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A BRIGHTER FUTURE Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Investing to Help Transform Mid-City Neighborhood

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Anil and Dirpa Pradhan’s journey to a brighter future has been decades in the making.

The Bhutanese couple lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 27 years, having escaped cultural violence there with their families, before settling in Erie, Pennsylvania in 2016.

Now, living in the city’s historic Little Italy neighborhood, they found not only a welcoming community but a place to call home.

In 2020, the Pradhans became first-time homeowners with the help of the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network’s (SSJNN) Genesis Program.

The Pradhans saved money for two years and lived in a small apartment in the neighborhood while their future home was renovated. This year, the Pradhans celebrated the completion of the process thanks to contributions from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and other Highmark Health- affiliated companies, including AHN Saint Vincent, United Concordia Dental, and HM Health Insurance.

Together, the companies have pledged $1.8 million over the span of 12 years to support the mid-city neighborhood revitalization the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network started six years ago between West 12th and West 26th, from Cranberry to Elm Streets.

The funds, in addition to donations from community partners including Erie Insurance and Marquette Savings Bank, are helping SSJNN purchase and renovate blighted homes for the Genesis program, but also to purchase and remove blighted property and replace it with greenspace, to complete multiple façade improvements annually, and to install public art in the neighborhood.

The revitalization efforts also are focused on supporting the Little Italy Farmers Market, soup kitchen at St. Paul’s Church, emergency programs, bike programs, youth activities and community gardens over the next six years until 2029.

“We are proud to support the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network and helping create a brighter future for our community,” states Jim Teed, regional vice president for Highmark. Adds SSJNN Executive Director Heather May Caspar, “We have a long history of partnership with Highmark, whose commitment to corporate responsibility has 100-percent mission match with SSJNN’s own priorities and goals in serving our neighborhoods and neighbors.”

Pillars of Hope Highmark has been active in the communities it serves for a long time, but Highmark’s investment in the SSJNN transformation helped inspire the creation of the Highmark Bright Blue Futures charitable giving and community involvement program in 2022.

Today, Highmark Bright Blue Futures strives to impact millions of lives in its service area of Pennsylvania, New York,

West Virginia and Delaware through its two pillars: Community Health and Community and Economic Resilience. The program is designed to ensure healthier, brighter, stronger futures for all, by improving equitable access to care, quality of life and economic resilience in the communities it serves through corporate giving and employee volunteerism.

“If we are successful, the individuals and communities that we serve will have the tools and resources to weather the inevitable storms in life.”

Highmark views such investments as an important catalyst for change — from reducing homelessness and food insecurity to increasing population health, education, training and workforce development, and improving public safety.

“Community is our focus. Health is our mission. Resilience is the ultimate outcome we want to achieve,” explains Kenya T. Boswell, senior vice president of Community Affairs for Highmark Health. “If we are successful, the individuals and communities that we serve will have the tools and resources to weather the inevitable storms in life.”

Making an Impact

Highmark’s support of the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network mid-city transformation could have a profound impact in northwest Pennsylvania. According to SSJNN, the rebuilding of the city’s older, inner- city neighborhoods is crucial to ensure the revitalization and reinvestment in Erie and its future.

Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network Executive Director Heather May Caspar (right) and Sister Phyllis Hilbert, SSJ, hold a donation check for the mid-city revitalization efforts, which Highmark has contributed to as part of its Highmark Bright Blue Futures program.

For example, city planning surveys show an overwhelming number of residents living in structures which are in poor condition, the majority of which are rental units. “Our Genesis program has been preparing families for homeownership for more than a decade,” says Caspar. “We provide quality rentals at below-market rent to anyone who dreams of homeownership.”

As part of the Genesis program, a homeownership preparation period teaches participants how to budget and pay bills; repair credit; save toward a downpayment; get bank approval and work with a mortgage loan officer; and, how to maintain their home after purchase. Each month, a portion of the family’s rent is placed into an escrow account. If the family buys a home within SSJNN’s service area, they are eligible for a grant equal to the amount escrowed, for use toward closing costs. So far, 30 families have participated in the housing program since its beginning. However, not all decide that homeownership is for them. Eleven families have graduated from the program and purchased homes. Five of those families have purchased homes in the SSJNN’s service area.

The Pradhans are proud first-time homeowners in Erie’s historic Little Italy neighborhood.

This program is successful because we move tenants along a continuum that builds their knowledge and confidence to own their first home. Our participants are Adult Learners who are supported and championed along the own home,” explains SSJNN Housing Programs Director Colleen Burbules. “We provide a timetable that allows them to learn at their own pace and understand why they are making sacrifices to put themselves and their families in a better long-term situation.”

For Highmark Health and its affiliates, the potential for a brighter future is well worth the investment. “We all look at this as part of our mission and our social responsibility in the community,” says Boswell of the neighborhood transformation. “This is our localized approach to make sure that we can create measurable change together.”

To learn more about Highmark Bright Blue Futures, visit highmark.com/ brightbluefutures.

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. All references to “Highmark” in this document are references to the Highmark company that is providing the member’s health benefits or health benefit administration and/or to one or more of its affiliated Blue companies.