CareFirst helps local nonprofit provide a SAFE Alternative for area youth
No one ever told Van Brooks that he needed a backup plan for his life. Why would he? He was a three-sport athlete, a standout high-school football player, who seemed destined for success. Then, at age 16, that future came crashing down when Brooks broke his neck trying to make a tackle. The teen was paralyzed from the neck down.
But Brooks regrouped. Not only was he able to make a miraculous physical recovery and regain use of his upper body, but he also went to college and got a degree in mass communications. Today, he is the founder and executive director of the SAFE Alternative Foundation for Education, a nonprofit that delivers afterschool programming to youth in West Baltimore.
Now thanks to CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst), the region’s largest not-for-profit health plan, Brooks and his foundation will have backup in helping kids plan and prepare for their future and become productive members of a stronger community.
CareFirst recently announced that it would be funding up to $2.2 million in economic inclusion grants to organizations throughout the region. SAFE Alternative is a recipient and funds will help provide capital enhancements and programmatic support.
“The partnership between SAFE and CareFirst is very important,” says Brooks. “We’re taking an approach to holistically support our students, not just academically, but in other areas of life that they need to combat the social determinants of health.”
For example, part of this grant money will go towards educational programming for 100 middle-school students in the area. Social determinants of health include social and environmental factors that impact the overall health of an individual and their community. Education is just one determinant that can yield healthier outcomes. The programs at SAFE aren’t just limited to school-age children. The infusion will also help SAFE Alternative offer vocational training and certifications to young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
The idea is to build successful individuals, families, and overall community.
SAFE Alternative is just one of several regional nonprofits and community organizations that CareFirst invests in as part of its mission to not only make quality healthcare accessible and affordable, but also to promote the health of the communities it serves. CareFirst annually invests tens-of-millions of dollars to improve the quality of life for 3.6 million people in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia.
This holistic approach dovetails perfectly with Brooks’ goals and the mission of SAFE Alternative. He says that the work of his foundation is about much more than keeping kids off the street and out of trouble, and it’s bigger than helping individuals and families attain financial security and gratifying lives. It’s about building a stronger, brighter future for the community.
“Eventually the middle schoolers are going to be our future,” says Brooks. “We need to begin to invest in them sooner than later so they can grow up into those healthy adults who can contribute to society in ways that we need today.”