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March 14, 2016 / Rebekah Seder, Editor

Philanthropy Fellows in the Field: Learning about the importance of going ‘beyond dollars’

By Catherine Oidtman
Philanthropy Fellow at the Healthcare Initiative Foundation
Catherine is a joint Bachelor’s and Master’s student at the University of Maryland. She is working toward a BA in anthropology and an MPP degree focused in health policy.


Editor’s note: We are now accepting applications from WRAG members interested in hosting Philanthropy Fellows this fall. For more information about this program and how to apply, click here.


I am a Philanthropy Fellow at the Healthcare Initiative Foundation (HIF), an organization dedicated to supporting nonprofit organizations that offer solutions to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare for residents in Montgomery County. Post-graduation I am interested in working with philanthropy and nonprofits on the creation of fully integrated healthy communities policies. When I first heard about the Philanthropy Fellows program, I thought it was the perfect combination of gaining experience in the nonprofit community and learning how philanthropy works in action. Little did I realize just how much I would actually learn through this experience.

When I began my fellowship, I anticipated learning how a foundation operates and its role in the nonprofit community. However, I quickly learned that HIF goes above and beyond just grantmaking. Crystal Carr Townsend, president of the foundation, and the Board of Trustees care about creating a sustainable, high-quality, comprehensive and integrative healthcare system for all residents of Montgomery County. HIF works collaboratively with organizations to establish integrative care that takes into consideration social determinants and the upstream issues (housing, safety, discrimination, access to healthy foods, education, poverty, freedom from violence, environment, etc.) that impact population health outcomes. While HIF is focused on providing comprehensive healthcare, Crystal takes a leadership role in inspiring other entities to collaborate, because many healthcare issues in Montgomery County are impacted by poverty and other social inequities.

My fellowship at HIF has given me countless opportunities that go far beyond just learning about the work of a foundation. I have helped to launch a mentoring program between nursing, pharmacy and social work students at the Universities at Shady Grove and professionals in the community, and I have also gained experience attending professional meetings and Board of Trustee meetings. By accompanying Crystal on site visits, I have seen firsthand how empathy and human connection are critical to addressing complex health issues and to making a positive social impact. This is an inspiring message that I will carry with me as I move forward professionally working in health policy.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with HIF as a Philanthropy Fellow through UMD’s partnership with the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers. This experience has progressed my professional career through enhanced connections in the community and enriched knowledge about foundations, nonprofits, and the importance of integrative healthcare initiatives.

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