About: Special Initiatives

Special Initiatives

Smartphone App for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) was awarded $75,000 in FY 2016 to develop and pilot a mobile phone application (“the app”) to give homeless youth in Chicago real-time information about nearby health services, emergency shelter, and a variety of other services key to their survival and progress.  CCH developed the app in conjunction with Young Invincibles (YI), a national organization with a Chicago office and an impressive track record of applying modern technology to help solve healthcare access and delivery issues for young people.

Before developing the app, CCH and YI conducted focus groups with both young adults experiencing homelessness and the agencies which provide them services.  Based on feedback received, the app features two core functions identified by the groups as especially important: real-time data about availability of beds at shelters on any given night, and key facts about area Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) including proximity, cost and types of services provided. Also provided is information about resources including storage availability, legal services, education and job placement services, food programs and emergency contacts such as the National Runaway Safeline.

The overall goal of the app is to empower young adults by improving their health and well-being, thereby decreasing the isolation and hopelessness experienced by many precariously-housed young adults, and positioning them for transition out of homelessness. The app also benefits providers by streamlining databases to make it simpler for them to convey information about their services both to their target audience and fellow providers.

After thorough beta testing the fall of 2016, the app was fully rolled out and as of first quarter 2017 had been downloaded over 500 times. Through March 15, 2017 the app logged over 180 visits per week, with almost half of visitors spending more than two minutes using app services. The most popular features were shelter addresses and descriptions, bed availability, and health resources—the very needs the project most wished to address.

Given the progress to date, the VNA Board of Directors was pleased to renew its commitment to the app by awarding a planned two-year grant to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Young Invincibles, in the amount of $100,000 for FY 17, and $80,000 in FY 18.

Women Veterans Health Project

In the Fall of 2013, VNA partnered with Thresholds, an agency experienced in addressing the health needs of veterans and others, to launch Thresholds’ Women Veterans Health Project.  The Project responded to the increasing number of women veterans requiring a broad range of mental health and social services to manage the impact of military-related traumas. A first-of-its kind in the Chicago area, the Project partnered Thresholds with the VA and other social service agencies to help servicewomen get the resources they need to live hopeful, healthy and productive post-military lives.

VNA Foundation’s three year support for the Women Veterans Health Project came under the auspices of our Special Initiatives program. VNA Special Initiatives are proactive grants for innovative purposes, and represent the foundation’s highest level of philosophical and financial commitment.  VNA’s grant of $150,000 to support year one of the Women Veterans Health Project was the largest single grant in VNA Foundation history. All totaled, VNA awarded the Women Veterans Health Project $350,000 over the three-year grant period, at the time the largest single funding commitment from VNA since 1997.

For more information:

Press Release for Women Veterans Health Project

Overview of Thresholds’ Women Veterans Health Project

YouTube featuring Celesta’s Story

Veterans Project and the Chicago Botanic Gardens

At Chicago Botanic Garden, veterans find healing in nature

By Colleen Mastony, Chicago Tribune JUNE 12, 2015

VALOR – Veterans Advancing Lives Of Rescues, a program of Safe Humane Chicago

Supporting Illinois Free and Charitable Clinics

VNA Foundation has supported most of the Chicago metropolitan area’s free and charitable clinics for many years. We believe these clinics provide services that are an essential element of the safety net healthcare system, or as a VNA Foundation grantee described the services, “the safety net of the safety net.”

Free and charitable clinics are primarily operated by licensed healthcare professionals and others who volunteer their time to provide healthcare and perform the myriad of a clerical and administrative tasks necessary to keep any organization running smoothly. In addition to volunteers, these clinics rely on donations, non-governmental grants, and donated goods and services to operate.

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was being implemented, most healthcare reform discussions were not considering the needs of free and charitable clinics or their ongoing role as safety net providers. Yet, VNA and other healthcare system observers knew that, even after the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented, there would be people who continued to “fall through the cracks” and needed to rely on these clinics for healthcare.

These changes to the healthcare system, coupled with VNA Foundation’s longstanding commitment to meeting the needs of the medically underserved by supporting services offered through free and charitable clinics, spurred the VNA Foundation Board of Directors to approve a Special Funding Initiative in support of Illinois Free and Charitable Clinics.

Our first award under this Special Initiative was made in 2010 to fund a planning phase, which allowed development of a strategy to best link and network free and charitable clinics throughout the state.  A subsequent award in 2011 then supported infrastructure building for the newly reinstated Illinois Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (IAFCC), and in 2012 VNA covered key association operating costs.  For fiscal years 2014 – 2015, VNA Foundation committed to funding 50% of IAFCC’s foundation revenue needs, while also continuing to support the needs of individual clinics.  Subsequent grants provided additional operational support for what this entity that has proven to be a go-to resource for both our state’s free clinics and those (media, patients, public) wishing to learn more about them.

We believe that building a strong association to work on behalf of free and charitable clinics helps create a healthcare system that serves all people. We also see free clinics, and a central resource to strengthen and advance them, as a key contributor to reducing health disparities—especially with the ACA being replaced by less inclusive and effective options.

If you’d like to learn more about IAFCC, or follow its progress, please visit the Illinois Association of Free and Charitable Clinics website or follow @ILFreeClinics on Twitter.

The Anne M. Davis Mobile Health  Award

The Anne M. Davis Mobile Health Award (AMDMHA) was created to recognize the unparalleled dedication, volunteerism and creativity of longtime Board member Mrs. Chester A. Davis, and was presented upon her retirement from the VNA Board of Directors in 2010.

Beginning with her work on the Junior Board in 1962, and then as a member of the VNA Foundation Board of Directors from 1966 through 2009 (including two terms as Board Chair), Mrs. Davis set an unmatched example of service, commitment and enthusiasm that inspired all those around her. One of her particular interests is healthcare for the underserved, as provided by mobile health units. She was always rightfully determined that the VNA Foundation’s current work reflect its heritage, and viewed the teams of nurses who deliver service via their mobile health units as perhaps the closest link to the horse-drawn carriages used by the original Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago.

The AMDMHA is awarded up to once per year, at the discretion of the VNA Foundation Board of Directors, to a grantee using mobile health services in a particularly innovative, effective and/or impactful way.

2015 Award

Amy Martin, DDS, Director of the Mobile Dental Program

Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s Mobile Dental Program

The Mobile Dental Program of Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center received the AMDMHA for its outstanding work delivering free and low-cost dental services via a 39-foot van.

The Program, started in 1999, helps Chicagoans who find it difficult to get dental care, including senior citizens living on fixed incomes, low-income families unable to afford dental care for their children, men and women with disabilities and the homeless.

Read more at 2015 Anne M Davis Mobile Health Award Press Release

2014 Award

The Mobile Medical Care Program at Little Company of Mary

VNA Board Chair, M. Catherine Ryan and Ellen Meehan, RN, Manager LCM Mobile Health Team

The Mobile Medical Care Program at Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers received the AMDMHA for its exceptional work addressing the unmet health and social service needs of frail, weak, homebound individuals unable to travel to a physician’s office.

The Mobile Medical Care program, which utilizes a medical van to bring a nurse and physician team to the homebound, allows patients to receive necessary services in the comfort and safety of their home surroundings.

Read the press release. Learn more about the Mobile Medical Program.

2013 Award

Pilsen Homeless Services



Pilsen Homeless Services (PHS) was recognized by the VNA Foundation for its outstanding work addressing the unique health and social service needs of homeless Hispanic individuals and families.

By positioning itself as an intermediary between hospitals and patients, PHS is able to find and treat people who otherwise would have sought care in the emergency room—a choice both more expensive and less effective than community-based care.

Pilsen Homeless Services addresses the immediate health needs of thousands of individuals each year, while also providing them with referrals for job placement, substance abuse treatment, and other social services.

Read the press-release.    Learn more about Pilsen Homeless Services.

2012 Award

Circle Family HealthCare Network’s Mobile Health Team

Individuals without permanent housing face a multitude of health care problems as they struggle to survive on the streets and in temporary housing. Infectious diseases such as hepatitis and respiratory infections are rampant, and chronic diseases such as HIV, diabetes, asthma and hypertension commonly go untreated.  Providing healthcare to this population requires creative solutions, and after 23 years in practice, Circle Family HealthCare Network’s Mobile Health Team had developed many such solutions. Read the press release.

2011 Award

The Dental Lifeline Network-Illinois

Access to dental treatment is a significant problem for many elderly or disabled individuals. The recipient of the 2011 Anne M. Davis Mobile Health Award,  Dental Lifeline Network-Illinois, brings providers onsite to long-term-care centers and day programs to reach this underserved population.

Read the press release.  Learn more about the Dental Lifeline Network-Illinois.

2010 Award

The Night Ministry

The Night Ministry, which offers a pioneering Outreach and Health Program to bring health services to Chicago’s homeless and uninsured in the neighborhoods where they live, was the recipient of our inaugural 2010 Anne M. Davis Mobile Health Award.

Read the press release.  Learn more about The Night Ministry and the Outreach and Health Program.