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Personality: Myra Goodman Smith

Spotlight on board chair of the Annabella R. Jenkins Foundation

1/6/2022, 6 p.m.
With the rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19, focus again is being directed toward the systemic issues surrounding health ...

With the rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19, focus again is being directed toward the systemic issues surrounding health care and health care delivery systems. These types of issues have been a lifelong focus for Myra Goodman Smith.

The Richmond native serves as board chair of the Annabella R. Jenkins Foundation, where she helps push for a more comprehensive response not just to COVID-19, but on ways to improve the health and wellness of the Richmond region during what she calls “the most challenging health care crisis, mental and physical, in our lifetime.”

“In light of the convergence of the pandemic and the magnification of health disparities, the foundation must ensure that it is on the best path to address and prepare for the known and unknown physical and mental impacts of the crisis, especially in Black and brown communities,” Ms. Smith says.

In 2021, the foundation provided $2.2 million in grants to 47 area organizations, including Cross Over Clinic, Daily Planet Health Services, Rx Partnership, Free Clinic of Powhatan, South Richmond Adult Day Care Center, La Casa de la Salud, ChildSavers and CARITAS.

Ms. Smith cites her parents and their health issues as major influences in her life. Their struggles with kidney failure, lupus and cancer “reflect a picture of social determinants” of health that led to their demise at age 65. Those social determinants of health, which include gender, age, education, income and ethnicity, are sometimes overlooked.

The experience with her parents led Ms. Smith to volunteer with health organizations.

She served in leadership roles on the boards of the Leukemia Virginia and West Virginia. She joined the Jenkins Foundation in 2015 as a member of the board, and was elected board chair in December 2020 after serving as board vice chair for two years.

“I joined the board because of my interest in health,” Ms. Smith says. “I’ve always been drawn to health organizations because that’s not what I work in every day. So it’s a more personal draw for me.”

The foundation also targets funding to programs that connect trauma specialists to survivors of violence.

“I think all of us in the philanthropic community wish we could do more,” Ms. Smith says. “But I think that, if we’ve been smart about it and having conversations about it, we’re not tripping over each other.

“I’m glad we’re able to give out some substantial amounts of dollars,” she continues. “I know there are so many people in the community doing such great work, but more needs to be done.”

Meet an advocate and funder for community health and well-being initiatives and this week’s Personality, Myra Goodman Smith:

No. 1 volunteer position: Board chair, Annabella R. Jenkins Foundation.

Occupation: President and chief executive officer, Leadership Metro Richmond.

Date and place of birth: Feb. 16 in Richmond.

Where I live now: Amelia County.

Education: Huguenot High School in Richmond; bachelor’s in urban planning and master’s in public administration, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Family: Husband, Lawrence Smith; daughter, Lauren; and granddaughter, Skylar.

The Jenkins Foundation is: A $60 million health legacy foundation led by a dedicated group of women who are committed to improve the health and wellness of our region.

When and why founded: When Retreat Hospital was sold, the Jenkins Foundation was created in 1995 from proceeds to carry on the mission of the hospital’s all-female auxiliary board.

Jenkins Foundation mission: Improving the health of Greater Richmond through strategic and impactful philanthropy. The Jenkins Foundation is important in our community as a major health care funder that provides greatly needed resource to improve access to primary health care, access to mental health care and prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.

Foundation name backstory: Born in Richmond in 1837, Annabella Jenkins opened her home to care for wounded enlisted soldiers during the Civil War. After the war, she organized a hospital that provided medical care for the sick, regardless of class, income, race or religion. Her efforts resulted in the creation of Retreat Hospital for the Sick in Richmond.

When elected board chair: December 2020 for a two-year term.

No. 1 goal or project as chair: To lead the foundation in refining its strategic plans to be more informed, strategic and flexible to best support our grantees and partners now and into the future. In light of the convergence of the pandemic and the magnification of health disparities, the foundation must ensure that it is on the best path to address and prepare for the known and unknown physical and mental impacts of the crisis, especially in Black and Brown communities.

Who benefits from the Jenkins Foundation: Children, families and elderly residents of our region.

How the foundation is helping during COVID-19: During the early days of the pandemic, the foundation quickly provided $100,000 to the Central Virginia COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and created a $500,000 deposit account with Virginia Community Capital for the Paycheck Prevention program to help nonprofits bridge revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic.

How the foundation addresses trauma: Mental health care access is a priority of the foundation and support for the regional network that is creating a trauma-informed and resilient community. In addition, targeted funding is provided to programs that connect trauma specialists to survivors of intimate partner violence and services that provide trauma-informed care for children.

Health disparities in our community: The Jenkins Foundation understands that health disparities are preventable circumstances that are related to individuals’ health status based on social factors such as income, ethnicity, education, age and gender. We have increased our understanding by reviewing information on data and trends, through research and conversa- tions with issue experts, our partners and grantees.

The Jenkins Foundation partners with: The Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, The Com- munity Foundation, the Virginia Funders Network and numerous grantees in our region.

Racial equity and the Jenkins Foundation: The Jenkins Foundation board and staff have challenged itself to learn, stretch and grow in the understanding of racial equity, engaging in conversations and storytelling. The diversity of the board brings rich perspectives and insights, which is helping to create the racial equity lens the foundation must utilize in all that we do.

Organizations the foundation has assisted: In 2021, the foundation granted $2.2 million to 47 organizations, including Cross Over Clinic, South Richmond Adult Day Care Center, La Casa de la Salud, Goochland Cares and ChildSavers.

A perfect day for me: A day I can say I did my best!

What I am learning about myself during the pandemic: The isolation has given me quiet time to reflect on my life, my work, my abilities and what is truly important. I have ideas that I have shelved over the years and now I have time and confidence to take the chance to put them into action.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Play billiards.

Quote that inspires me: In 2006, I met Bishop Desmond Tutu. He took my hand and said, “Bless you my child.” I will never forget that. The following quote by him inspires me on how to address social determinants of health: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” ― Desmond Tutu

My friends describe me as: An empathetic adviser.

At the top of my “to-do” list: To drop off a box of glassware at Goodwill.

Best late-night snack: Something sweet!

Best thing my parents ever taught me: Be kind and work to help others.

Person who influenced me the most: Equally my parents. Their health struggles reflect a picture of social determinants that led to their deaths at the age of 65. Mom’s kidney failure and 25-year battle with lupus and Dad’s cancer influenced me to volunteer with health organizations. I served on the board of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and was board chair of the National Kidney Foundation for Virginia and West Virginia.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Leadership Challenge” by Barry Posner and James Kouzes.

What I’m reading now: “Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector” by Daisy Azer, Jeanne Liedtka and Randy Salzman.

Next goal: To continue to move forward on addressing the health and wellness needs of residents and, specifically, vulnerable members of our communities.