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Creating equity in access for a healthy life: Aberdeen Health Foundation finds new ways to support programs that advance health care in Pictou County

May 31, 2024

Home 5 News 5 Creating equity in access for a healthy life: Aberdeen Health Foundation finds new ways to support programs that advance health care in Pictou County
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Friday, May 24, 2024

It was a Friday afternoon at the end of the workday when a Mentoring Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) received a call from a local mother. The call was to discuss the mother’s ongoing involvement in BBBS programming, but during the conversation it came to light the woman was running low on formula for her newborn. Without a grocery budget, no access to a vehicle, and the local Food Banks already closed for the weekend, the young mother had exhausted her resources. For the BBBS employee, the solution was as simple as stopping at Wal-Mart on their way home to purchase a case of formula with the organization’s Health Equity Grant funding from the Aberdeen Health Foundation.

One morning a few weeks later, another parent entered Kids First in Pictou County to participate in programming. The parent was a regular participant, and it was clear to staff that something was wrong. The parent admitted to having a tooth infection that was impeding their ability to function and work, but they were unable to afford dental care. Kids First staff immediately contacted a local dentist and provided the parent with a same-day appointment for emergency dental care. The dentist billed Kids First directly, and the bill was paid from the agency’s Health Equity Grant funding, allowing the parent to return to work.

These anecdotes were shared by the agencies mentioned, with details and names omitted, as examples of how the Foundation’s Health Equity funding is meeting critical needs when no other resources would have been available.

The grants are funded through the Aberdeen Health Foundation’s Children’s Aid Society endowment, a fund created in 2013 to support programs that promote positive health outcomes for children, youth, and families through an equity-in-access approach.

“Like most funders, the Foundation uses a typical application process, which requires organizations to dream up a new program that may or may not fit the eligibility criteria,” says Michelle Ferris, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “This approach is time-consuming and costly, particularly when the Foundation has very clear objectives for its funding. The Health Equity Grants were created in 2022 and are provided to agencies that stand out for consistently delivering measurable impact in their work with children and youth, no application process required.”

In circumstances in which no other funding is available, the Health Equity Grants can be used to support and assist children and families in Pictou County with the reasonable costs of accessing accredited health programs and providers. It can provide help with more direct needs like transportation to an appointment, to more indirect social determinants of health, like food security. The organizations can decide how to use the money as needs arise. In creating the grants, the Foundation intentionally reduced the red tape and administrative burden of typical project-based funding – an approach that allows the organizations to spend their time doing what they do best: serving their clients.

Photo caption: Michelle Ward (left), the former Executive Director of Kids First Association, sits with Margie Grant Walsh (right), Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Both organizations have been recipients of Aberdeen Health Foundation’s Health Equity Grant funding, which they have used to help families overcome barriers and access health programs and experiences that foster healthy child development.

“We’ve established such a close relationship with our families that we have an ongoing knowledge of what’s happening in their world,” Margie Grant Walsh, Executive Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters, describes. “People may think, how did that mother not realize she was running out of formula? But what they need to realize is that some people have so many other challenges on their plate, what looks like last minute to us is really happening because they’re just trying to stay afloat. Shame can play a big role too. A lot of times the families are embarrassed or shy to speak up about a need they have, but if we can encourage them to open up, we can offer some relief thanks to these funds.”

According to Margie, being able to respond in the moment, no questions asked and without judgement, allows these agencies to build trust. “It sends a message that we can be counted on in times of need.”

This less restricted approach to funding is quite new, in Michelle Ward’s experience, but a welcomed change. Michelle is the former Executive Director of Kids First Association and is now the Director of Community Development for the Town of New Glasgow. “Typically, funders feel they should be able to make the decisions in terms of how the money is spent, and there’s an oversight on these projects that isn’t really helpful, and sometimes even impedes the ability to respond to immediate needs,” Michelle explains. “The Aberdeen Health Foundation’s approach has been incredibly refreshing, in terms of their firm belief that community organizations are best positioned to determine and respond to the priorities of the people they serve.

“With so many grants we receive, there are a lot of parameters around them, and that comes with a lot of reporting which can be time-consuming and draining to our resources,” adds Margie. “So, for the Aberdeen Health Foundation to give us this money and entrust us to spend it within this broad area and in ways that will best serve our clients, that to me is second-to-none. You can’t put a dollar figure on that.”

“People and funders often want to hear real stories from the boots on the ground,” says Ward. “But the Foundation respects that these aren’t our stories to tell. Regardless of where funds are coming from, people are entitled to their lives and their privacy. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is that the Foundation doesn’t believe it is their right to have those stories and we are able to not only help people when they need it but do it in a quiet way so they can maintain their dignity.”


“One of the things we’ve noticed since the pandemic is that you can mission drift a little bit,” reflects Margie. “The pandemic has created something we’ve never faced before. Our mission is to create mentoring programs for youth, really, so why are we feeding people? It’s because the programs out there still can’t meet the demand. We’re thankful the Aberdeen Health Foundation has given us a resource that enables us to respond, and we don’t have to turn away and pretend we didn’t see it.”

When asked how these grants fit into the Foundation’s larger goal of helping everyone in Pictou County achieve their best health, Ward explains, “It all fits so nicely into population health. If you’re not living in circumstances where your health is impacted by your race, your gender, your income – you see your health at the hospital, or at a doctor’s office or clinic. When you’re an organization like Kids First that works with equity seeking groups, what you see is the health of these people is impacted by so many other factors. We are so lucky in Pictou County to have a Health Foundation that is thinking broader than acute, immediate care. They’re really recognizing that we need to deal with health at many different levels in order to improve the health outcomes of our entire community.”


The Aberdeen Health Foundation is the leading charity for enhancing health care in Pictou County. In 2023 the Foundation invested over $2 million to fund medical equipment and enhance health programs at the Aberdeen Hospital and in our community.

Michelle Ferris
Executive Director
Aberdeen Health Foundation

902-752-7600 ext. 4442