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Q&A with"Groundwork" Episode 5 Supporter: Headwaters Foundation

Support for "Groundwork" Episode 5: Latrice Tatsey and Danielle Antelope on Culturally-Specific and Climate-Smart Blackfeet Food Systems, was provided in part by Headwaters Foundation, an organization that works side-by-side with Western Montanans to improve the health of our communities.

Learn more about Headwaters Foundation in Reframing Rural's below Q&A with Headwaters Foundation Communications Specialist, Robyn Windham!


Headwaters Foundation is a relatively new nonprofit. For those who aren't familiar with your nonprofit, could you please share the origin story behind it along with how Headwaters stewards community resources and funds vital programs?

Robyn Windham: Headwaters Foundation makes an impact on the health of Western Montanans by partnering with organizations that work to reduce barriers to health alongside those who face them most. To date, Headwaters Foundation has granted out a total of almost $23 million dollars. Funds have been used by organizations in different ways, from offering direct services like afterschool programs and food banks, to powering bigger picture ‘upstream’ approaches like working to shift harmful public narratives about health and building power with impacted communities to change policies. The Foundation has also gone beyond grantmaking by convening and amplifying conversations about health in our state and providing services that strengthen nonprofits in our region.

Can you share a story of how Headwaters Foundation goes ‘upstream’ to address the root causes of issues impacting Western Montanans, and how you support collaboration between organizations and across sectors?

Windham: Headwaters Foundation is the largest early childhood funder in the state; we were the seed funder for Zero to Five, which is a great example of our ‘upstream,’ collaborative focus. Zero to Five is comprised of locally-led collaboratives across Western Montana and a statewide advocacy office in Helena, all working together to give children a great start in life and a promising future.  A story that comes to mind is about two moms in rural Southwest Montana. They moved to Dillon around the same time, and realized early on that there weren’t a lot of engagement opportunities for young children in their community. In response, they started the Early Childhood Coalition of Beaverhead County (a locally-led Zero to Five collaborative) and gained a lot of cross-sector support in a short amount of time. Within a year, the group had identified and opened a community space for children to learn, grow and interact, and for young families to connect and feel supported in a region that often experiences feelings of isolation.

What initiatives are you working on right now that you think Reframing Rural listeners would be interested in learning more about?

Windham: One of our most well-known initiatives is our GO! Grants program, which we built specifically for organizations in rural communities to be able to access general operating funding quickly and with a simple application process. Headwaters has made over 400 GO! Grants since the launch of this program. Organizations on the Flathead Reservation have received more of these grants than in any other area, which shows that funds are going where we intended them to go – areas and organizations that are often overlooked for (or face barriers to) other funding. Headwaters Foundation also partners with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) to fund a newer food sovereignty initiative which seeks to put the ownership of local food systems back into the hands of Native people and prioritize Indigenous food and production processes. We also support tribal/non-tribal collaboration around crisis intervention and prevention efforts that cover the Flathead Nation and Lake County.

How can Reframing Rural listeners get involved with Headwaters Foundation?

Windham: Our purpose is to support our grantee partners and the vital work that they do to improve our communities. To learn more about our partners, check out our website and follow us on social media @headwatersmt. We regularly share information about these important organizations and ways to support them. We also recently opened a nonprofit events space in downtown Missoula. We and our partners will hold community gatherings here regularly, so be sure to keep an eye out and join us if you’re in Missoula.

What about Reframing Rural's mission to celebrate rural culture, preserve history and cultivate curiosity and conversation across geographic, class and cultural divides resonates most with Headwaters Foundation?

Windham: Reframing Rural’s focus on bridging divides and having conversations with people about the issues that impact them is in line with our values. Montana is a largely rural state and it’s important to us to reach and build relationships with folks who live in rural areas, and to understand their needs and viewpoints. Too many of us live within our ‘bubble’ and we appreciate Megan’s approach of stepping outside of that ‘bubble’ - being curious, really getting to know people and sharing their powerful stories.


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