Born and raised in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Yvonne Cook has been president of the Highmark Foundation since 2003.
Yvonne possesses a wide range of experience and has worked in the private sector at BNY Mellon, The Pittsburgh Foundation, and as a program officer to Executive Assistant for Allegheny County’s first County Executive, Jim Roddey. She holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in public management from the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy & Management at Carnegie Mellon University.
She has also received numerous awards for her leadership, passion and commitment to the Pittsburgh community and beyond.
“When I was an undergrad I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought that since I was in banking it was important to do something in the business field,” says Yvonne, “but I became interested in the field of public management. I had a wonderful professor at Pitt by the name of Dr. Lawrence Howard. He was so dynamic as a lecturer and teacher that I quickly became connected to this area of service. I credit him for his guidance, leadership and nurturing, which brought out my interest and passion for this field.”
Yvonne says the support of her family and the values her parents imparted were also a major influence on her decision to go into public management.
“My parents sacrificed a great deal for me and my brothers to be able to go to college. Their sacrifice is something that I recognize, and when I think about how I can support people in different ways, I am so grateful that I am able to be in a position where I can do good.”
The Highmark Foundation awards millions of dollars each year to nonprofit organizations that provide community services that help individuals live healthier lives. Yvonne helps to select which projects receive funding and oversees the development, implementation, administration and evaluation of innovative and successful community and health initiatives, especially for those who are underserved. Her ultimate goal is to create a positive impact, and recognizes that there are countless gaps that need to be filled when it comes to serving and supporting public health.
“I listen to potential grantees and provide support for their ideas. I try to really hear what they’re saying and learn from them. I sift through the information to find out where the gaps are. Reducing these gaps, solving problems, reducing harm; that’s what excites me and sparks me to take action.”
One of the issues that Yvonne is passionate about is improving the health and wellness of children ages 6-18. Because children spend so much time in school, it can be one of the most effective settings to promote health and wellness.
The Foundation’s Creating a Healthy School Environment grant program helps schools to address specific areas of student health. Grants are awarded to support development in program areas such as bullying prevention, injury prevention, healthy eating and physical activity, and emotional health and self-esteem. Grants are awarded to public school districts as well as vocational, private, parochial and charter schools.
Highmark’s Caring Place provides peer support for children, their families, who have experienced the loss of a loved one, and provides a safe place where grieving children and families can come together. They also provide peer support groups in schools, consultation services, educational presentations and trainings, and other resources for educators.
Recently, Yvonne helped to create programs such as the Advancing Excellence in School Nursing Awards, and the Highmark Foundation will soon be accepting requests for proposals for new programs such as grants for care at dental clinics and strengthening the support and services of local health departments, and are currently accepting requests for proposals for an initiative to engage, empower, and educate people about HIV/AIDS and STDs.