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Massey advances community initiatives with cultivate grants

Nov 17, 2023

Massey catchment area

Today VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center announced it has awarded $20,000 cultivate grants to two community-led efforts promoting health, health equity and person-centered care across the cancer continuum while also reducing suffering from cancer.

Vance Street Missionary Baptist Church of Danville and Project Nana of Norfolk will use the funding over two years.

“The Massey cultivate grants support the existing evidence-based best practices of these organizations, which are crucial to efforts to reduce the cancer burden across the communities we serve,” said Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director for Community Outreach and Engagement and Health Disparities and director of the Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research at Massey. “The collaborations will bridge the gap between resources and healthier outcomes.”

Vance Street Missionary Baptist Church

Vance Street Missionary Baptist Church (VSMBC) has been a part of the Danville community for more than 100 years. The $20,000 in funding will support “Brothers’ Keepers – Phase 2: A Conduit to Cut Cancer,” an extension of a community health program first put into place in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

The program aims to engage 500 individuals with a commitment to adding physical activities to their lives, twice a week for 15 months. Faith-based, minority business owners and other identified community leaders will serve as deployed shepherds to recruit the participants.

“The goal is to raise engagement in the elimination of cancer disparities in our region by leveraging the diverse relationships that small-business owners, houses of worship and community leaders have with community members,” said Rev. Maurice Ferrell, Ph.D., the pastor of VSMBC.

The initiative can include walking, line dancing, joining a gym and other forms of fitness. For seniors, the program offers exercise classes designed to meet their needs.

VSMBC is building upon efforts supported by a $5,000 Massey seed grant in 2022. Over the one-year funding cycle, the church saw that it was able to promote health and enact change by encouraging community members to get moving.

The Dan River Health Collaborative Health Equity Report 2021 written by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro - Center for Housing and Community Studies found the city of Danville ranked 127 out of 133 Virginia localities for overall health. Cancer is the second leading cause of death.

Through its Massey-funded efforts, VSMBC first trains and then utilizes community influencers to reach the masses with a message about benefits of exercising.

“Our Massey cultivate grant will create and foster a conduit of health promotion to help ease the burden of cancer in our community,” Ferrell explained.

Project Nana

Founded in 2012, Project Nana uses workshops, advocacy, training, research and community engagement to advance health equity for post-menopausal women. It will use the Massey funding for the “Take Nana to the Doctor: Post-menopausal Women Continuing Gynecologic Care Program,” which aims to reduce late-stage diagnoses of women's cancers and sexually transmitted infections.

“The community may be well versed on breast and colorectal cancers, but there is limited discussion and awareness about gynecologic cancers,” said Vanessa L. Hill, M.F.A., M.P.H., P.M.P., founder and executive director of Project Nana. “This is challenging because the one cancer that still has a year-over-year increase in incidence rates is endometrial/uterine cancer, which is fast becoming one of the most common and deadly cancers in women.”

Out of the five gynecologic cancers – cervical, endometrial, ovarian, vaginal and vulvar – only cervical cancer has a recommended screening test. According to Hill, the best weapon for the early detection of the other four gynecologic cancers is awareness and education.

“The grant will allow us to reach more people in the community, to make them aware of the disparities and barriers associated with gynecologic care for post-menopausal women and to educate those who will become advocates where they live, play, work and worship,” Hill explained.

Community Grant Initiative

The cultivate grants make up the second phase of Massey’s Community Grant Initiative, which aligns the center’s community outreach and engagement efforts and research discoveries with community-driven efforts focused on cancer risks, incidence and mortality and improving cancer outcomes.

It started in 2022 across Massey’s catchment area, defined as the 66 contiguous localities in central, eastern and southern Virginia served by the cancer center.

Through its first phase in 2022, Massey awarded seven $5,000 seed grants, including one to VSMBC. Earlier this year, Massey provided $5,000 seed grants to six additional organizations.

In 2024, Massey will roll out the third phase of the Community Grant Initiative, offering one $50,000 harvest grant to a selected applicant.


For questions about Massey's Community Grant Initiative, please contact Michael Gesme at or the Community Outreach & Engagement team at or (804) 628-0896.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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