In March 2023, the Berks County Commissioners released a study about public health in our community. The report had four recommendations on how Berks County can support a healthier community. Leading the conversation are T.J. Huckleberry  and Dr. Michael Baxter. I sat down with the two and had questions for them about the report’s recommendations. Get ready for insightful answers from experts in their field.

Dr. D. Michael Baxter practiced medicine for over 30 years in Berks County. He was the chair of the department of family and community medicine at Reading Hospital and a director of the Reading Hospital family medicine residency program.

T.J. Huckleberry is the Executive Director of Berks County Medical Society. Berks County Medical Society serves members and the residents of Berks County, PA, with physician, hospital, and health-related information

Q: The commissioners released a report that provided four recommendations on how to create a healthier Berks County. What were your initial reactions to the report?

 T.J.: This is the first tangible approach our county leadership has made towards addressing public health and wellness. It’s a great first step!

Dr. Baxter: The authors, Health Management Associates (HMA) of Philadelphia, did outstanding work reviewing the health problems and needs of Berks County.  Their review and comparison of major health issues confronting Berks and five neighboring counties as well as comparing Berks with Pennsylvania and U.S. data was particularly enlightening.

Four recommendations:

1. Create a Berks County Health Director position to lead public health collective action and coordination and serve as a trusted communicator about public health information.
2. Establish a Public Health Advisory Panel and appoint members who can advise on public health assessment, assurance, and policy activities.
3. Support the establishment of a “Healthy Berks” coalition to serve as a coordinating body for public health efforts in the county.
4. Create a Berks County Health Data Analyst position to improve Berks County-specific public health data completeness and accuracy

Q: Why do you think it is important to educate the community on the report and its recommendations?

T.J.: These four pillars provide a blueprint for how we as a community can address and take control of our public health issues.

Q: If you had a magic wand, what are the top three wishes you would fulfill for Berks County to make it healthier?

Dr. Baxter: If I had to only choose three, I would like to see:

T.J.: In addition to what Dr. Baxter mentioned, I’d also like to see increased avenues for mental health awareness and services.

Q: What initiatives can be implemented to improve healthcare access for individuals in Berks County?

Dr. Baxter: Access for all health services is a top priority.  Increase the number of primary care and mental health providers as previously noted, and implement approaches (involving our health care institutions, schools, and others) to make such access available and affordable.  Explore school-based clinics as a high priority for the physical and mental health challenges, especially facing children and youth.

Q: In what ways can we address healthcare disparities among different communities within Berks County?

Dr. Baxter: One way we can address the disparity is to use the data available through this study and the Hospital Community Health Needs Assessments to address identified problems throughout the county.  This would be a priority for a County Health Director and a County Health Data analyst.

Q: How can we promote preventive healthcare measures to ensure better health outcomes for all Berks County residents?

Dr. Baxter: Health disparities which include the Social Determinants of Health must be a priority for any successful efforts to improve the health/public health of all the people of Berks County. Resources need to be coordinated between health care institutions, educational and religious groups, and the media to shine light on issues, the people most in need and the resources to meet those needs.

Q: What collaborative efforts can be made to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure in Berks County?

Dr. Baxter: A top priority would be to see our major health care institutions truly work together to improve the health of our people, but I have been waiting over 30 years for that to happen.  I would hope a County Health Director, if not the full impact of a County Health Department, could help achieve that.  In addition, we have many excellent organizations including the United Way and the Berks Community Health Center that could join forces to address many of our health and social determinants issues.

Q: One of the county health report’s recommendations is to create a Berks County Health Director position. We were introduced to the functions and responsibilities of local health directors during the COVID-19 pandemic. When they aren’t addressing emergency public health issues, what are some of their day-to-day responsibilities?

Dr. Baxter: A County Health Director would collect and organize data (with the assistance of the Data Coordinator), set priorities based on needs, coordinate efforts, and energize support (including political advocacy) to get things done that make a true impact.

Q: How could the recommendations in the county’s report supplement the work of local hospitals and the community health center? How do they differ?

Dr. Baxter: Our local “not for profit” hospitals are required by law to conduct their Community Health Needs Assessments every 3 years.  They take this process seriously and perform a very valuable service. However, they are not government bodies with the resources to change policy, invest in public funding or change the dynamics of our community. While they are responsible for improving health, much of their effort is focused on the emergency and acute care needs readily addressed by a hospital.  They can assist in these public health efforts but that is generally not their primary function.

Q: About half of Pennsylvanians are served by a local or municipal health department. Why is it important for the county to have taken on the issue of public health in Berks County, when they commissioned this study?

T.J.: A public health structure in Berks County would place a magnifying glass towards the preventative health concerns facing our friends and neighbors while creating an advocate for state funding and support from Harrisburg and Washington to address these issues. Public health not only prevents and educates against the spread of diseases but promotes healthy living among our community.

Dr. Baxter: Although there are only 7 County and 4 Municipal Health Departments in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, these departments cover a large proportion of the residents of Pennsylvania and, I argue, represent, in general, the economic hubs in PA.  There is a direct link between health and economic success–healthy people in general are more economically successful and their communities are also more successful and vice versa.  It is a responsibility of government then not only to promote the economic well-being of their communities but also the health of the residents of those communities.  Government, with the support of the many resources that exist in their communities, is best poised to address the disparities and promote the policies that will build stronger healthier lives for all.

“Gaining insight into why it is important to have a County Health Department is the first step. Our goal is to educate the community on the benefits of a public health department. Fortunately, because of the Community General Hospital Healthcare Fund of Berks County Community Foundation, we were able to support a community conversation that our friends at Berks County Medical Society hosted. The conversation was held in September 2023 and gave residents a chance to ask questions about the four recommendations that resulted from the study. The study was released by Berks County Commissioners and conducted by Health Management Associates in March 2023.  You can access the report by clicking here.”

Cindy Milian, Health & Human Services Program Officer

On November 8, Berks County Community Foundation held its Annual Meeting at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Reading. More than 100 civic leaders attended the event, which included brief presentations by the Community Foundation’s program officers and an overview of the year by Kevin K. Murphy, foundation president. 

“This year marked the culmination of our plan to increase our impact in Berks County by expanding the number of program officers working on specific causes,” Murphy said. “Our annual event gave us the opportunity to introduce these new faces to the community.” 

The program officers oversee distributions from more than 346 charitable funds that were created by Berks County residents to support causes in the community that were important to them. In fiscal year 2023, those grants and scholarships totaled more than $6.2 million. That brings the total amount of grants and scholarships distributed since the Community Foundation’s founding in 1994 to over $101 million. 

In addition to Murphy, who provided a recap of the West Reading Disaster Relief Fund, attendees heard from: 

Vice President for Programs and Initiatives Monica Reyes about an effort underway with the Berks County Medical Society to share the results of a study about public health released by the Berks County Commissioners this year; 

Health and Human Services Program Officer Cindy Milian about the work she oversees to support animal welfare and to assist families who have children with special needs; 

Environment and Energy Program Officer Emily Smedley about grants that are increasing energy efficiency for local organizations and grants that are improving soil health by monitoring the flight patterns of birds of prey; 

Lifelong Learning Program Officer Kim Sheffer about teacher mini-grants, which support innovative classroom projects across Berks County. 

Details about each of these initiatives are available in the Community Foundation’s 2023 Annual Report. 

In addition to learning about the work the Community Foundation is undertaking, attendees were invited to pick up a brush and add their touch to a Berks County mural, and to listen to a trio of local student musicians. 

If you’d like to join the Community Foundation at future annual meetings, please send your name and email address to and ask to be added to the invitation list. If you’d like to learn more about the Community Foundation, including how to start a charitable fund of your own, visit 

Annual Event

At the community foundation, we help people in Berks County who want to do something charitable by distributing grants, scholarships, and other forms of support from funds they create based on the community’s needs. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for residents and to do that, we make a point of connecting with the community we serve. 

One way we make those connections is to visit places where grants are distributed to see the impact they have on the community. We recently visited the Governor Mifflin area, which we manage several funds to support. 

Our program team had an incredible day exploring the Governor Mifflin area. This visit took us to three unique and captivating locations: the Mifflin Community Library, Alvernia University, and the Allegheny Evangelical Lutheran Church. We also made some in-between stops, including John Updike’s childhood home, the U.S. Army Reserve Center, a much-needed stop for snacks at Tom Sturgis Pretzels, a quick trail walk at Berks Nature, Berks Military History Museum, and a visit with some farm animals at Swartz’s Roadside Stand. 

Here’s a recap of this enriching experience: 

Our first stop was the Mifflin Community Library, a true gem nestled in the heart of Governor Mifflin. As we entered this cozy library, we were immediately struck by the inviting atmosphere. We met Natasha Donaldson, Director of the library, and Colleen Stamm, Board Treasurer who were both friendly and helpful. The shelves were lined with a variety of books. The library’s serene reading nooks and vibrant children’s area made it a welcoming space for all ages. We discussed some of the programs offered at the library for the community. We shared information with Donaldson about the Russell L. Hiller Charitable Trust Fund.  

“The funding helps us add more variety to our collection,” Donaldson said.  

Judge Russell Hiller was a resident of Shillington, and in his will, he established a fund that distributes grants to help the Borough of Shillington, Shillington Borough Library, and Albright College, and provides scholarships to Governor Mifflin High School seniors. Additionally, the fund supports an annual competitive grant process for programs benefiting the residents of the Governor Mifflin School District.   

Next on our itinerary was a meeting with Glynis Fitzgerald, President of Alvernia University. The campus was not only stunning but also vibrant, with students hustling to and from classes and enjoying the lovely surroundings. We explored the university’s modern facilities, from well-equipped classrooms to the state-of-the-art library. Many students who receive scholarships from the Community Foundation attend local colleges and universities like Alvernia. 

We enjoyed lunch from Screpesi’s Sandwich Shop, where they know a thing or two about sandwiches. They have been serving Berks County since 1949. We took the sandwiches to Shillington Park and enjoyed the fall colors with a view of the Pagoda.  

Our final stop took us to the Allegheny Evangelical Lutheran Church where we met with Kristen Kelly, Director for Children and Family Ministries. The church has beautiful architecture and serene surroundings that provide a sense of tranquility. Our tour gave us valuable insights into the rich history of the church and its role in the local community, which includes offering its space to community organizations and programming for residents.  

The Home Health Care Foundation Fund supported two new automated external defibrillators (AEDs) for the church. 

“Having the AED equipment provides us with peace of mind knowing it’s there in case there is an emergency,” Kelly said.  

Throughout the day, we couldn’t help but appreciate the warm hospitality and genuine friendliness of the Governor Mifflin community. This tour was a perfect blend of intellectual exploration, natural beauty, and cultural heritage. Look for us on our next stop as we explore more of Berks County’s interesting organizations and history. 

READING (December 1, 2022) — Berks County Community Foundation announced this month that one new employee has joined the organization. Erica Caceres is the Communication Manager.

As the Communication Manager, Caceres will tell the Community Foundation’s story through a variety of platforms, including the website. She will monitor advertisements and all types of media, assist other staff members with reports and presentations, and create story packages that put the written word, audio, photography, video, and other materials to their best use.

Before joining the Community Foundation, Caceres held a variety of marketing positions, including with Naylor Association Solutions, the Pennsylvania Apartment Association, and The Yocum Institute. She is a visionary storyteller with an eye for detail who is always ready to learn new things to ensure she is savvy with the latest trends.

Caceres is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University Berks Campus with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts and Science degree and a minor in Professional Writing. In her college career, she was published twice in a local magazine, At Home in Berks.

Berks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit corporation serving as a civic leader for our region by developing, managing, and distributing charitable funds to improve the quality of life in Berks County, PA. More information is available at

READING, PA (June 7, 2021) – Seven organizations have been awarded grants totaling $146,600 for programs that improve the health and well-being of residents in Berks and nearby counties.

The money was awarded from the Home Health Care Foundation Fund of Berks County Community Foundation.

The Home Health Care Foundation Fund has another round of funding available now for organizations and programs that benefit the health of residents of Berks County and the counties that are contiguous to it. Preference will be given to Berks County organizations.

Applications are due August 16. The maximum amount available per organization is $40,000.

To apply, visit and click on “Apply for a grant” under “Scholarships + Grants” in the website menu or go to You must create an account to access the application system.

This was the second round of grants that have been distributed from the Home Health Care Foundation Fund, which was established at the Community Foundation in 2020. The fund distributes money twice per year. The total amount distributed so far has been $287,900.

“This fund has two grant cycles per year, investing nearly $300,000 annually in local programs that will have a powerful impact on the health of residents in the region,” said Monica Reyes, Community Foundation Health and Human Services Program Officer.

The organizations, grant amounts, and programs that received funding in this round:

The Home Health Care Foundation Fund provides grants to organizations and programs that do one or more of the following:

A rendering of the proposed cold storage expansion at Helping Harvest Fresh Food Bank.


Berks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that serves as a civic leader for our region by developing, managing and distributing charitable funds aimed at improving the quality of life in Berks County. More information is available at