Hats off to organizations involved in successful community building! I’m grateful to be working with such amazing community leaders. Together we are shaping community-building initiatives that are making a positive difference in our communities. Many people are successful, I believe, because they combine considerable professional skills with a passion for building community that is rooted in hope. This hope in our ability to make a difference creates positive change when paired with access to the tools, resources, policies and levers of power needed to make long-lasting community change.
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Studies by the Happiness Project at the University of Pennsylvania, and talks by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy have been touchstones for me. Both focus on the importance of gratitude in building resiliency and hope. My “spiritual mother,” Maggie Kuhn, who founded Gray Panthers, used to talk about hope as that deep-rooted belief that we can make things better. She said “if there’s an obstacle in your path, go around it or over it. If you must, blast through it or tunnel under it. But don’t let it stop you.” Dr. Martin Luther King said that “the arc of the universe bends toward justice,” and “whatever uplifts us is of great importance.” Hope is rooted in this complex understanding of the many challenges we face, and guides us as we move forward with purpose and the assets we bring to the table. Joy comes from hope that is rooted in reality, that also has wings.
Rio Arriba County Health Council (RACHC) and the Rio Arriba County Health & Human Services Department are working tirelessly to build and maintain a wide array of community initiatives to address behavioral health; jail diversion and community re-entry; substance use disorder (SUD); opioid use disorder (OUD), and much more! This region has, over the years, built federal and nationally recognized model initiatives, and continues to win contracts and awards for planning and network development. Initiatives represent overlapping networks, with hundreds of people creating positive community change. Lauren Reichelt, the leader of much of the work, is a boundlessly enthusiastic champion with amazing professional skills and commitment that is contagious. She is a passionate advocate for those who are marginalized. In early November, she mobilized many to address the potential closure of a nursing home in Northern New Mexico. There are so many leaders shaping positive community change in the NNM region. A few include Lore Pease, CEO of El Centro Health and Chair of the RACHC; Brenda Romero, RN, MSN Presbyterian Espanola Hospital Chief Executive, and Vice-Chair of the RACHC; Michelle Peixnho and Monica Griego, who are guiding many of the new initiatives with Lauren. It has been and continues to be a privilege to work with Lauren and many others on a plan for Community Health Needs Assessment, Health Profile, and other things. Lauren, you are, indeed, a Hero of Health!
One of the most exciting and innovative ways that regions are looking at behavioral health is through the lens of economic development. The Middle Rio Grande Economic Development Association (MRGEDA) realizes that our workforce is being severely impacted by substance abuse and other behavioral health issues. To address this, MRGEDA has developed a Healthcare Committee (HCC) under the galvanizing, powerful and uplifting leadership of Sharon Finarelli, staff leader at Sierra Vista Hospital. It includes providers from four counties, coming together to address behavioral health issues. It’s amazing to work with people who are such skilled professionals, equally passionate about creating community health “from the ground up,” in ways that engage scores of stakeholders. The new Executive Director of MRGEDA, Kirsten Kelley is already deeply involved and a champion for this work, along with the MRGEDA Chair of the Board, Bruce Swingle. Also the Sierra County Manager, Bruce is a visionary, focused on positive system change. As one might expect, the network includes a wide range of behavioral health providers. It also has engaged county management, law enforcement, schools, legislators, advocates, health councils, state partners, and more. The Sierra County Opioid Partnership, a part of this larger system, includes a core group of about 30 people passionate about reversing overdose deaths. The partnership is a Community of Hope that is addressing what some experts call the Disease of Despair. The regional and county work represents small communities mobilizing hundreds of those with a deep purpose and commitment to create positive community change. Sharon and the team are on a mission, and it’s exciting to be a part of the journey!
Dan Otero, the CEO of HMS, is a man of boundless energy, expertise and an amazing gift for juggling a thousand and one projects! Introduced to him through a workshop I led at NM Public Health Association’s Spring Conference, I have been amazed at his energy, accomplishments, and the way he has led so many community initiatives. It’s a pleasure working with Dan, and HMS Chief Support Officer, Edith Lee, and the team. Earlier this fall. HMS and New Ventures were awarded a competitive contract by Freeport McMoRan Foundation to lead Grant County in an intensive gap analysis and community health needs assessment to discover more about older adult needs, services, resources, assets, and options for the future. Together, with significant community engagement, we’re developing a Collaborative Community Plan for Senior Services. HMS is not only the FQHC healthcare system for the Grant and Hidalgo County region of Southwestern NM, they also manage the Senior Centers, and are opening a cutting-edge facility for behavioral health called “Tu Casa.” In addition to that, they’re building a One-Stop integrated care model for accessing services. HMS is an amazing resource providing a wide variety of services for the region, and Dan is a ball of fire, accomplishing so much it makes the head spin! If that weren’t enough, I’m also thrilled to have local consultant and system change agent, Chris DeBolt, working with me on this project. We’re kicking into gear, and having fun addressing one of the biggest issues in today’s world, what Ken Dychtwald calls “The Age Wave.” It’s treat to work with committed professionals who are such effective community builders.
Investing in and building communities is what Presbyterian Healthcare Services (PHS) is all about. They connect with communities through their expanding statewide healthcare system, create partnerships with Community Health Councils (CHCs), and make financial investments in local collaborative initiatives and partnerships. Committed to creating community health by looking at broad systems, focusing on building health equity, and addressing the social determinants of health, Leigh Caswell leads her team from a community-rooted focus. Earlier in her career, Leigh was the Coordinator for the Bernalillo County Health Council, which gives her that wonderful perspective. In charge of the PHS Center for Community Health, she brings a broad vision, corporate systems expertise and community-based planning and systems development tools. It’s energizing to work with Leigh and her staff manager, Meredith Root-Bowman, who are such champions for building community health in holistic ways that engage communities.
While not wanting to slow down too much this summer, a team of change agents from Northern and Central New Mexico gathered to build a plan for an Opioid Related Workforce Development Initiative. Northern Area
Workforce Board ED Jeff Barela and SER Jobs for Progress’ ED, Alex Martinez; Economic Development guru Chris Madrid; RACHHS Director Lauren Reichelt; and Northern New Mexico College President Rick Bailey worked with me to build a plan for Northern New Mexico. We then partnered with CNM folks and state Department of Workforce Solutions Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act Administrator, Yolanda Montoya Cordova to create what we hope will be a strongly supported initiative which partners workforce development and behavioral health to address the impact of opioid use disorder on our state’s workforce. It’s been a pleasure to help develop the plan for a multi-county, complex initiative. Yolanda’s ability to juggle and integrate all of the players and the parts for a win-win state plan is a great gift!
The Cody, WY Chamber of Commerce has one of the most engaged communities you can find – anywhere! This town created by Buffalo Bill Cody has just over 10,000 residents, with 560 members in the Chamber! The Cody Chamber has grown into a powerful force for economic development for Cody and the entire Northwestern Wyoming region. I have been amazed at how much this town does, and what the Chamber means. Leading a strategic planning session with the Executive Director, Board, Staff and Partners was like dancing, and a real joy. People were full of on-target analysis about membership and programs; a deep understanding about member, community and regional needs and assets; and a powerful vision with creative strategies for moving into the future as a regional gateway. The energy of the group is exciting, contagious, and is building traction. Executive Director, Tina Hoebelheinrich is a dynamo who has made many positive changes in the past few years that have moved the Chamber to a new level. And they are kicking into high gear!
The NM Alliance of Health Councils is an incredible small resource with a big network and huge footprint. Over the years, the health councils have served as conveners, planners, organizers and builders of community health in so many counties and tribal areas. It’s been wonderful to work with NMAHC ED Terrie Rodriguez and manager, Chris DeBolt on projects. They are partners always willing to come to the table and work collaboratively to build community health and create positive change for communities. With expanded funding to cover adequate staffing levels, health councils have, collectively, leveraged core funding at a ratio of 4:1. That’s what Ron Hale and I discovered in our consulting work with health councils years ago. That’s significant leveraging, and I am hopeful that this upcoming legislative session will provide expanded funding for the NMAHC.
A shout-out to the CO-WY MS Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the many volunteers and cyclists who raised about $200,000 for MS! Cyclists went from Sheridan to Buffalo, and up steep inclines to Dayton and Ranchester. The volunteers literally came from every corner of these communities to support, guide, encourage and feed the hundreds of cyclists who pedaled through blazing temps. This was a wonderful example of communities coming together. Hats off to CEO Carrie Nolan, WY manager Molly Palmer, Buffalo WY Ambassadors Kathleen and Ron McPhee – and the hundreds of volunteers!
On December 7th, I’m attending the NM Public Health Association Policy Forum, and will be presenting a short piece on how to improve state contracting with nonprofits, based upon groundbreaking research conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Boris at the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics and the National Council of Nonprofits’ work in multiple states. There is now a body of research, along with models and evidence-based practices for more effective state contracting. These improvements can be built by cross-sector partnerships between governmental and nonprofit leaders. We can, and should take contracting to the next level!
When I think about the community building work being done by my clients and colleagues, I am extremely grateful for their work, and the opportunity to be part of that big picture. All of us have a larger purpose in life that lies in service to others, in building community and bringing hope. May your winter holidays be a time of reflection, connection, hope, joy – and fun!