They add educational and vocational components to their recovery services and they get to provide support to people who either are experiencing substance use disorder or have been impacted by substance use in such a unique way. They’ve created a school environment that also connects people to the social services they need to make it through recovery.

These unique yet effective approaches to addressing disparate health outcomes will ultimately lead to the improvement of health and quality of life amongst the communities served. 

What have been the highlights of your time with the HEF?  

One highlight for me has been working with partners from beginning to the end of the grant cycle. As program officer, a part of my role is managing the entire grant process alongside RHHD and other HEF team members. The HEF team has had the chance to walk several partners through that process from the time that they apply—with information gathering, refining of their scope, submitting to the city for approval—all the way through to fund disbursement so that they’re able to carry out the scope of work they described in their application. Being able to provide a flexible source of funding so that these organizations can do the extraordinary work they do has been amazing to be a part of.

Another highlight has been working with the Community Advisory Committee (CAC)—we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them! The CAC is made up of members that have various jobs: university professors, grants management and public policy professionals, community leaders. They are a diverse group of community members who are dedicated to taking that professional experience, layering it with their lived experience as Richmond residents, and using that combination to shape how we think about investing in work that impacts community health. I think there’s a certain amount of love you have to have for your community to want to carry out that work in both your personal and professional life. So I’m forever grateful for that group, because they add a layer of critical and intentional thought about how to invest Health Equity funds into meaningful work. 

RHPHF is hiring a new Program Officer to learn from you and transition into this new phase of the HEF. What would you want someone who is thinking about applying to know about this job? 

I would want someone applying for the Program Officer role to know that this position requires a great amount of time and project managment skills. As is the nature of a program or project management position, at any point there may be multiple elements to manage simultaneously. I would also want them to know that there is a team of RHHD staff and Foundation Board members there to support along the way, and the work being done is truly collaborative.

Outside of the duties and repsonsibilities of the role, anyone thinking of applying for the position should be passionate about community health, committed to connecting and learning, and excited about contributing to the growth of the Fund and the partnerships that make it all possible. 

What kind of impact do you hope the HEF has made in Richmond five years from now? 

The Health Equity Fund currently functions in a space where collaboration with community members and partner organizations is a priority, and my hope is that this results in strong relationships built on trust and transparency within the Richmond community. In years to come, I hope the Health Equity Fund is seen as more than a funding partner, but as an entity there to support and partner with Richmond’s community-based organizations in more ways than we can imagine.