Executive of the Year: Sue Sharpe, Chuckanut Health Foundation

In six years leading the Chuckanut Health Foundation, Sue Sharpe said her role guiding the organization, which in its 30-year history has directed more than $15 million to agencies supporting community health and education, has been largely done behind the scenes.

So when readers of The Bellingham Business Journal voted her the Executive of the Year in the 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards, Sharpe said she couldn’t take all the credit.

“In my mind, it’s really a recognition of the work [we do] as a community, not the work I do as an individual,” said Sharpe, executive director of the Chuckanut Health Foundation, which until 2013 was known as St. Luke’s Foundation.

The accolade comes at a time of significant change for the organization. Along with the new name, the Chuckanut Health Foundation’s board of directors and staff last year completed a top-to-bottom reassessment of its mission and values.

The independent, nonprofit foundation provides grants to local agencies to bolster a variety of community support programs, mainly focusing on health care, but also on other areas such as nutrition, education and access to housing.

In 2013, the Chuckanut Health Foundation granted funding to 14 local organizations, including the Bellingham Food Bank, Lighthouse Mission, Northwest Youth Services and the Interfaith Community Health Center.

“We’ve really started looking at health in a much broader way,” Sharpe said.

The foundation’s new name is probably its most visible change.

What is now formerly known as St. Luke’s Foundation was created in 1983 with proceeds from the original sale of St. Luke’s Hospital, a standalone community hospital that was later acquired by PeaceHealth.

Sharpe said the St. Luke’s name carried significant historical weight for many people in the community. But as time went on and the foundation grew, its connection to the past became less apparent, she said.

The name also began sparking confusion among community members, Sharpe said. She added that in the past several years the foundation’s staff and board of directors have spent a good deal of time explaining how the organization is independent and not connected to the St. Joseph hospital.

Sharpe said the new name, Chuckanut Health Foundation, emphasizes the organization’s local connection and its independence.

“In some ways, I feel like we have a stronger identity moving forward because we’re not being confused with someone else,” she said.

Major efforts at the Chuckanut Health Foundation today include more investment in programs supporting nutrition, which Sharpe said constitutes a basic component of health care. The foundation was also one of the founding creators of Project Homeless Connect, Sharpe said, which helps build community awareness of efforts to help homeless families and individuals.

Sharpe said the foundation’s involvement in creating an initiative known as the Community Health Improvement Plan, or CHIP, was also significant factor in the organization’s revisioning process.

CHIP is a joint initiative between the foundation, the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, PeaceHealth, the Whatcom Community Foundation, the United Way and a number of other local organizations. Sharpe highlighted three priorities of the initiative: support for youth and families; support for healthy neighborhoods, which encompasses safety, food and sense of community; and support for health services for neighborhoods in need.

Sharpe said she felt the incorporation of community feedback was particularly useful in the creation of CHIP. She added that for any nonprofit agency or foundation, a consistent reassessment of its programs and impacts is necessary to ensure they continue meeting the needs of those they serve.

“The issues that we face today are totally different than they were 30 years ago,” she said.

Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com

Executive of the Year runners-up

First runners-up

Mark Lee and Doug DeVries, co-owners and co-founders
Big Fresh and NVNTD
360-752-3304, 1344 King St., Suite 202

Second runner-up

Ron Price, campus president
Charter College, Bellingham
360-647-5000, 410 W. Bakerview Road, Suite 112

See all of the 2014 Readers’ Choice Award winners by clicking here.

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