Hull Fellows Highlight: Margy Thomas
Much of Margy Thomas’ life and career has been devoted to her hometown of Warrenton, Virginia, a town of about 10,000 people situated between the fringes of exurban Washington, D.C., and the state’s rural Piedmont region.
Her dedication to Warrenton eventually led her to the PATH Foundation, a health legacy funder focused on access to health care, child wellness, mental health and senior services. As a program officer, Margy is able to put her extensive public health education and experience to work – while earning her master’s degree in public health, she even worked with the local government in Warrenton on a Health Impact Assessment.
Already armed with expertise, experience and deep bonds to the community she serves, Margy decided in 2019 to take her development to the next level by signing up for SECF’s Hull Fellows program.
“I was eager to apply to the Hull Fellows program after experiencing the rich hands-on educational opportunities at SECF conferences and regional meetings,” she said. “I wanted to improve my abilities as a leader and build connections across the philanthropic sector.”
The Hull experience, Margy says, has given her a much deeper understanding of philanthropy’s work and how it can be most effective in a community like Warrenton and the three-county region the PATH Foundation serves.
“The Hull Fellows program taught me to break down complex philanthropic concepts and apply them to the context of our community,” she said.
Margy said one Hull webinar, featuring rural philanthropy expert Allen Smart, was particularly informative.
“He explained that evidence-based program models are often not relevant in rural communities,” Margy said. “He illustrated an issue our foundation has repeatedly experienced: applying urban-focused data-driven models to a rural footprint.”
The Hull program has also helped Margy further her goal of expanding her philanthropic network within Virginia – her Hull mentor is Annette Beuchler of the Obici Healthcare Foundation in Suffolk, located in the state’s southeast corner.
“As the leader of another place-based health legacy foundation in the state, Annette was the perfect match,” Margy said. “She continues to be an outstanding source of knowledge and support.”
Given Margy’s experience and interest in public health, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a driving force behind her work for the past year – early on in the pandemic, the PATH Foundation committed to changing its operations to more effectively respond. That shift had a direct impact on Margy’s work as a program officer.
“In March 2020, we signed the Council on Foundations’ pledge that provides greater flexibility to our grantee partners,” she said. “While that lifted requirements on most of our grants, it demanded our program team be more proactive in our communications with grantees to ensure we could remain responsive in extraordinary times.”