Christina Wilds, Highmark Foundation

TITLE: Senior Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Chronic disease, health care, bullying prevention, and public health in Pennsylvania and West Virginia

CONTACT: christina.wilds@highmark.com, 866-594-1730

IP TAKE: Wilds grew up and was educated in Pennsylvania, and she's giving back to underprivileged communities in her home state by funding programs that improve the health of needy populations in the region. Recently, Wilds' portfolio expanded to include projects in West Virginia as well.

PROFILE: A native of western Pennsylvania, Dr. Christina Wilds continues to serve her community as a senior program officer at Pittsburgh's Highmark Foundation. Its mission is to improve the health of local communities (where insurance company Highmark, Inc. does business), primarily in Pennsylvania and, as of this decade, West Virginia. Specifically, Wilds and the team at Highmark are focused on making grants to local nonprofits and charities in the areas of chronic disease, community health, family health, and service delivery systems.

The Highmark Foundation has a healthy endowment of $28 million to work with. The foundation primarily invites applicants to apply and more occasionally puts out requests for proposals. Highmark doesn't completely rule out unsolicited proposals, even if it accepts them only rarely. So nonprofits that haven't been invited yet for funding—take heart. Although the organization is not actively seeking proposals at this time, a more thorough explanation of how Highmark selects grant recipients is here.

Over the past several months, the Highmark Foundation has given out more than $1 million in grants to a dozen area organizations that promote health in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Three large projects that Highmark has funded recently:

Based on the percentage of cash the foundation is devoting to the prevention of bullying, one could safely conclude that this subject is high on the priority list. Some of the foundation's recent smaller grants, however, have related to such diverse causes as children with special needs, reducing obesity in children, and helping to enroll West Virginians in expanded health care under the Affordable Care Act. Essentially, if a project relates to improving health and wellness for people in the region, Wilds and her team will consider funding it.

Wilds has worked in healthcare philanthropy for a long time. She's risen through the ranks at Highmark, having worked previously as a program evaluator in community health and as director of Highmark's now-defunct Health Education Center. Before coming to Highmark, Wilds worked in fundraising for a major medical center and also spent a lot of time in school. She has four degrees to her name, all from the University of Pittsburgh: a bachelor's in education, a master's in education, a master's in public health, and a Ph.D. in public health. Wilds is an active member of her Baptist church, where she serves on the board, and is the president of her local Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority alumni chapter.