Welcome Shaleetta Drawbaugh, New HEF Program Officer

On April 18, RHHD welcomed Shaleetta Drawbaugh as the new Health Equity Fund Program Officer. The Health Equity Fund (HEF) invests in organizations working to eradicate health disparities throughout our city.

Shaleetta has called Richmond home for a long time. She grew up in Southeast Virginia—attending 11 different schools as a child!—and spent time after college in Portland, Oregon, and pursuing her Master’s in Public Health from Emory University in Atlanta. But Richmond, she says, has been homebase since she arrived for college at the University of Richmond.

In college, Shaleetta designed her own major in Health Education and Social Justice and built deep relationships with friends who are now family in the East End. After her years away, she returned to support VCU Health’s strategic partnerships develop and COVID-19 response efforts. One of her proudest accomplishments at VCU was working with Sheryl Garland to build a Health Equity strategic plan—that blueprint resulted in VCU’s Office of Health Equity.

Before joining the HEF, Shaleetta was a board member turned staff member for the affordable housing non-profit Urban Hope. She sees this range of professional and personal experiences all showing up in her new position—she stopped by the communications office to talk to us about her passion for health equity and her favorite things about working and living in Richmond.

Hi Shaleetta! Tell us about what drew you to the Program Officer position with the Health Equity Fund. How do you think about health disparities and health equity?

I’ve always been passionate about advancing health equity and access. In college, I thought clinical care was health. In learning more about the broader sense of public health, I learned there were other factors—the social determinants of health—that have, honestly, a greater influence than clinical care and health behaviors on a population’s health. That really fascinated me, because it spoke to the impact of my experiences of invisible homelessness, food insecurity and poverty. We had limited access to high-quality healthcare services where I lived growing up, but that wasn’t the only reason why I was dealing with those health outcomes.

Being able to connect the dots personally happened because of my pursuits professionally. The work feels connected to who I am and my community as well. I want my day-to-day to be thinking about, talking about, health equity and health disparities. This job spoke to the direction I’m trying to head and where I have been. I want to center the community and work alongside organizations to rebuild systems with community members and equity in mind.

Some of our current systems have unjustly created gaps in health outcomes between different groups of people. These health disparities prevent groups that have been marginalized from walking into who they should be, living a healthy life, and being appreciated for their inherit value. We can always, always, always move toward equity, justice, and inclusion. I feel compelled in every environment that I’m in to create space and to make people feel seen, valued, and loved. Thankfully, my work lets me do that on a larger scale.

You are new to the Health Equity Fund’s work—what excites you about the HEF’s approach so far?

My predecessor Saraya Perry has done an amazing job with building infrastructure and partnerships at the Fund. I get to enhance what is already here.

The HEF’s work is about investing financially in projects advancing health equity. Lifting up community organizations and helping them access funding also addresses disparities in a tangible way. There’s a lot of funding out there for organizations, but not enough. And there are some organizations who don’t know where that funding is, or they don’t have the language to communicate to a funder what they’re doing. They might not have access to data to demonstrate the need to support it. Some partners have grant writers, and others don’t.

What I like about the HEF is that we roll up our sleeves and work alongside the partner to create a bridge into critical gap-filling funding. And that’s the equity piece. We can announce that applications have launched, but who gets that notification? And are they overwhelmed by the application in and of itself? We listen to community feedback and make sure the application is accessible language-wise and technology-wise.

I’m looking forward to relationship-building with partners who are doing the day-to-day work with clients and community members and trying to support them in ways that they identify would be helpful. That’s what collaboration and partnership look like.

What makes Richmond a meaningful place to participate in health equity work?

Richmond is always unique to me in both its history as the capital of the Confederacy and its commitment to trying to acknowledge it. It makes the work more impactful to know where we’ve been. We see evidence that we have a long way to go, but we’re not still arguing about whether there’s work to be done.

Richmond feels so big and so small at the same time. I’m empowered when I’m in Richmond—I know I’m not alone, that there are other people committed to this work. It’s about elevating that work and reinforcing the values. Obviously, in every city, there are people who aren’t necessarily aware or engaged, but in this profession, I feel there’s belonging here in this city.

Outside of work, Shaleetta gets active! She plays softball, rides bikes, plays pickleball with her husband Mark, walks with friends, and checks out the latest rom-com on Netflix if she needs a break. She’s active with The Life Church RVA and describes her service there as another opportunity to “create a space that makes people feel seen and welcome.” And if you need a food recommendation in Richmond, especially on the East End, Shaleetta has you covered! She loves NarWhals rolled ice cream, Kuba Kuba’s tres leches cake, fries from Liberty Public House, lamb risotto from Portico, and everything at Proper Pie.

Want to know more about the Health Equity Fund? Check out RHHD socials and newsletter to explore recent profiles of HEF partners Daily Planet Health Services, Gateway Community Health, Virginia Prison Birth Project, and Urban Baby Beginnings.