As the new president of the Northwest Health Foundation, Nichole Maher is both a fresh face and an old soul.
At only 33, she comes to the organization already with 10 years experience as the head of NAYA, the Native American Youth and Family Center. It was a decade of working within one of the nation’s largest Native American populations in the country, combating the challenges of racism and poverty with advocacy and education.
The Northwest Health Foundation takes on those same challenges in its approach to promoting better health for youths and adults across Oregon and southwest Washington. The organization was founded in 1997 from the assets of the former Physicians Association of Clackamas County, believed to be the nation’s first pre-paid health plan in the nation. NWHF has distributed tens of millions of dollars in grants to hundreds of organizations working to improve the health of people struggling with economic disadvantages, especially low-income, minority and immigrant groups that don’t have access to health care.
The foundation has had a marked impact at the state government level — its program officers have worked closely with legislators and lobbyists on bills such as menu labeling, connecting local farms to school lunch programs, tobacco taxes, and the landmark legislation passed in 2011 and 2012 that reformed the Oregon Health Plan.
Maher says she was attracted to the organization’s commitment to social justice and its “honesty” around the inequities that exist. “I loved that they had been willing to take some risks, and talking about things traditional foundations would not do,” Maher says.
Amanda Waldroupe: Such as?
Nichole Maher: Talking about racial inequalities. They have taken stances on issues like tobacco taxes, fluoride, endorsed political issues that other foundations would not be comfortable with, like Measures 66 and 67. I liked the possibility of being an advocate for everyone in Oregon and southwest Washington, for all communities, and to be a voice for poor children and people in poverty, not just Native Americans. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being an advocate, but it might look a little different. Continue reading