Volunteer Spotlight

Florencia Velasco Fortner on Her Volunteer Service to UT Southwestern

Longtime advocate for health care in Dallas minority communities was instrumental in translation efforts for the institution's landmark COVID-19 study

Florencia Velasco Fortner epitomizes the consummate community organizer. A tireless activist, child advocate, and leader in the Latino community, she has channeled an endless reservoir of ideas and energy to benefit Dallas.

Florencia Velasco Fortner
Florencia Velasco Fortner Provided by Florencia Velasco Fortner

As President and CEO of the The Concilio, Mrs. Fortner has helped drive the organization’s pursuit of equity and opportunity for all families and positioned it as a leading partner of Latino and other minority communities. During her tenure, she has expanded The Concilio’s community health initiative, increasing the number of families impacted by the program from 400 to more than 3,000.

Actively engaged with UT Southwestern Medical Center, Mrs. Fortner is a member of the President’s Advisory Board and serves on its Nominations Committee. Representing a diverse group of civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Board provides UT Southwestern’s President, Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., and the institution’s leadership with guidance on opportunities and challenges facing the Medical Center.

Nationally recognized for her expertise on parental engagement and Latino culture, Mrs. Fortner has worked with UT Southwestern to increase the institution’s awareness of minority and lower-income community health needs. She has also given her talents in support of the DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study, UT Southwestern’s pioneering effort to understand how COVID-19 spread throughout DFW and guide decisions to keep communities and families safe. A member of the study’s Community Advisory Board, Mrs. Fortner provided in-depth information about Latino neighborhoods that were vulnerable to the disease and assisted with a Spanish translation of the study, helping to further share its findings with the region’s Latino communities.

Reflecting on her commitment to community involvement and raising awareness of the health requirements of minority communities, Mrs. Fortner shares how UT Southwestern has impacted her family and why she supports the institution with her volunteer leadership and philanthropy.

How has UT Southwestern impacted you and your family?

When I first started with The Concilio – really part of my extended family – Dr. Nora Gimpel of UT Southwestern served on The Concilio Board of Directors. Dr. Gimpel is a passionate community health leader who practices family and community medicine. She was instrumental in helping us design a program called LIDER Diabetes to help Latino families prevent and manage diabetes. It was Dr. Gimpel who later introduced me to her colleague, Dr. Mark DeHaven. Together, they developed a program called GoodNEWS, which was implemented in churches to prevent cardiovascular disease in the African-American community. My husband is the Pastor at New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, and we both volunteered to participate and recruited participants for the GoodNews program. GoodNEWS worked closely with our church family to improve our nutrition, exercise, and wellness.

“For such a prestigious and well-respected institution, UT Southwestern and its staff demonstrate remarkable humility and curiosity about health issues impacting our community.”

What distinguishes this institution as a leader in academic medicine?

Everyone knows of UT Southwestern’s internationally renowned research and incredibly talented staff, but some may not realize that the institution’s genuine interest in gathering the thoughts and insights of the community really fuels their academic excellence. When I serve on a board, I feel my role is to ensure the voices of the diverse families that The Concilio serves are heard and taken into consideration. UT Southwestern truly seeks to understand how health impacts everyone in our community and is actively helping find solutions for the problems that ail us.

What do you find most engaging about the President's Advisory Board?

One of the things I have found most impressive as a member of the Nominations Committee is the Board’s commitment to transparency and accountability, as well as the level of care and attention that permeates the organization. Combined, these things equate to a laser-like focus on what really matters and give additional meaning to our work as Board members.

What have you learned about UT Southwestern?

For such a prestigious and well-respected institution, UT Southwestern and its staff demonstrate remarkable humility and curiosity about health issues impacting our community. I’ve been delighted by the willingness of staff to listen to individuals like me who are neither health experts nor in academia. The staff and leadership at UT Southwestern are invested in our North Texas community, as evidenced by the new health clinic set to open next year at Red Bird Mall.

Rendering of the entrance to UT Southwestern's Redbird Center
An architect's rendering illustrates the RedBird Center outpatient facility. Bringing UT Southwestern's best-in-class care closer to communities in southwestern Dallas County, leaders plan to open UT Southwestern at RedBird in June 2022 as part of Reimagine RedBird, a project to revitalize the mall. UT Southwestern Medical Center

What has been your most memorable experience volunteering with UT Southwestern?

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President’s Advisory Board continued to meet virtually. Physicians and investigators at UT Southwestern presented near-real-time results from leading-edge research that were of critical importance to our community. At one of the meetings, they presented early data that showed Latinos and African Americans were being disproportionately affected by the pandemic. This was before we knew exactly how COVID-19 spread or that individuals in service jobs, who had no choice but to work outside the home, were more negatively impacted. I was able to act on this right away. I reached out to my colleagues at national Latino organizations with this information and discussed what we could do to step up and support these families that were in greater need.

Dr. Jasmin Tiro and Corey Tovian stand at the opoen doorway of a Dallas County resident's home holding clipboards and wearing face coverings
Dr. Jasmin Tiro, left, and Corey Tovian speak with a Dallas County resident as part of survey efforts for the DFW COVID-19 Prevalance Study on Sept. 13, 2020. More than 20,000 Dallas and Tarrant County residents participated in the study, which investigated how COVID-19 spread through the community and inform the decision making of civic and community leaders. Mei-Chun Jau/UT Southwestern Medical Center

“Donating to UT Southwestern gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment at being part of something that is larger than myself and our North Texas community.”

As a donor, why do you continue to give?

When I joined the President’s Advisory Board at UT Southwestern, I had heard of several of the Medical Center’s accomplishments, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of its innovative work nor how it contributed to global health efforts. Donating to UT Southwestern gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment at being part of something that is larger than myself and our North Texas community. Because UT Southwestern’s innovative research has a global impact, supporting the Medical Center is a way for me to be a part of something that extends well beyond the borders of Dallas County.

What is UT Southwestern's biggest contribution to the community?

In my opinion, UT Southwestern’s innovative research has the greatest impact on not only our community but also the world. With a diverse group of talented physicians and scientists, some of whom are Nobel Laureates or members of the National Academy of Sciences, UT Southwestern is making new discoveries that I believe will make health care more accessible, equitable, and affordable for all.

  • Dr. Gimpel holds the Dr. John L. and Louise Roan Professorship in Family Medicine.
  • Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.