By the time Tom Brown graduated from Carolina with his master’s in education in 1977, he’d been bitten by two bugs: education and philanthropy. Since then, the Salisbury, N.C., native has made a career of creatively combining the two.
He’s managed programs and funding at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Life has taken him everywhere from Murphy (N.C. Arts Council) to Manteo (Summer Institute on Roanoke Island), and now as the tobacco program officer at the N.C. Health and Wellness Trust Fund (HWTF), Brown manages programs that educate an entire state.
“I’ve always loved philanthropy, and I knew this was how I wanted to spend my life,” he says. The HWTF funds over 17 million dollars in tobacco prevention and cessation work across North Carolina.
Funding for HWTF comes from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of the late 1990s and is intended to help the state reduce tobacco use among youth. “Each state has flexibility of how they use the money, and I’d say North Carolina is doing a great job.”
The HWTF grants money to schools for tobacco prevention programs, which have a presence in all 100 North Carolina counties. Public media campaigns like Tobacco Reality Unfiltered (TRU) support peer-to-peer education and youth advocacy. The products of these efforts have lead to 100% tobacco free schools. “For North Carolina, this is a really big deal,” Brown says.
The efforts of HWTF are bolstered by other advances across the state, such as the tobacco tax and smoke-free restaurants and bars.
“We’re a part of a perfect storm right now. It’s taken many efforts on many levels to change the way people see smoking.”
New programs focus on pregnant and post-partum women and those with mental illness. Forty-one out of 110 higher-education institutes in North Carolina are smoke-free, and Brown would like to see that number rise.
“You have to keep at it and use the funding you have as effectively as you can. Philanthropy positions you to bring all the different players together and make a connection, and that’s exciting.”