News & Info
American Trails Executive Director Mike Passo set to speak at Trail Appreciation Day
January 25, 2023

The value of trails – both to society and our souls – and the need to make them accessible to all will be on display Jan. 30 at Sunflower State Trail Appreciation Day at the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka.

 

The event, which is hosted by Sunflower Foundation and will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., brings together trail enthusiasts from across Kansas who share a love for trails and an understanding of how vital they are to communities.

 

Few people have a better appreciation for the role trails play in people’s lives and communities than Trail Appreciation Day keynote speaker Mike Passo, who is executive director of the nonprofit organization American Trails, where he spearheads efforts to develop trails and raise awareness of their value.

 

Growing up an avid outdoorsman in Wisconsin, Passo used to take his hunting, fishing, hiking and biking excursions for granted. Then, at age 22, a life-changing event gave him a different perspective.

 

While mountain biking, he went over a berm too fast, flipped over his handlebars and landed on his back, leaving him with two shattered vertebrae and permanent paralysis from the waist down. He remembers lying in his hospital bed devastated that he might never be able to enjoy his outdoor activities again.

 

“The injury and my realization of how critically important recreation is to a person’s life, to the core of their being, was the first step down the road to understanding and having a passion for working in recreation,” Passo said.

 

In the years since, despite his physical disability, he has regained his identity by developing trail use habits that fit his needs, such as mountain biking on an adaptive bike that he pedals with his hands. Through his career work, he has come to realize that many people, due to a variety of circumstances, don’t have access to the outdoor recreation he has been able to enjoy.

 

“I realized over time that I had a very special opportunity growing up to go hunting with my dad, and to go fishing every other weekend, and go hiking and biking on trails and cross-country skiing in the winter. A good portion of our population just hasn’t had that opportunity,” said Passo, who is one of a handful of dignitaries and lawmakers who are scheduled to speak between 9:45 and 10:45 a.m. on Jan. 30 in the Rotunda on the first floor of the Capitol.

 

In his role with American Trails, accessibility is a top priority. He admits he has an inherent bias toward the challenges faced by physically disabled individuals, but he acknowledges that the issue of accessibility to trails goes much deeper.

 

“Accessibility has a much broader definition to me, and it becomes about economic and social accessibility. A young person in central Kansas City, they don’t always feel welcome in the outdoor environment. It’s not a natural place for them to be. There are hurdles of scariness and danger that are perceived out there that need to be overcome,” he said. “So, accessibility extends into that realm, too, of making the invitation to as many people as we can that this is an experience that you can get for free and benefit from, and it will change your life.”

 

Trails are foundations for recreation and the human spirit, said Passo, who believes investments in trails, particularly in rural areas, can positively impact overall community health and quality of life.

 

“I feel strongly that access to trails is something that can improve the lives of many, many people,” he said.

 

Educating people that trails exist and that they’re there for them to use, enjoy and maintain also will aid efforts to connect more people to the benefits of trails, Passo said. More awareness could lead to more people being stewards of trails, which could lead to more support for future trail initiatives, he said.

 

“In many ways, I think they’re taken for granted,” Passo said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges is people don’t even know that they’re there and that they’re using trails on such a consistent and continuous basis. And I think that there’s a strong need for people to both appreciate and understand that trails play a role in their lives.”

 

Historically, trail development has been more popular in urban areas and places where outdoor recreation fuels tourism – places like Colorado, Montana, Washington state and Vermont – Passo said. But, he is excited about the work being done in Kansas and the way that trails are driving economic development. Kansas, he said, is starting to receive more national attention for its trail work.

 

“It’s really exciting when statewide pushes and initiatives like what you’re doing in Kansas happen because it shows the entire country that trails aren’t just for the yuppies up in Vermont, they’re for everybody,” Passo said.

 

Sunflower Foundation’s longtime commitment to trails and the work being done by organizations across Kansas are inspiring, Passo said, and he wants the state’s trail champions to know that their work is making a difference.

 

“What often happens is local advocates or state advocates just have their nose down and they’re like, ‘I want trails in my community,’ and they’re going for it,” Passo said. “But they don’t realize what that does to the greater conversation, and I really want to tell them that they’re making a difference and they’re showing the country that trails have a strong role to play and are very important to be stewarded and advocated for across the country.”

 

Registration for Trail Appreciation Day is free and open to anyone and will remain open until the day of the event. The deadline to register to receive lunch has passed, but all are welcome to visit the trail mix bar. Go to https://tinyurl.com/yryada78 to register for the event.

Foundation supports partnership to bring integrated care to rural health clinics
December 27, 2022

Access to behavioral health services remains a critical issue for far too many Kansans, particularly those living in rural areas, where specialized support is often difficult to find.

 

Sunflower Foundation has long supported innovative efforts to modernize the state’s behavioral health care delivery system and improve access to services, and we believe that integrated care – when primary and behavioral health care providers collaborate to provide a team-based continuum of care for patients – is one way to accomplish that.

 

In 2011, Sunflower Foundation launched its Integrated Care Initiative, supporting safety net clinics in mostly larger communities whose goal was to move toward an integrated care model. Now, through a partnership between Sunflower Foundation, the Eugene S. Farley Health Policy Center and Practice Innovation Program at the University of Colorado and the Health Innovations Network of Kansas (HINK), the foundation is supporting a new phase of integrated care designed to bring that whole-person approach to a patchwork of rural communities in northeast Kansas.

 

The foundation is providing $350,000 in support to the initiative. Participating clinics include: Amberwell Atchison Primary Care, Amberwell Hiawatha Primary Care, Coffey County Medical Center in Burlington, Heartland Health Care Clinic in Abilene, Holton Family Medicine, MCH Medical Clinic in Council Grove, Onaga Medical Clinic and Seneca Family Practice.

 

HINK, a consortium of hospitals and clinics in northeast Kansas committed to strengthening access to quality health care in the region, will serve as the hub and convener for a 12-month integrated care learning network for the participating clinics. The Farley Center, a national leader in integrated care research and implementation, will offer technical assistance and immersive, in-depth educational sessions to help the rural clinics assess their capacity and readiness to integrate behavioral health and primary care.

 

Sunflower Foundation is excited and proud to support this new effort in integrated care as we continue to strive to be a catalyst in improving access to behavioral health care for all Kansans.

 

Read more about the Northeast Kansas Rural Health Clinic Integrated Care Learning Collaborative at https://tinyurl.com/y4mpycrs

Foundation announces Zimmer as new CFO
November 4, 2022

The Sunflower Foundation is pleased to announce the hiring of veteran financial controller Shanna Zimmer as its new chief financial officer.

 

Zimmer, of Topeka, joins Sunflower Foundation after spending the previous six years as a controller in both the health care and nonprofit sectors. She brings considerable experience in accounting processes; financial planning, reporting and analysis; and budget development and management to her new role with the foundation, a health philanthropic organization with a mission to serve as a catalyst for improving the health of all Kansans.

 

“Shanna’s expertise in nonprofits and health care systems makes her a tremendous addition to the foundation,” said Billie Hall, president and CEO of Sunflower Foundation. “She is genuinely interested in continuing to grow and develop in her career, and we are excited to have her.”

 

Taking over the CFO role after the departure of longtime foundation CFO Cheryl Bean, who resigned in August to spend more time with her family, Zimmer will oversee the financial, investment, and business planning for the foundation and Sunflower Nonprofit Center. She also will manage the organization’s budget, ensure that the foundation is adhering to auditing and accounting policies, oversee human resources, and serve as an adviser to the CEO on financial decisions.

 

The opportunity to return to the nonprofit sector and work for an organization driven to help create healthier communities across Kansas was alluring for Zimmer.

 

“With a background in health care finance, I felt drawn to the Sunflower Foundation’s mission,” Zimmer said. “I will be focused on reducing burdens during the grant application process while continuously seeking opportunities to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the organization system-wide.”

 

As controller for Community HealthCare System, Inc., in Onaga, Kan., DCCCA, Inc., in Lawrence, Kan., and The University of Kansas Health System, St. Francis Campus, in Topeka, Zimmer contributed to the financial and operational success of each of those organizations. She started her career as an accountant for Slawson Companies, Inc., in Wichita, Kan.

 

Zimmer has a Master of Health Care Leadership from Friends University in Wichita and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Kansas State University. She is a member of both the Institute of Management Accountants and the Healthcare Financial Management Association.

 

 

“I look forward to being a part of the incredible work taking place at the Sunflower Foundation,” Zimmer said.

 

Originally from Tescott, Kan., Zimmer and her husband, Joe, have three children.

MacKenzie Scott donates $4 million to Sunflower Foundation
October 25, 2022

Sunflower Foundation is pleased to announce that it has received a one-time, unrestricted gift of $4 million from billionaire philanthropist and novelist MacKenzie Scott.

 

“We are grateful for and humbled by Ms. Scott’s gift,” said Billie Hall, Sunflower Foundation president and CEO. “That she chose our foundation to be part of her philanthropic vision is a testament to the determined work of Sunflower’s many partners across Kansas – nonprofit organizations and public entities that remain steadfast in their efforts to improve the health of their communities and enhance the quality of life for all who call Kansas home.”

 

The foundation’s partnerships with rural communities and support of their ongoing efforts to strengthen health care systems, address food and nutrition security, create more opportunities for people to get outdoors and stay active, and empower Kansas’ nonprofit sector has been central to the foundation’s work over the past 10 years. Areas of focus include:

 

  • Supporting efforts to integrate behavioral health care into primary health care delivery systems to improve access to mental health services.
  • Partnering with rural communities and low-income urban neighborhoods on issues related to access to food, local grocery stores and healthy eating options.
  • Creating opportunities for Kansans to be physically active through programs that develop safe places to bike, walk and enjoy nature.
  • Developing evolving, responsive programs to improve the core capacity, organizational success, and collective impact of Kansas’ nonprofits.

 

Scott’s donation will help the foundation expand on work in these areas and others.

 

“This timely gift will accelerate and enhance our ability to advance equity in health care and find innovative strategies and solutions for improving and sustaining rural health systems,” Hall said.

 

Scott has pledged to give away at least half of her wealth in charity in her lifetime. She seeks to identify and award funds to high-impact, equity-oriented nonprofits working to support the needs of people and groups that historically have been underrepresented.

 

While its work remains statewide and in a diversity of communities, the foundation has made a concerted effort to better support its rural partners. Rural communities, in general, tend to receive much less philanthropic support than their proportion of the population. The foundation’s rural-based grant-making strategy has engaged thousands of Kansans who are working to make the state a healthier place, with nearly 40% of its grants and over 40% of its grant dollars distributed in the past 10 years having supported entities in rural communities.

 

And with the recent completion of its nonprofit center, the foundation has started a new chapter in its efforts to support and catalyze collaboration and assist organizations, both large and small, as they work to solve the state’s most vexing health challenges.

 

“We are proud of the work we have done since our inception more than 20 years ago, and we remain focused on how we can better serve nonprofits and the thousands of Kansans working hard each day to make their communities healthier, more inclusive, more vibrant, and more prosperous for all,” Hall said. “This generous gift is a catalyst for the work that lies ahead.”   

Hays’ Werth appointed to Sunflower board; Garden City’s Sosa, Goodland’s Schears re-appointed
May 24, 2022

TOPEKA, Kan. – Sunflower Foundation is pleased to announce the appointment of Tim Werth of Hays to the foundation’s Board of Trustees, as well as the re-appointments of trustees Liz Sosa of Garden City and Ben Schears of Goodland to the nine-member board.

 

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt made the appointments on April 27.

 

Schmidt appointed Werth, founding and managing partner of Werth Wealth Management, LLC, in Hays, to a three-year term. Sosa, CEO of Epitome Enterprises in Garden City, will be serving her third and final term. Sosa is set to become chairwoman of the board, taking over for departing chairwoman Andrea Krauss, who is finishing up her third term. Schears, president of Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland, will be serving his second three-year term.

 

Trustees can serve up to three, three-year terms. All three appointees will start their terms at the board’s next meeting on June 9.

 

With 30 years of experience in wealth management, Werth specializes in providing comprehensive wealth management services for families, businesses, foundations, endowments and corporate retirement plans. Forbes named him to its Best-in-State Wealth Advisor list in 2019 and 2020.

 

“I am pleased to represent Kansas through my appointment to the Sunflower Foundation Board of Trustees,” Werth said. “The foundation’s philanthropy serves as a catalyst for improving the health and lives of Kansans. I am proud of my Kansas roots and am excited to work with an accomplished and sincere group of individuals to help advance their mission.”

 

Werth’s appointment broadens the philanthropic expertise of the Sunflower Board, said Billie Hall, CEO of Sunflower Foundation.

 

“Tim is active in his community and cares deeply about his clients and staff,” Hall said. “His model of leadership is service and humility – values that align with the Sunflower Foundation.”

 

A native of Hays, Werth graduated from Thomas More Prep-Marian, then earned his Bachelor of Science in finance and a minor in accounting from Emporia State University. He becomes the 29th individual, representing diverse backgrounds and locations in Kansas, to be appointed to serve on the board since the foundation’s creation in 2000.

 

Sosa, who originally was appointed to the board by Schmidt in 2016, also is co-owner of The Corner on Main, a gift shop in downtown Garden City, and operations director for the Western Kansas Community Foundation in Garden City. She is vice-chairwoman of the Western Kansas Regional Board of Trustees for Centura Health. Sosa earned her Bachelor of General Studies in Business/Leadership from Fort Hays State University and an Associate’s degree from Garden City Community College.

 

Schears, who originally was appointed to the board by Schmidt in 2019, serves as president of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, president of the Sherman County Community Development Board, and is a member of the Kansas Association of Technical Colleges. He earned his Master of Arts in History and Bachelor of Science in History from Emporia State University. He also has an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts from Cowley College.

 

This year’s trio of appointees, all hailing from western Kansas, have shown a commitment to learning, leadership and philanthropy, Hall said.

 

“Our trustees reflect the diversity of Kansas, and they bring unique perspectives from the communities in which they live, as well as from their life experiences,” Hall said.

 

The Kansas attorney general appoints eight of the positions on the board, with one appointed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas. The board is tasked with guiding the development of the foundation’s strategic direction and reviewing its priorities, timelines and outcomes.

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MacKenzie Scott donates $4 million to Sunflower Foundation
November 9, 2022

Sunflower Foundation is pleased to announce that it has received a one-time, unrestricted gift of $4 million from billionaire philanthropist and novelist MacKenzie Scott.

“We are grateful for and humbled by Ms. Scott’s gift,” said Billie Hall, Sunflower Foundation president and CEO. “That she chose our foundation to be part of her philanthropic vision is a testament to the determined work of Sunflower’s many partners across Kansas – nonprofit organizations and public entities that remain steadfast in their efforts to improve the health of their communities and enhance the quality of life for all who call Kansas home.”

The foundation’s partnerships with rural communities and support of their ongoing efforts to strengthen health care systems, address food and nutrition security, create more opportunities for people to get outdoors and stay active, and empower Kansas’ nonprofit sector has been central to the foundation’s work over the past 10 years. Areas of focus include:

  • Supporting efforts to integrate behavioral health care into primary health care delivery systems to improve access to mental health services.
  • Partnering with rural communities and low-income urban neighborhoods on issues related to access to food, local grocery stores and healthy eating options.
  • Creating opportunities for Kansans to be physically active through programs that develop safe places to bike, walk and enjoy nature.
  • Developing evolving, responsive programs to improve the core capacity, organizational success, and collective impact of Kansas’ nonprofits.

Scott’s donation will help the foundation expand on work in these areas and others.

“This timely gift will accelerate and enhance our ability to advance equity in health care and find innovative strategies and solutions for improving and sustaining rural health systems,” Hall said.

Scott has pledged to give away at least half of her wealth in charity in her lifetime. She seeks to identify and award funds to high-impact, equity-oriented nonprofits working to support the needs of people and groups that historically have been underrepresented.

While its work remains statewide and in a diversity of communities, the foundation has made a concerted effort to better support its rural partners. Rural communities, in general, tend to receive much less philanthropic support than their proportion of the population. The foundation’s rural-based grant-making strategy has engaged thousands of Kansans who are working to make the state a healthier place, with nearly 40% of its grants and over 40% of its grant dollars distributed in the past 10 years having supported entities in rural communities.

And with the recent completion of its nonprofit center, the foundation has started a new chapter in its efforts to support and catalyze collaboration and assist organizations, both large and small, as they work to solve the state’s most vexing health challenges.

“We are proud of the work we have done since our inception more than 20 years ago, and we remain focused on how we can better serve nonprofits and the thousands of Kansans working hard each day to make their communities healthier, more inclusive, more vibrant, and more prosperous for all,” Hall said. “This generous gift is a catalyst for the work that lies ahead.”   

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