The Kansas Health Foundation on Tuesday announced $2 million in awards for health improvement projects across the state.

The 86 nonprofits receiving grants will use the money — up to $25,000 — to improve access to health care and promote healthy behavior.

“We believe it’s important to address health needs of at-risk populations based on factors that can influence health outcomes, such as race/ethnicity, income, geography and education level,” said Steve Coen, the foundation’s president and CEO. “When we support organizations doing this type of work, we’re impacting the health of residents across the state.”

The foundation administers funds from a $200 million endowment with a vision of improving the health of all Kansans.

Mindy Stapleton, director of The Alley teen center in Dodge City, said 75 to 80 percent of students in the public school system there receive free or reduced-cost lunches.

Her goal with Project Teen-Safe, which will receive a $25,000 grant, is to offer free after-school activities to middle school students who are at a critical moment in their development.

“What you do now affects the rest of your life,” she tells them.

Her organization began in 1997, after the death of a teenager who was an innocent bystander to a shooting by another teen. Residents formed the teen center as a safe space to hang out.

As many as 40 or 50 kids show up from 3 to 5:30 p.m. each day. They start by doing homework and receive assistance from high-schoolers.

The project brings in speakers to talk about suicide prevention and fitness experts to lead exercises. Kids prepare gifts for elderly residents who will be alone on Christmas.

Stapleton said the grant money will allow her to expand activities and buy groceries for healthy snacks. Chefs from local restaurants show the students how to make treats like frozen banana pops or “ants on a long” — an alias for raisins and peanut butter on celery.

The Hays-based High Plains Mental Health Center will use $20,550 to provide mental health training to emergency responders in 20 northwest Kansas counties.

Mental Health First Aid is an eight-hour, evidence-based training program that demonstrates how to assess a mental health crisis, select interventions, provide initial help and connect people to appropriate professional help and self-help strategies, according to Kaley Conner, HPMH Marketing/PEO coordinator.

“Mental Health First Aid trainings have become an integral part of our outreach efforts because it allows us to train front-line responders and community members how to appropriately intervene in the event of a mental health crisis until professional help can be accessed,” Conner said in an email to The Hays Daily News. “Since we serve such a large geographic area (approximately 19,000 square miles), this information is especially important and valuable to emergency responders, law enforcement officers, health care workers and local school districts, who often are the first professionals on scene in a crisis situation. This class is also invaluable because it helps break down any perceived negative stigmas around mental health needs and encourages a culture of compassion within a community.”

Based in Hays, HPMH has branch offices in Colby, Goodland, Osborne, Phillipsburg and Norton, and community outreach offices throughout the region.

“We are deeply appreciative of this grant opportunity through the Kansas Health Foundation,” Conner said. “This project will allow us to significantly expand our MHFA program offerings in Northwest Kansas beginning in the new year. We will have the opportunity to train three additional staff members as youth or adult curriculum Mental Health First Aid instructors, increasing our long-term capacity to meet the region’s need for this valuable information. We also will have funding for 10 no-cost MHFA trainings in 2019, which will directly benefit rural communities and front-line responders.”

A full list of awards is available at