Deaconess Foundation Awards $100,00 to Advance Public Policy Change in Social and Emotional Wellbeing for Youth, Paid Sick Leave, and Increased Wages

Alive & Well Communities and Missouri Jobs with Justice will each receive funding to advance systemic change through grassroots advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement

ST. LOUIS – Deaconess Foundation (Deaconess) announced the recipients of its 2023 Policy Campaign/Collaborative Grant to advance sustainable systemic change in key issue areas, namely social and emotional wellbeing for youth, paid sick leave and economic equity. Two nonprofit organizations, Alive & Well Communities and Missouri Jobs with Justice, will each receive $50,000 to build organizational and community capacity to further their policy campaigns through grassroots advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement. The two organizations are implementing their issue-based campaigns at a time when there are severe gaps in social and emotional services and supports for young people, especially LGBTQ+ youth, and too many working Americans, especially hourly workers, those with nontraditional jobs, and others in working families, lack access to the foundational economic resources of paid sick leave and a living wage.

“In some way, all people, children and adults alike, are experiencing psychological distress at an alarming rate. The stressors on children, youth and families are acute and compounding,” said Rev. Bethany Johnson-Javois, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation. “With the state of the youth mental health crisis and the role that traditional systems play in exacerbating the crisis like the scarcity of family-supporting workplace policies such as paid sick leave, we intend for our investments to lead to multi-layered systems transformation powered by youth and their working families.”

In 2021 Alive & Well Communities began its work to support youth well-being with an initiative to bring students in the state of Missouri together to discuss school safety. The resulting student-generated policy priorities emphasize the critical role of culturally responsive, holistic mental health supports and overall student and educator well-being in creating safe schools and positive education outcomes. These policy recommendations include excused Mental Health Days for students, required annual mental health professional training for educators and school staff, and an inclusive curriculum that aims to cultivate learning environments that are equitable and nurturing for every student. Legislative action and inaction in Missouri and across the country regarding school safety following gun violence in schools and the barrage of attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom make these policies and the prioritization of student well-being especially timely and consequential.

“At Alive and Well and the Regional Health Commission, we know our children cannot achieve academic success without the chance to be healthy and well,” said Jennifer Brinkmann, president of Alive & Well Communities. “Often adults and the systems where we operate define for young people what is best for them, when the young people can tell us what they need. This funding will support our ongoing work to uplift the voices of youth most often marginalized. These young people have the wisdom to know how to heal themselves and our systems.”

Alive & Well Communities plans to use their Policy Campaign grant from Deaconess to ensure that policy and advocacy remain a top organizational priority while continuing to support staff engaging with students in these systems-change efforts. With expanded capacity, the organization will continue to advocate for measures that put young people first.

A regional leader in the movement for economic equity and workforce justice, Missouri Jobs with Justice’s policy priorities are integral to drive long-term systems change such as paid sick leave and higher wages. Black people, specifically people of color inclusively, and women are disproportionately represented in Missouri’s low-wage workforce and face the extra burden of no access to sick leave. Paid sick leave would prevent workers from having to choose between working while sick or foregoing healthcare treatments and earning a day’s pay. Higher wages, as proven, would strengthen our families’ and neighborhoods’ economic foundations.

The economic situation for families is dire across the nation. 40 million people in America struggle to afford household expenses, and just over 25 million people say they sometimes or often do not have enough money to feed themselves. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics approximately 1 in 4 workers do not have paid sick leave.

“This grant will help us build on recent local policy wins, including the St. Louis Direct Cash Assistance pilot, Guaranteed Basic Income pilot, and Paid Family Leave for St. Louis City and County workers. These policies have profoundly impacted Black workers, workers of color, and women,” said Caitlyn Adams, Executive Director of Missouri Jobs with Justice. “The support from Deaconess Foundation will allow us to talk with more voters about the issues that matter most to them, amplify the voices of more Black workers and other workers of color, and deliver more tangible victories for working families across Missouri. This grant not only provides financial support but also affirms our shared commitment to building a Missouri that works for all of us.”

Missouri Jobs with Justice will use its Policy Campaign grant from Deaconess to recruit and train supporters to educate voters, co-lead a statewide coalition to coordinate strategy, messaging, and outreach, and form a coalition of endorsing organizations. This funding also gives the organization the capacity to center the voices of affected workers and their families throughout the campaign.

“With the Policy Campaign/Collaborative Grants, Deaconess aims to invest with organizations early in their campaign efforts to maximize sustainability and expand capacity where needed,” said Constance Harper, Vice President of Policy, Advocacy, and Strategic Initiatives of Deaconess Foundation. “Alive & Well Communities and Missouri Jobs with Justice are anchoring two seismic campaigns addressing significant issues that inhibit the health and well-being of our families. The results will have transformational impact for our children, youth, families, and communities.”

These Policy Campaign/Collaborative Grants are a continuation of Deaconess’ ongoing policy and advocacy initiatives. In 2019, Deaconess invested $100,000 in Missouri Jobs with Justice and Action St. Louis to support a collaborative public policy campaign in 2020 to help achieve Medicaid expansion and democracy reform in Missouri. The organizations collaborated as campaign partners focused on mobilizing their combined base, and the partnership ultimately resulted in helping to successfully mobilize the electorate in support of Medicaid Expansion on the November 2020 Missouri ballot.

Applications for Deaconess Foundation’s Policy Campaign/Collaborative Grants will open again at the end of 2023 in preparation for supporting 2024 campaigns at the top of the new year. Learn more about Deaconess funding initiatives and opportunities here:


Deaconess Foundation envisions a community that values the health and well-being of all and gives priority attention to the most invisibilized. Deaconess seeks to create conditions where liberation is the lived reality within seven generations. A ministry of the United Church of Christ, Deaconess has invested more than $85 million to improve the health of the St. Louis community since 1998. Our grants and cultivated relationships support the accelerated change in conditions through policy, advocacy, and/or organizing efforts building and wielding power to transform systems to respond to the will of the people.

The Foundation’s advocacy and grantmaking footprint includes St. Louis City, St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles and Franklin Counties in Missouri and Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties in Illinois. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter and Instagram @deaconessfound and on Facebook at