Q&A with Chief Equity Officer, Carl R. Lavender, Jr.

Posted on Jul 01, 2020

Carl R. Lavender, Jr. has been appointed to the newly created leadership role of Chief Equity Officer, focused on applying a race equity lens to all the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg’s work and policy positions. He shares insights about his vision and responsibilities of the new role, below.

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New Positions Support Focus on Data-Informed, Mission-Driven Approaches to Race Equity

Posted on Jun 23, 2020

St. Petersburg, FL (June 23, 2018) – Carl R. Lavender, Jr. has been appointed to the newly created leadership role of Chief Equity Officer, focused on applying a race equity lens to all the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg’s work and policy positions.

Lavender will work with President and CEO Randall H. Russell to plan, assess, and direct Foundation strategy and resources to advance race equity to achieve health equity in Pinellas County. He will serve as a resource and sounding board for staff and community partners seeking the most effective and impactful ways to build a race equity movement in the region.

“Carl’s insight and community experience is guiding Foundation leadership and staff in the highest and best use of Foundation assets in a push for race equity. The present moment brings a special urgency and clarity to this issue, and an opportunity to broaden and deepen the community of allies who are committed to the structural changes necessary to achieve this goal,” said Foundation and President and CEO Randall H. Russell. “Carl is uniquely qualified for this role as chief equity advocate, and the Foundation and community are fortunate to have him.”

Lavender’s previous roles with the Foundation included Senior Director of Programs and Chief Engagement Advocate Officer.  He has made a notable career leading nonprofit organizations in Pinellas County for the past 20 years and served in high level community advancement and fundraising positions in Chicago and Cleveland nonprofits prior to that.

Lavender holds a bachelor’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from The Ohio State University and a master’s in Human Services – Non-Profit Organizational Management (cum laude) from Springfield College in Massachusetts.

In a second new role added to the Foundation, Dr. Keesha Benson will serve as Director of Learning, guiding Foundation leadership, staff and community partners in best practices and new applications for using research and data to inform strategy, evaluate performance, and identify and communicate race and health equity priorities.

Dr. Benson was born and raised in St. Petersburg, As a sixth-generation resident of St. Pete she loves and respects the deep history of this city and understands the importance of the collective work to ensure race equity. Dr. Benson has over 15 years of experience engaging in community-level work with children and families, nonprofit organizations, and community stakeholders. Her work has crossed multiple disciplines including child welfare, public health, business, and education. Most recently, Dr. Benson served in a leadership capacity on two Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg supported projects, the Grow Smarter Initiative and Thrive by Five Pinellas.

Dr. Benson’s background includes more than 15 years of community practice, research, and higher education teaching experience with children and families, organizations, and community stakeholders. Prior to returning to St. Petersburg  she served as a faculty member at Temple University in Philadelphia. She received both her Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work with a focus in community intervention, and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Business Administration from Florida A&M University.

“Dr. Benson brings much-needed capacity to develop and manage the Foundation’s research agenda and evaluation and to communicate its impact and learnings,” said Russell. “Her blend of academic background and community experience will help to advance the Foundation’s commitment to data-informed strategies and transparency about our learnings.”

About the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is a private foundation formed in 2013 following the sale of the nonprofit Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. It is the steward of almost $180 million in assets to support health equity in Pinellas County. The Foundation inspires and empowers people, ideas, information exchange, organizations and relationships to end differences in health due to structural racism and improve population health.

‘Equity Amid Crisis’ day two: The way forward

Posted on Jun 06, 2020

Time is ticking.

That was a key takeaway from the second day of a virtual workshop centered around equity, inclusion and diversity hosted by Inclusivity LLC. The conference looked at systemic issues, such as health disparities that became more noticeable amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and racial injustice that rose to the forefront after the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

After the initial discussion Thursday about data and gaps in equity in the St. Petersburg area, panelists from corporations, nonprofits and civic groups regrouped on Friday to talk about how to move forward.

Read More at the St. Pete Catalyst

George Floyd protests: How you can support Tampa Bay’s black community from home

Posted on Jun 05, 2020

You’ve read articles and watched videos of protests erupting across the country after the death of George Floyd. Maybe you’ve been out on the streets marching for days. Maybe you’re staying inside due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you are hashtagging on social media, you need to also go out and do something as well that will change the conversation,” said Hillary Van Dyke, co-founder of black business directory Green Book of Tampa Bay. “Because we keep coming back to this every few years.”

Read More at Tampa Bay Times

UNITE Pinellas on tracking COVID-19 in the black community

Posted on Jun 04, 2020

The “Equity Now” broadcast on WTMP reviews events through a lens of racial and health equity. Hosted by Carl Lavender, chief equity officer at Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg (FHSP), the program features conversations with local health experts, civic and political leaders, community activists, and stakeholders.

On May 30, Lavender was joined by Dr. Stephanie Reed, MPH and Tim Dutton, executive director of UNITE Pinellas.

Read More at The Weekly Challenger

During COVID-19, St. Pete Timebank offers new ways to consider community economies

Posted on Jun 04, 2020

COVID-19 has triggered a breakdown of the U.S. and world economy within three months. In rebuilding our economy, individuals, communities, and groups might want to consider developing alternate ways to receive and offer goods and services.

The idea of communities and individuals sharing and swapping services and goods without using money is indeed as old as time. Here in St. Pete, one group has already come together to establish a new social exchange system.

Read More at The Weekly Challenger

A rent and eviction crisis is looming next week

Here are some ways to keep renters in their homes, write two local advocates.

Posted on May 26, 2020

On June 2, the moratorium on evictions issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis expires, and a rent crisis that could impact thousands of local families is at hand. Like many states, Florida is on the cusp of a significant housing crisis that has been radically worsened by the pandemic COVID-19. For many, rent for both April, May and June will soon be past due. Local legal aid organizations (Gulfcoast Legal Services and Bay Area Legal Services) are gearing up for a rush of evictions even as the economy is restarting.

Read More at Tampa Bay Times

Grow Smarter Pivots Foundation Funding to Address Small Business and St. Petersburg Residents

Business Resiliency Program to Give Consideration to Minority- and Women-owned Businesses

Posted on Apr 28, 2020

Grow Smarter St. Petersburg, an equitable economic development initiative based at the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and primarily funded by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, will be redirecting an estimated $151,741 of awarded funds towards COVID-19 relief efforts in the community.

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Nearly $1 million Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund Activated

Four agencies join forces for COVID-19 funding assistance

Posted on Apr 06, 2020

A unique partnership has been launched to help the critical organizations that provide assistance to the most vulnerable of our local residents being affected by the COVID-19 public health crisis. The Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund (TBRF) is a new strategic collaboration of the Pinellas Community Foundation, Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and United Way Suncoast with nearly $1 million of funding assistance available to nonprofit 501(c) organizations and governmental agencies.

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Emerging Needs, and the Safer at Home Order

Posted on Mar 28, 2020

The potential scale of the COVID-19 pandemic is now clear. Pinellas County has instituted Resolution # 20-20, COVID-19 SAFER AT HOME Order. This development is designed to safeguard the community, but its impact on people of color will be disproportionately negative.

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COVID-19 Precautions and Initial Actions

Posted on Mar 17, 2020

Foundation office operating virtually, Center for Health Equity is closed. In light of the rapidly evolving health crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken the following precautions and actions…

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Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg Welcomes New Board of Trustee Members

Posted on Jan 30, 2020

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is excited to welcome new members to its Board of Trustees. The new appointees will join a group of community leaders who lend their collective passion, expertise, and insight in support of the Foundation’s mission to achieve racial and health equity in South Pinellas County.

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Playing the Long Game

For six years, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg has focused on systems change and health equity.

Posted on Nov 18, 2019

For six years, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg has focused on systems change and health equity.

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U.S. Census is Hiring Locally: Earn Extra Money While Helping Our County Get a Fair and Honest Count

Equitable Services and Accurate Legislative Representation Depend Upon a Full Count of All U.S. Residents

Posted on Oct 30, 2018

The census comes around every 10 years and 2020 is our next opportunity to count every resident in Pinellas County. Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census count provides data that will determine the number of seats Florida has in Congress and will be used to distribute federal funds both to the state and to our local communities.

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Eight Nonprofits Will Create New Initiatives, Enhance Innovative Collaborations With the Help of “Empowerment Grants”

Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg Grants Support Organizations with Annual Operating Budgets Under $2 Million

Posted on Aug 23, 2018

Pinellas County has a wealth of nonprofit organizations that are poised to take their work to the next level but need a bit of a boost to fuel their efforts. This week, eight small-to-mid-sized nonprofits received Empowerment Grants from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg for their community enhancing programs.

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Improving Post-Secondary Attainment in Pinellas County

60 Educational Leaders Met to Discuss Next Steps Following the Release of The Pinellas Community Indicator Report

Posted on Jul 19, 2018

Economic studies show that the region needs more well-trained adults to meet our workforce demands and build a stronger, more vital community. LEAP Tampa Bay is at the forefront of this effort, and has set a goal to bring the number of working-age adults in our region who have a college degree or quality industry certification from the current figure of 48 percent to 60 percent by the year 2025.

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Twenty-One Pinellas County Nonprofits Receive Capacity-Building Mini-Grants from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg

Grants reflect needs revealed in recent countywide Nonprofit Assessment Report

Posted on Jul 17, 2018

This month the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg awarded 21 nonprofit organizations grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to support much-needed organizational improvements in areas such as technology, infrastructure, marketing, communications, training and planning. The grants are part of the Foundation’s investment in nonprofits in Pinellas County that are working to address social issues and problems that lead to health disparities and poor health outcomes.

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Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg Leases Space in Lakeview Shopping Center in South St. Petersburg for Social Change Center

Facility Will Fuel Community-Led Social Change Toward Health Equity

Posted on Jun 28, 2018

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg has leased a property at 2333 34th Street South, an approximately 23,250 square-foot vacant retail space on the south end of the Lakeview Shopping Center in St. Petersburg. The location will serve as a Social Change Center for at least a 10-year period until 2028.

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Foundation Announces New Trustees and Investment Committee Members

Posted on Apr 13, 2018

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is pleased to announce two new additions to its Board of Trustees. Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil and Charles Harris were elected to the Board on March 21, 2018. The Board oversees the Foundation in St. Petersburg, which uses mission-based philanthropy to improve conditions and outcomes for underserved communities in southern Pinellas County.

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Foundation Announces Joni James as Senior Impact Director

Posted on Dec 07, 2017

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg has named Joni James as Senior Impact Director, a new position at the Foundation, now in its third year. James joins the senior leadership team and will be responsible for helping align operations and resources across activities for the highest impact on the Foundation’s mission– to end differences in health due to social or structural disadvantages and improve population health.

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Jonathan M. Ellen, M.D. Elected Chair, Katurah Jenkins-Hall, PhD, Vice Chair of Foundation Board of Trustees

Board Officers and Committee Chairs Also Named

Posted on Oct 25, 2017

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg announced the election of Jonathan M. Ellen, M.D., as Chair of its Board of Trustees. Dr. Ellen is president and vice dean of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. He succeeds founding Board Chair Steven C. Dupré, who served from April 2013 to September 2017. Mr. Dupré is an attorney with Carlton Fields in Tampa.

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Tampa Bay Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund Activated

Greater Tampa Bay Nonprofits Join Forces for Irma Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding

Posted on Sep 14, 2017

While there is still uncertainty regarding the full impact Hurricane Irma will have on our region, a unique partnership has been launched in preparation for what may come. The Tampa Bay Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund (TBDRRF) is a new strategic collaboration of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Pinellas Community Foundation, United Way of Citrus County, United Way of Hernando, United Way of Pasco, and United Way Suncoast.

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Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg Grants $405,794 to Support Capacity-Building Projects at 29 Nonprofits

Funded Projects and Initiatives Will Improve Nonprofit Sector Ability to Enhance Population Health and Health Equity in South Pinellas County.

Posted on May 30, 2017

Twenty-nine nonprofit organizations have received grants ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 to support one-time projects that will enhance their ability to improve organizational capacity and advance community health and health equity in South Pinellas County.

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2017 Grantmaking Kicks Off With Capacity Building Mini Grants, Application Period for Grants Opens Today

Posted on Mar 01, 2017

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is encouraging proposals for projects that will deliver needed improvement for organizations working to improve the health of residents in South Pinellas County. The first of three planned funding rounds in 2017 launches today with a published RFP, open application, and a webinar to guide nonprofits interested in applying.

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Inaugural 2016 Funded Partners Announced

Posted on Jun 24, 2016

The Foundation has completed its first grantmaking cycle entitled Healthy Beginnings. Please click the link below for access to the details of our various investments in the population health of Southern Pinellas County. We are elated about our new funded partners and confident in our forthcoming progress together.
View Media Release

Inaugural Grant Partners to be Announced

Posted on May 01, 2016

The Foundation will announce our 2016 Inaugural Grant Partners on June 23, 2016! This will be the conclusion of our first grantmaking cycle. Please continue to check our website and your email inbox for updates.

LOI Engagement Consultations

Posted on May 01, 2016

Every idea proposed by our diligent, tireless Tampa Bay social service community has great value to us at the Foundation! We want to confer with those grant applicants who were declined for funding in our first grantmaking cycle to discuss your purpose and approach further, to hear more from you, and to discuss more intensely our goals and mission in the Foundation’s service area. Please contact June Kirch at to reserve a time slot for an LOI Engagement Consultation (April 13 – June 30, 2016).

Foundation Releases Video Series

Posted on Feb 24, 2016

We are excited to announce our new video series! The Foundation developed this series to describe our Conflict of Interest policy and the decisions that were made regarding the Letters of Interest (LOI) that we received during our first grants cycle. We are always interested in your feedback so please email us with any thoughts or questions that you may have.