Stacey Barbas, The Kresge Foundation

TITLE: Senior Program Officer, Health

FUNDING AREAS: Health disparities and public health

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Long-time Michigan non-profit executive Barbas directs grants to projects that bring healthier environments to populations in need.

PROFILE: Many people in the United States are surrounded by environmental factors that contribute to poor health, and Stacy Barbas wants to change that. Arguably more important to an individual's health than medication or even proper healthcare, these environmental factors such as healthy food, reliable housing, and positive emotional family structure can prevent the development of such ailments as obesity, diabetes, emotional disorders, and substance abuse. It's always easier to stop these sorts of health problems on the front end than to treat them once they've caused physical and mental damage.

Barbas recognizes the importance of healthy environments and of making those environments available to a broader range of people in the United States. As a senior program officer at The Kresge Foundation, Barbas and her team award grants to organizations in rural and urban parts of the United States engaged in "working with vulnerable, disenfranchised populations and improving the health of their communities."

Founded in 1942 with a $1.6 million gift from five-and-dime store and Kmart founder Sebastian Spering Kresge, The Kresge Foundation is devoted to encouraging "human progress." The Troy, Michigan-based foundation still holds fast to its founding principles, but it has grown substantially since its earliest days. The foundation boasts assets of more than $3 billion and makes about $140 million in grants annually. Its primary areas of focus are arts and culture, community development, Detroit, education, the environment, health, and human services.

At Kresge, Barbas and the Health team has a lot of monetary responsibility on its hands, giving away millions of dollars in grant money every year. Among its recent health projects: $450,000 to CATA (El Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas), a nonprofit focused on improving the working conditions of migrant farm workers. The Kresge money is contributing to a CATA leadership development program called Everybody at the Table for Health, whose goal is to empower leaders in communities affected by food inequities and get those grassroots leaders involved in national food and health policy. What Barbas ssems to like about the CATA project is that it fosters communication between people making food policy and the people who feel those policies' effects most acutely. As she explains in Siembra, CATA's newsletter:

Too often the people who bring food to us—farm workers and fast-food restaurant employees— don't have access to good food or a role in determining policies and processes related to food production and distribution. Everybody at the Table for Health promises to strengthen community-based organizations' involvement in federal food policy work and give the fellows a taste of what it is like to work on the federal level and with national media.

While Kresge's Health team supports projects throughout the United States, it should be noted that Barbas' ties to the Midwest are strong. Before joining Kresge in 2008, she worked on non-profit initiatives in Michigan for decades. She spent five years as executive director of the Michigan AIDS Fund and 16 years working for the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. Barbas was educated in Michigan, too. She's an alumna of both Wayne State University (in Detroit) and Central Michigan University.