BCBSLAF Board Photo

By Tina Dirmann
Staff writer for BCBS of Louisiana Foundation

Christy Reeves, executive director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation

Christy Reeves, executive director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation
Christy Reeves, executive director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation

How appropriate that at this time of year, when we all pause for a moment of giving, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana is officially celebrating 20 years of giving back to the Louisiana community.  The foundation officially opened its doors on Dec. 21, 1992, initially operating as The Louisiana Child Caring Foundation, with a limited focus of helping uninsured children gain access to health care. But realizing a child can’t truly flourish without the support of a healthy family, the foundation’s mission grew to include programs supporting not just kids, but the adults who love them, the neighborhoods they live in, the schools they attend, and the state, as a whole, that will likely become their home for life.

Today, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation has provided more than $25 million in charitable giving. And at 20 years old, they aren’t slowing down yet. In fact, the foundation just launched its most aggressive grant campaign to date, Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana (a $10.2 million grant program that drew another $16.8 in matching funds from community organizations — totaling nearly $30 million earmarked for healthy living initiatives throughout the state).

Christy Reeves, BCBSLAF executive director, recently used a quote from Winston Churchill to sum up the sentiment behind the foundation’s 2 decades of work: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” We spoke further to Christy about the foundation’s mission and its positive impact on the lives of millions of Louisiana residents.

Q: So, it’s been 20 years of grants, nutrition education, health screenings, free flu shots, after school programs, disaster relief and so much more… Do you feel the foundation is making a difference in our state?

A: (Christy): I know that the 2,000 people who work for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana change lives, through the work they do and through the people they know. Whether or not I always see the things we do translate out into the exact results we want, we are still making a difference in all the things we do. And I think for me, personally, I couldn’t have a better job.

Q:  We’re not just talking about throwing grant money at the state’s various health problems. Your work impacts people on a very personal level, too. Talk about that.

A: Yes, just in some of the programs we sponsor, I know we’ve touched a lot of lives. We provide transportation for cancer patients to get to their doctor appointments, we pay for kids to participate in the Special Olympics, we put on health screenings and provide immunizations and flu shots. And the afterschools programs alone – I don’t know who even comes close to us in touching healthy living initiatives for kids.

Q: One of the foundation’s signature programs has become the Angel Award, which gives grant money to volunteers dedicated to helping children.

A: Yes, it’s a big part of our legacy, creating this network of Angels. We started that program 18 years ago and we’ve awarded over $1.4 million to 143 volunteers whose work positively impacts children. These are people who have dedicated their lives to a cause for kids. We give out 8 Angel Awards annually,  granting each winner $20,000 to a charity of their choice. Then we follow up, putting these winners in a room and let them work together. With all of them focused on nothing but the health and well being of children, there’s almost nothing they can’t do.

Q:  The foundation has done phenomenal work for children. But at some point, it was decided to widen the focus to help more than just kids. Why was that decision made?

A: Well, at first we were doing a lot of fundraising for kids, mostly to make sure they had health coverage. And we also did a lot of work on anti-bullying efforts, which we are still known for. We still get requests for information on our work in the area of bullying. But we wanted to open up to focus on supporting the health of our entire state, not just children. So we changed the name in 2005 to Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana and expanded our role.

Q:  And in that same year, the foundation launched the Smart Bodies program?

A:  Yes, partnering with LSU AgCenter, we focus on the prevention of childhood obesity, integrating programs that teach how to build smart bodies into area schools. Today, more than 800 schools across the state use our Smart Bodies program.

Q: So often, insurance companies get a bad wrap with the public. People maybe don’t trust them or see them as the “good guys,” so to speak. I know the foundation is a separate entity from the insurance side of the company, operating independently. But the funding comes from the medical insurance side. Are people usually surprised to see the Blue Cross and Blue Shield name associated with so many charitable works?

A: Sometimes, sure, I think people aren’t used to seeing the health insurer in this role. But I say that the health insurance industry is a very generous entity. And the thing that distances Blue Cross from its competitors, not that they aren’t generous in their own right, but BCBS is so much more so. I mean, probably 200 times as generous. They don’t have foundations that are local, like we are.

Q: And why is that important, to have a charity set up on a local instead of just national level.

A: Because it shows a higher level of commitment to that community. We believe in it so strongly, we have dedicated resources specifically for that community. It speaks volumes about our commitment to give back to Louisiana. We are the only insurance company in the state with its own foundation here.

Q: And how is the foundation celebrating all the years of good works?

A: We had a board meeting. And I had a slice of cake. Here we are, this charitable foundation dedicated to healthy living, and we’re celebrating with cake. Probably not the most appropriate thing to do!

Q: But broccoli and carrots aren’t very celebratory.

A: True, true. And I guess a slice of cake once every 20 years is okay!