Blue Cross

El Rio Staff at the 2022 AZ Community Health Worker Conference in Phoenix. Pictured from left to right are Maria Velasco, community health advisor; Vanessa Seaney, regional director of behavioral health operations; Lorena Verdugo, community health coordinator; Ernie Perez, program coordinator; and Christian Ortiz, pediatric behavioral health program manager. Seaney and Ortiz presented on Youth Mental Health. (El Rio Health Center Foundation/Submitted)

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Foundation for Community and Health Advancement awarded more than $1.3 million to 19 organizations across Arizona that offer mental health services.

Of the 19 organizations, six are located in Pima County: The Arizona’s Children Association, El Rio Health Center Foundation, HealthCorps Inc., San Miguel High School, Teen Lifeline, Tucson Medical Center, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central and Northern Arizona, and Interfaith Community Services.

Arizona-based nonprofit organizations or academic institutions that wanted to expand publicly available resources, increase systems-level capacity or had a “measurable impact” were eligible to apply.

Applicants were required to have programs that addressed one of the four major categories such as chronic health conditions, health equity, mental health and substance use in order to receive funding.

The foundation is dedicated to advancing Arizona’s communities by amplifying cross-sector health care partnerships and assist programs that offer services to address suicide prevention, youth mental health, addiction and COVID-19 effects.

“We are glad to be a part of the solution and are proud of these grantees that are raising awareness, increasing access, and eliminating barriers for mental health across the state,” Dr. Christine Wiggs, foundation president and board chair, said in a press release.  

The foundation had two types of grants, both discretionary and competitive. Those who received competitive grant funding were organizations that specifically provided mental health services. Applicants could receive up to $125,000.


The Arizona’s Children Association received a competitive grant of $106,200 for its Transition Age Youth Program Support. The project will ensure young adults’ access to high-quality behavioral health support and expand an existing youth support program by hiring more staff and provide resources to prepare them for adulthood. The funds will be dispersed statewide.

HealthCorps Inc. intends to distribute $102,682 across 12 school sites across six counties and two tribal communities, Sacaton-Gila River Indian Community and the Pascua Pueblo Yaqui Reservation. The Teens Make Health Happen (TMHH) program will provide middle and high school students with mentors, leadership and community service-focused training. The funds will serve 10,000 people.

El Rio Health Center Foundation also plans to increase staffing for its Hope New Youth Mental Health Project. The $50,000 grant will fund staff hiring, training, space rental and community outreach. It will establish comprehensive services dedicated to health care access, equity, mental health and medical outcomes for underserved youth.

“This support will assist us to meet the community need to provide mental health and substance use services for our adolescents and their families seeking these services due to increased stressors, especially over the last few years,” Vanessa Seaney, regional director of behavioral health operations for El Rio Health, said in a press release.

San Miguel High School in Tucson received $25,000 for its Social-Emotional Counseling Program that will provide free on-site mental health care to 350 students and 40 parents. Different services will be provided, such as group counseling, support groups, private counseling, mentoring, yoga, meditation or a speaker series.

“These funds will help San Miguel High School continue its Social-Emotional Program to respond to student mental health issues, have a safe place for them to talk to a trained counselor, and learn coping skills for today and their future,” Paloma L. Santiago, VP of advancement, said in an email.

The Tucson Medical Center Foundation’s Tucson Collaborative Community Care will receive $82,000 to fund the salary of a behavioral health navigator (BHN) for one whole year. The BHN will ease the burden of first responders; oversee mental health screenings for about 450 individuals; and help administer the Client Assistance Fund, which was also supported by this grant. 

From the discretionary grant cycle, applicants had diverse focus areas that addressed issues such as chronic health conditions, health equity, mental health or substance abuse disorder. The funding cap was $25,000, and there was an opportunity to apply to three different grant cycles. 

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central and Northern Arizona sought funding for health equity services and was awarded $15,000 for their Keeping Families Together Program for cities in each county in Arizona. The program provides access to specialized medical care for families experiencing a pediatric health crisis. With the award, it will expand its services to an additional 700 people. 

The Interfaith Community Services (ICS) received $25,000 for equal distribution between both health equity and chronic health conditions budgets. ICS will use the grant to address the growing food insecurity crisis in Pima County by expanding access to nutritious food in low-income areas and connecting clients to emergency financial assistance. 

“We’ve always had a strong commitment to improving the health of Arizonans, and the Foundation is the framework that will allow us to take that commitment one step further,” Wiggs said in a press release. 

The foundation will commit $5 million over three years to continue to address a wide range of mental health issues in Arizona.

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