Member Spotlight: Erin Matthews Thomas, Potomac Health Foundation

Potomac Health Foundation

Location: Woodbridge, Virginia

Mission: To improve the health of the community by increasing access to health care for the medically underserved.


This month’s “Member Spotlight” features Erin Matthews Thomas, Senior Program Officer of the Potomac Health Foundation (PHF). Here’s a little bit more about Erin and her work in philanthropy:   

Pictured: Erin Matthews Thomas

Describe your philanthropic philosophy and how your philosophy shapes your work.

My work is informed by the lived experiences of community members and my desire to see a shift in power dynamic from intention to impact. In addition, it is important to make space for those community members to have a more visible, influential role when it comes to transforming their communities. The key to greater social impact starts with leaders who value the power to amplify voices that are rarely heard by change makers.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones with my sorority chapter’s sisterly relations committee, and I just picked up Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia for the family road trip.

What “influencers” are you following? What leaders have “influenced” your leadership style or goals? 

Influencers that I am following: Cassandra WelchlinDr. Camara Jones, and LaTosha Brown

Leaders that have influenced my leadership style/goals: My grandfather, Aubrey Matthews Sr.; Allison R. Brown, former Executive Director at Communities for Just School Funds,  a dear friend and dynamic leader that we lost too soon; Dr. Othello Harris, Professor Miami University-Ohio; and community leaders who step in when there is no spotlight or recognition for the hard work they do every day.     

What are your organization’s top three areas of focus for 2022? 

Access to Health: To reinforce access to primary health care for medically underserved residents in the age of COVID-19. This includes:

  • Primary care, maternal and child health, dental, and medication
  • Addressing equity issues in access to health care highlighted by the pandemic, including, but not limited to equitable distribution of any vaccine or treatment
  • Addressing social and structural determinants of health such as equity, housing, technology access, and food insecurity.    

Behavioral Health: To support the community through the provision of behavioral health care services and public outreach and education about mental health issues, including trauma-informed care. In addition, addressing the implications of COVID-19 on behavioral health issues in the community, as well as social distancing practices and challenges to accessing mental health or substance use services.

COVID-19 response and assistance: To provide support to non-profit organizations as needed due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on operations or programming. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Keeping employees and consumers safe
  • Food and essential services
  • Support for childcare
  • Eviction prevention
  • Arts and cultural relief.     

What partnerships and/or collaborative efforts have been meaningful to you in the last year?

The COVID-19 response and assistance focus area allowed PHF to build new relationships within our catchment area. Tenants and Workers United (TWU) was a new organization to us, but they had clearly been doing incredible work in Northern Virginia for a long time. TWU organizes impacted low-income communities of color, primarily immigrants, to build power and advance social justice. The partnership supported TWU’s ongoing work to help prevent eviction, connect community members with health and housing resources and services, and develop community leadership for power, growth, and positive change among the most impacted communities in Woodbridge.  

PHF provided discretionary funding to Prince William County Community Services in support of a new Crisis Receiving & Stabilization Center. The Center will provide local access to adults and youth experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis and reduce bed boarding in hospital emergency rooms and confinement in local Detention Centers.        

How has VFN been relevant to the work you’re doing?

VFN has been a wonderful learning community, and I especially appreciate the opportunity to connect with other Program Officers throughout Virginia.

What else would you like your fellow funders to know?

See the bigger picture and examine all the angles.