Getting Granny on the Treadmill: How One Corporate Funder is Helping Low-Income Seniors Exercise

Even in such a well-connected and volunteer-oriented city, seniors on Chicago’s south side have little-to-no access to fresh produce or affordable exercise facilities. And honestly, it’s pretty depressing. But one corporate health funder is looking to chip away at this problem, which has seemd to get worse before it gets better.

Cigna is a massive health company that operates through Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, Life Insurance Company of North America and Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York, and other subsidies.

The company established the Cigna Foundation in 1962 with contributions from the corporation and its subsidiaries. Like many other corporate funders that we’ve covered here at IP, the Cigna Foundation focuses grantmaking on the communities where its employees live and work. Cigna’s main corporate offices are located in Bloomfield, Connecticut and Philadelphia.

The foundation just announced a new $162,250 grant to Chicago-based TCA Health, a local group that serves nearly 7,000 patients each year on Chicago’s far south side. Communities in focus here include Pullman, West Pullman, Roseland, Hedgewich and the bordering Cook County suburban communities of Blue Island, Calumet Park, Calumet City, Dolton, Harvey, Markham and Riverdale Township.

Cigna’s money will be put to use to expand TCA’s senior fit club that will give over 300 underserved seniors in south side communities access to health screenings, fitness classes, and workshops about healthy eating. Some of the funds will also be used to connect seniors with kids to build community gardens, and Senior Fit Club is expected to plant five community gardens in Chicago this year.

"We believe in addressing health holistically – especially throughout the aging process,” said David Figliuzzi, executive director of the Cigna Foundation. “We’re pleased to award TCA this grant so that more seniors can have access to the resources they need to stay healthy during this next phase of life.”

This was one of the Cigna Foundation’s “World of Difference” grants, which are not Chicago-specific but extend nationwide and globally. The purpose of this grant program is to help disadvantaged people overcome barriers to health and security and promote health equity.

Figliuzzi made the following statement in an April 2015 press release:

Our purpose is to be a positive force for change in the lives of individuals and communities throughout the U.S. and around the world. Our work in health equity revolves around the belief that everyone deserves a chance to be healthy and secure, and that we can help to remove the barriers people face to achieving their best health. We’ve heard the global health equity call-to-action, and we’re prepared to dedicate our financial and people resources to it.

Historically, Cigna has supported the broad causes of women’s health, children’s wellness, senior care, and health equity. But now, healthy equity has emerged as the top priority. Other past World of Difference grantees include Community Solutions in Hartford, Connecticut, the New York Botanical Garden, and Arogya World in India. These grants tend to be in the $50,000 to $150,000, so the Chicago grant was a bit larger than the norm.

Nonprofits in Chicago and elsewhere can learn more about this grant program by visiting the EasyMatch site and reading through the grant guidelines. Program requirements include being a pilot or early stage multi-year project, focusing on a specific demographic, and presenting opportunities for involvement by Cigna employees.

Questions about applying for a World of Difference grant can be directed to the Cigna Foundation staff the Princeton, New Jersey office at 866-865-5277 or via online form. Keep up with foundation happening in the Cigna newsroom.