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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.