Oprah’s foundation helps SaintA expand virtual mental health support

Last updated on May 22nd, 2020 at 12:00 pm

One evening early on during Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order, SaintA president and chief executive officer Ann Leinfelder Grove received an email from Oprah Winfrey’s charitable foundation, asking her to give the organization a call.

“That’s not a call you want to put off to the next day or the next week,” Leinfelder Grove said. 

As it turned out, Winfrey – whose public support for SaintA’s work traces back to her March 2018 60 Minutes segment on trauma-informed care – wanted to know what kind of support SaintA needed to serve the community during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“The fact that she asked to check on us was a great honor,” Leinfelder Grove said.

Leinfelder Grove summoned her leadership team for a 9 p.m. executive meeting that night to prepare SaintA’s grant submission. At that point, the organization had already begun pivoting its mental health services from face-to-face appointments to virtual check-ins, but technological disparities among its clients were clear. About 15% of SaintA clients lacked access to video-enabled devices.

“We quickly understood there was a digital divide in the population we care for that skewed around racial lines and socioeconomic lines,” Leinfelder Grove said. “We identified gaps between people who needed care and those who were able to receive it virtually. That was our call to action in the grant we wrote to Oprah.” 

In early April, the organization received notice that the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation would fund the purchase of tablets and internet service for up to 150 SaintA clients in need.

It’s one of two Milwaukee organization’s – alongside The Nia Imani Family, Inc. – to receive a $100,000 investment, as part of the Winfrey foundation’s $10 million pledge to provide COVID-19 relief in cities where she grew up.

“As we face the challenges arising from COVID-19, I wanted to support SaintA as they are dedicated to mental health and serving those that have been most impacted by the pandemic in my hometown of Milwaukee,” Winfrey said in a news release.

SaintA is now in the “final stages of deployment” for its technology initiative. 

Ordinarily, SaintA serves about 5,000 children, youth and adults. During the pandemic, the organization has pivoted to provide about 2,000 virtual contacts per week. The organization has particularly seen an increase in school-based referrals for its virtual mental health resources during the crisis.

“We joke that we advanced 10 years in 10 days by necessity,” Leinfelder Grove said. 

Among recipients, 81% of the devices will go to people of color and, of those, 71% will go to African American clients. 

According to the Milwaukee County Health Department, African Americans make up about 43% of positive COVID-19 cases and 62% of its casualties. 

“Many of our clients are mourning the loss of family and friends, while still facing the everyday uncertainties of this public health crisis,” Leinfelder Grove said. 

She said having a high-profile supporter like Oprah has been a “wonderful gift” to the organization in recent years as it works to raise awareness and provide training for trauma-informed care.

“We hold it very dearly and we try to not to exploit that connection,” Leinfelder Grove said. “We try to honor it.”

Get more news and insight in the April 27 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. Subscribe to get updates in your inbox here.

Get our email updates

Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.