Boston social entrepreneurs receive funding to break down health barriers

The American Heart Association is making six new investments in Boston organizations committed to breaking down social and economic barriers that prevent people from living healthy lives.

Currently operating in Chicago, Boston and Flint, Michigan, the Association’s Social Impact Fund empowers communities with localized resources to change their own trajectory of health and well-being.

Investments by the American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, support solutions in the areas of economic empowerment, healthy food access, housing, recidivism (a person’s relapse into criminal behavior), access to quality healthcare, transportation and educational opportunities.

The latest round of Social Impact Fund investees is:

Housing Navigator Mass Inc.: An app that helps low-to-moderate-income families find and apply for affordable housing in Massachusetts. The organization will address the significant digital information divide with a tool that provides a comprehensive inventory of affordable housing developments and available units, tools for housing seekers to understand eligibility, means for property managers to more efficiently attract eligible applicants and data for researchers and policy makers.

Immigrant Family Services Institute: This organization supports humane integration of recent immigrants into U.S. society. With a focus on Caribbean, African and Hispanic immigrants, the organization provides academic support for children, advocates for immigrant rights, and acts as a bridge for employment, healthcare and education services. Collectively, these programs aim to close the achievement gap and reduce the myriad of challenges faced by Boston’s immigrant community.

HealthWorks Community Fitness: A fitness center focused on improving the physical health and well-being of women in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods in Boston. Located in a fitness desert, the center provides fitness programs and health education to more than 2,000 members. The facility is equipped with an on-site teaching kitchen as well as a long-standing partnership with a community health center that prescribes patients exercise to treat chronic health conditions.

The Urban Farming Institute of Boston: An organization fostering a healthy food system throughout several food-insecure communities by turning vacant lots into urban farms to offer affordable, locally grown produce for community residents and restaurants. It helps to build healthy eating habits with weekly nutrition education classes, urban farmers training programs and community resilience initiatives.

EatWell: A group that partners with community, housing and health organizations in Boston to sell affordable, SNAP-eligible meal kits in food deserts. Its $15 three-serving meal kits are equipped with ingredients and picture-based instructions to prepare healthy 30-minute meals. Designed to teach healthy cooking habits, the recipes offer easy-to-follow, kid-friendly, balanced meals that incorporate local preferences.

Ride Health: An app offering patients in Boston and other communities an efficient, affordable and dependable non-emergency medical transportation. Through partnerships with health systems, health plans and hospitals, the organization has helped drive improved health outcomes, increased appointment attendance and reduced costs to providers and patients.

“The social impact fund has allowed us to do the one thing we could never do before, which is to increase capacity,” said Liz Abunaw, owner, Forty Acres Fresh Market in Chicago and 2019 Social Impact Fund investee. “Having access to this capital has enabled us to grow and increase impact in our community.”

While significant advances have been made in cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment, health results are disparate across economic, racial and ethnic groups. According to the County Health Rankings, only 20% of a person’s overall health is determined by clinical medical care, while the rest is determined by social and economic factors, as well as physical environment. Approximately 50 million people in the United States are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease because they lack the most basic needs — healthy food, clean air and drinking water, quality education, employment and housing.

Organizations interested in applying for the next funding cycle can do so starting April 28, 2020 here.

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