Reflecting on my Path to Northwest Health Foundation
By Nichole Maher, MPH
As I write my very first message as Northwest Health Foundation president, I can’t help but reflect on the path that has led me to this exciting opportunity. I have been so privileged to spend the past eleven years serving the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) as it directly implemented public health and prevention strategies within one of our region’s most vulnerable communities. I was incredibly moved to see the profound change that can take place when a community comes together around shared values, determines its collective goals, and reshapes its destiny using the community’s own cultural beliefs and strengths. Seeing this upstream strategy implemented day after day was inspiring, exciting, and contagious. When the opportunity arose to join a foundation with a shared vision for a healthier Oregon and Southwest Washington, I jumped at the chance to serve our broader community.
Throughout my time at NAYA Family Center, people would occasionally ask, “Nichole, why did you get a master’s degree in public health if you’re not working in public health?” I loved the question, as it gave me a chance to explain that NAYA Family Center is all about public health and that when individuals and communities are empowered and have the opportunity to create an environment that truly supports community wellness, we are practicing upstream prevention at its best.
At NAYA I had an opportunity to be on the ground creating an environment that was more conducive to physical activity and better nutrition. I had the chance to see youth, elders and parents actively engaged in basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, walking clubs, yoga, elder tai chi, and aerobics. And I witnessed a community transforming its food policies to ensure that every meal we served was healthy, fresh, and was purchased in a way that reflected our values.
While I will miss seeing all that energy and grassroots work on a day to day basis, I am now so excited to see firsthand all of the innovative efforts that the community partners of Northwest Health Foundation are initiating and delivering throughout Oregon and southwest Oregon. I look forward to learning how we can continue to support these efforts and to better understand your vision for health. I am planning several trips around the region, so if you have suggestions about places I should visit, I welcome your ideas.
I want to close by thanking the foundation’s staff, board, and community of supporters for what I can only describe as a genuinely warm welcome.
Gunalchéesh (Thank You)
Nichole June Maher, MPH, President
Northwest Health Foundation
Nichole Maher, MPH