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Insights & ideas to Ignite your coalition

The “Back Story” that Inspired Me to Write Ignite!

Posted on 09 Dec 2013

Cover3My earlier textbook, Coalitions and Partnerships in Community Health, a 600-page tome, was written primarily for an academic audience. I tried to bridge the gap between the academic and practitioner community by including a number of helpful appendices and tools, but it is still a daunting text.  However, as I train, speak and consult around the country, I find that my audiences are clamoring constantly for practical tools and ideas for building and sustaining community partnerships that can be used in their own backyards. So, I knew I needed to write a different kind of book with them in mind.

As I was gathering wood for a campfire in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia last fall, I was struck by the magnetic power that fire has to attract us. Fire provides warmth, protection from wild animals, light in the darkness, and heat for cooking. Fire has a magnetic power that attracts us. The dancing flames of fire inspire romance and legendary stories, generate uplifting discussion, and build camaraderie among those circled around them. And camping just isn’t camping without a campfire … the smell, the warmth, the crackle, the glowing coals, the smoky taste of campfire-cooked meals, the songs and stories, and, of course, the s’ mores. Campfires provide a deep connection with nature, time for reflection, and feelings of peace.

While conjuring up these positive images, I began to reflect on how much constructing and feeding a campfire was like building and sustaining a community coalition. We have to find the best place to build one, gather the right kinds and amounts of firewood, construct it with solid intention, and carefully nurture it until it provides a constant flame and warmth. Similarly, for a coalition, we need to assess our current collaborative environment, gather the right partners, build an effective structure, and initiate the strategies and nurture the relationships that are likely to change our communities for the better.

Coalitions have the power to catalyze a spark of an idea about how our communities could be healthier. This spark is fed by the imagination and resources of diverse community members and organizations working in partnership until we “fire up” entire sectors of our community for positive change.  So, the idea of the book was born around a campfire. And, isn’t that how most good ideas come to us … sudden and unbidden … a flint-like notion that sparks a whole new thought process.

The Great Adventure

Posted on 03 Dec 2013

I was talking to my neighbor’s 17 year old daughter the other day and the conversation went something like this:

“So, Allie, how are college plans going? Any idea about where you’d like to go or what you might study?”

“I’m planning to go to college in state – hopefully Virginia Tech or UVA. I’m not very worried about where …it’s just that I have no idea what I want to do with my life. You’re so lucky – you have a career that you love – you’ve even written books. Must be nice to have everything all planned out from the start.”

At that moment, I laughed and told her, “Nothing could be farther from the truth. My life has been full of stops, starts and detours. If you have a few minutes, I’ll tell about how far-from-planned it’s been.”

She enthusiastically nodded yes and I began the story that I’ll now share with you.

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut. My mom wanted to be a nurse, but she left school in the eighth grade to help support her widowed mother and 10 siblings. I’m sure this, plus the fact that I was drawn to the helping professions, influenced my desire to become a nurse. I wanted to attend a college that was away from home and was fortunate to receive a scholarship to Penn in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. I married my college sweetheart and, after graduation, worked as a public health nurse. I found that I enjoyed the teaching and counseling parts of nursing more than bedside care, so I enrolled at Penn again and earned a Masters in Secondary Education, while my husband attended Dental School under a military scholarship.

Then, we embarked on a 15 year stint with the army dental corps which took us to Italy, Germany, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. I worked as a nurse or teacher, depending on job availability, and had 3 children along the way. Later, I was told that my resume was “spotty”. Finally, at the age of 39, I had the opportunity to meld my interests and earn a doctoral degree in public health promotion and education at the University of South Carolina. We made our 17th move to settle in Yorktown, Virginia, and I started an academic career as a professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk doing community health research.

After 16 years at EVMS, I was ready for a change. I loved the consulting that I had done to provide training and technical assistance to public health agencies, non-profits and communities on building and sustaining partnerships and coalitions to improve health and well-being. I also enjoyed writing and had authored or co-authored many professional articles and book chapters, as well a textbook, Coalitions and Partnerships in Community Health. I decided to start my own consulting group to be able to do more of both . . . and Coalitions Work was born.

That was more than 5 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I just figure that life, like a coalition, is supposed to be an adventure. And it has been.