My 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.