Builders Series: Happendance


The Builders Series highlights individuals and organizations developing healthy communities. Whether focused on a city, workplace, home environment, school, or nation, this series explores how people are thinking comprehensively about health and the environment in which individuals live and grow.

HDlogo2014blueI had the opportunity to interview Missy Lilje, MFA and Heather Vaughan-Southard, MFA of Happendance.  I have a long history with this organization:  I was once in their professional company (if you search closely in the archives you can find me–it was ’08 and ’09 where we obviously had a lot to say about the economy–making art about $100,000 undergraduate degrees, underwater mortgages, and rust-belt revitatlization).

As Happendance is preparing to celebrate its 40th year, is 2.5 years into their current strategic plan, and has opened their Happendance Exchange location on Kalamazoo in Lansing’s Eastside neighborhood I thought it would be a good time to learn more.

Missy Lilje

Missy Lilje

me:  So what do you each do?

Missy: I serve as the CEO of the organization.  I oversee the development and all operations for our professional company Impulse,  pre-professional company Velocity, school, touring Exchange education programs, and our two locations.  I am responsible for and accountable to the Board of Directors who supervise my work and evaluate my progress quarterly.  I’ve been in this role for 2.5 years.

Heather VS head shot

Heather Vaughan-Southard

Heather: I serve as the Director of three Happendance Departments, Happendance Heals, Happendance Exchange in Lansing, and the Happendance Education Exchange Services.  While I’ve been affiliated with Happendance in the past on previous projects and teaching residencies, I have fully come on board this year to take on these exciting new projects.

me: What are some challenges in your roles?

Missy: Advancing from educator to Director and then into the CEO position was a huge learning curve.  I knew that I was going to be responsible for a significant amount of financial development but didn’t know how that actually worked.  I knew it had something to do with “networking” but not a clue how to do that effectively.  I stumbled all over in the beginning where I was focusing on the outcome of financial development rather than building meaningful relationships with people who shared my interests and the interests of the organization.  I’ve learned a lot and now I am really seeing how it actually works.  I’ve been spending my time simply learning more about people and organizations that complement our work and we’re finding ways to work together and support each other.  I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve learned a lot in the 2.5 years I’ve been at it and now things are really starting to move for us.

Heather: I think that we struggle to translate the value of what Happendance produces.  Yes, there is a top notch school which prepares dancers for college and career, but we are also reinventing the function and form of dance in a community.  (for more on this you should be following Heather’s excellent writing about movement education here and getting involved in DANCE Lansing and many community based efforts).  We are striving to clarify the mission so that the community understands that, while we train dancers, we also see dance as a tool in the development of every individual. Dance is universal to all people, not just dancers.

We’re really excited to develop and expand the Happendance Heals project.  We are partnering with healthcare providers to support individuals of all ages in applying movement to facilitate their recovery or management of a chronic condition.  This may be someone working through grief, managing PTSD, or rehabilitating after knee replacement (after their full course of physical therapy).

Editor’s note:  I’ve pasted the class schedule for Happendance Exchange at the end of the so you can see what’s she’s talking about. 

me:   On the topic of fundraising, what would you do with more financial resources?

Missy:  My goal is to provide a better compensation package for our staff.  Our faculty instructors currently are on par in the marketplace, but our leadership and administrators are not.  We are already attracting top notch faculty and administrators, those who are qualified to teach at the university level but who are choosing to be part of Happendance. I want to provide for them financially so we and they can commit long term.   I also have a vision for expanded and upgraded facilities and a meaningful marketing budget.

Heather:  On that note, as a Director the ability to focus on developing one of the departments more fully, rather than patching together multiple assignments would allow us to fully develop the curricula, faculty, and community partnerships necessary to launch and sustain that venture.

me: Who do you admire inside or outside of your industry?

Missy: First and foremost our founder Diane Newman who had a vision for Happendance forty years ago and built and sustained the organization.  In the field, Liz Lerman is the model for community based dance education and development. Everything she’s doing in Washington DC is the type of work Happendance hopes to do in our community.  I have the same admiration for Erik Larson at Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing.  I believe that his work is a blueprint for Happendance to follow.  He is ten years ahead of us in organizational development.  I watched him go through the process of securing support for an exhibit (the Water Room) and how he was able to translate the importance of the project from the individual student learning to a conversation about global water scarcity.  He is also a high school classmate of mine and I’m grateful he is applying his talent to our region.

Heather:  Definitely Liz Lerman — she is it.  Then of course the big hitters like Seth Godin and Brene Brown  have given me a lot to think about this year.  Of course I have a much longer list running as well!


Winter Fest Kids (ages 4+) December 9 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Pre-Holiday Stress Relief for Adults/Teens December 16 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Nimble Body Book Club KIDS edition (ages 4+) December 23 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm New Year Kids Workshop (ages 4+) December 30 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm New Year Brain and Body Boost for Adult/Teen January 6 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Super Hero Training Session: Kicks and Jumps (ages 4+) January 13 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Moving Limited Bodies: Adult Edition January 20 Fee: 00.00
6:00-7:00 pm Nimble Body Book Club: Kids Edition (ages 4+) January 27 Fee: 00.00

Happendance Heals

Workshops Saturdays 11-12 pm
11:00-12:00 pm Moving Attitudes about Pain December 5 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Giving Care to Caregivers December 12 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving through Parkinson’s Disease December 19 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving Limited Bodies: Kids Edition January 9 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving with Veterans January 16 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving through Grief and Stress January 23 Fee: 11.00
11:00-12:00 pm Moving toward Breast Health January 30 Fee: 11.00



Thank you: My favorite 2015 Content


the-best-2015It’s time to thank all of the people who provided great content in 2015 that accompanied me and filled my mind on my walks to work, flights across country, and drives around the state. Despite all the struggles in the world today, I wouldn’t want to be alive at any other time.  Just pause for a moment to think that anything you want to learn is probably available anytime for under $20 and 60 seconds of download.  That kind of access to information is unbelievable and levels the playing field in an unprecendented way.

Between podcasts, digital books, YouTube clips, and online courses of every kind you can learn anything you want.  And, on Twitter (and other platforms) everyone is accessible.  Of course, you can also choose to fill your head with conflict, nonsense, and time wasters.  I try to think of my brain and my time as a super exclusive club with a fancy velvet rope and a huge, mean looking bouncer at the door.  Fortunately for me, it doesn’t require dressing up or buying bottle service!  Yoga pants and a box of red wine works just fine, but I am vigilant on the exclusive guest list.  So, thank you to some of my favorite content creators for making my year one of exceptional learning.

Books I’ve Loved this Year

The Non NonProfit  Steve Rothschild.  Yes, it’s a new day and the lines have blurred.

How the World Sees You Sally Hogshead.  Move beyond identifying your strengths and start dialing up your brand.

Blackout:  Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget  Sarah Hepola.  I absolutely love this book because I think we have a dangerous amount of glamorizing the Trainwreck mentality.  I love me some Amy Schumer and her Court of Public Opinion skit is probably the most important piece of media created this year, but I worry.  This book steps in when the bottom falls out. Fascinating read.

The Road to Character  David Brooks.  I think we’re all waiting for the grown ups to enter the room and set us straight.  This is it.  I also love it when you look at the personal behavior of earlier generations and realize that the nostalgic “good ole days” featured the same stuff (booze, sex, divorce, etc.) as today.  People lose their way and find their way back.  That’s the road to character, I suppose.

A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life  Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman.  He actually does have the secret!

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up  Marie Kondo.  Such as quirky book that plays right into my obsessions.  I know it’s on everyone’s list so I won’t dwell.

The Blue Zones  Dan Buettner.  As a public health practitioner this is a must.  There are many pathways to a healthy life and they all involve great food, great relationships, movement, and humor.  Write yourself that prescription daily.

Yes Please   Amy Poehler.  Thank you Amy, for everything.

Contagious Jonah Berger.  Love, love, love and will be on required reading every January to think about business development, creating the spark, and fanning the flames.

Choose Yourself  James Altucher.  How to understand and survive the new economy.  There really is no better time than today.  How very fortunate we are.

#GirlBoss Sophia Amoruso.  Picked this up in physical copy on a whim in the airport.  Read it all in a two hour flight and was left absolutely impressed by someone who bet on themselves and figured it out.  Read this.


I love the Lenny Letter.  I’m not a fan of Girls.  I’m way outside the target demographic, but I also don’t find it relate-able to the many women I know within the demographic.  I wasn’t really interested in what Lena Dunham had to say until I stumbled upon the Lenny letter.  We’re in good hands moving forward with this generation at the wheel.

Altucher Report  Read this to understand the new economy.  I’m a Gen Xer that loves the gig economy and Generation Flux but depending on what circles you run in, this may be lonely territory. This is like a survival guide and ready made tribe for the new frontier.


So Money A must listen to hear what top performers are doing and thinking about.

The James Altucher Show see above

Cool Things Enreprenuers Do I found Thom Singer at the beginning of last year and I love his low-key style.  Just a flat-out pro.

Twitter Feeds

Neen James — Thank you for giving me my “client filter” this year.  “work with people I love, on projects I love, in places I love“.  Amen!

Favorite Apps

Life-changing apps for the freelancer:

Harvest I was introduced to this through my work with Urban Health Solutions and Urban Health Partnerships.  The best for billable hours, expenses, and project management.

MileIQ Elegantly simple mileage tracking

Just for Fun

Songza (so good it’s becoming Google Play music)  I’ve been a fan for a long time.  I love Pandora, but something about an app that provides you with choices like “songs for an afternoon dance party” and “waking up pumped” is deserving of my earbuds.

Let’s Get Local

lansing__michigan_skyline__by_adeimantus-d5lcnek2015 is my first full calendar year back in Lansing, MI.  I love this city and I love being home.

The more complex and global the world gets, the more the local media matters.  Serving one of my clients, the City of Lansing, reinforces how important professional local media is to the function of local government and an informed citizenry–thank you Lansing State Journal .  Democracy depends on you.

Of course what a year it’s been in local sports.  I love The Drive with Jack Ebling and hanging out on Friday’s at the Blue Gill Grill with Jack & Tom who is, of course, my uncle.  Living in South Florida for five years was a fantastic experience, but one of the biggest things we missed was being in Big Ten country.  I’m just not built to live in a pro sports market.  It also helps that MSU is on fire — thank you to Coach Dantonio and Coach Izzo for being the embodiment of the Midwestern work ethic and putting your programs at the forefront nationally through serious understated hustle.  You are the essence of a regional brand.  It won’t last forever folks, enjoy the heck out of it!!

Finally, my dinner table is much richer for the experience of Lansing Eastern High School.  The daily discussions with 8th graders about immigration, refugee policies, police relations, educational funding equity, economic equity, present day impacts of historical segregation, gender dynamics, the global economy, local and global violence, and school financing is more informed and nuanced than anything I see adults attempting in the media.

These are not abstract academic concepts studied during some “diversity exercise” or month of recognition, but the real-life daily experiences of the student body as they sit shoulder to shoulder with children from all over the world and across the economic spectrum.  These lessons in inquiry, empathy, and dialogue are exactly the skill set of the coming century.  It’s messy, ambiguous, and hard — just like the actual world.  We see you, Eastern faculty, slugging it out in a school day that’s long and under-resourced.  May the community rise up to meet you.

Content matters — thank you to all of you for making it a great year.  May peace and learning fill your 2016.  Let’s fight like crazy over ideas and walk out as friends.



3 Cool tools for citizen centered health promotion & health in all policies


My work building Healthy Community Zones with Urban Health Partnerships and the TOUCH initiative in Broward County is in full swing.  Working with transportation engineers, city and county leadership, health care professionals, education leaders, law enforcement, and most importantly, residents, we’ve been busy conducting Walking Audits and extensive data gathering to connect and build upon existing plans.

A huge thank you to the host organizations for your time and effort to coordinate these events in a very short time L A Lee YMCA (Ft. Lauderdale), Austin Hepburn Center (Hallandale Beach), C W Thomas Park (Dania Beach), and Delevoe Park (Broward County Municipal Services District).

Up next the building of Community Action Plans that will guide work for the next two years and beyond.  Follow TOUCH Broward on Facebook  and on Twitter @TOUCHBroward for lots of photos. Here’s what it looks like in action:


Citizen centered health promotion policy development in action. Photo credits to Beny Schonfeld.

Citizen centered health promotion policy development in action. Photo credits to Beny Schonfeld.

Hallandale_WA.groupPreWalk Sistrun_WA.lunch Sistrunk_WA.discussion

You know people are committed when they show up for Walking Audits in the mid-afternoon South Florida August heat!!

As we begin tackling the Community Action Plan building phase, a great resource is the leader in Health In All policies work, Change Lab Solutions.

ChangeLab Solutions provides community-based solutions for America’s most common and preventable diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and asthma. Our solutions promote the common good by making healthier choices easier for everyone.

Their graphic rich, brilliantly simple tools translate the complicated process of policy, system, and environmental change into tools for community action.  These are customizable and beautifully tie in the health in all policies framework into economic development and sustainability.  All tools are available at Change Lab Solutions with direct links below:

Presentation Make the case

Health In All Policies Guide Understand Health In All Policies implementation

Model Policies Tools for plan development

Our method for building Community Action Plans is based on tools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and built with the necessary rigor to potentially secure implementation funding.  This is what we love, translating community goals into formalized plans that match the right funder to that effort.  The TOUCH Healthy Community Zones are on their way!

Time for Citizen Centered Health Promotion in Action



It’s been an exciting two weeks building the Walking Assessments with our four newly designated Healthy Community Zones in Broward County, FL.  Read the press release for more.  We are mid-process in training walking audit facilitators, inviting community leaders, and creating all of the materials that support these events.

These community input sessions will build our Community Action Plans and advance the work that’s been happening for several years to build a healthy, more equitable community.  Can’t wait to see it all come together next week.

HCZ Program Logo (2)


Builders Series: Lisa Peacock Florida’s First Coast (Jacksonville)



I am a huge fan of George Babish, Senior VP of Organizational Advancement, at the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast in Jacksonville, FL. The team of talent he has assembled to advance the healthy living portfolio is outstanding and a lot of fun to work with.  One of which is Lisa Peacock, Director of Healthy Living Innovations:  Chronic Disease Prevention.  A little talk with her about building healthy communities:

Me: Lisa, what is your current role?

Lisa: I focus on chronic disease prevention for the entire First Coast YMCA Association.  We serve 5 counties and 100,000 people through 13 locations.  I work with our signature programs.  I review recommendations coming from YUSA and make suggestions to our organization about which strategies we should implement and when.  I go out to our communities, listen and bring back to our leadership suggestions about how to best serve the needs of the people in those communities. I work with hospital and health care systems and partners in our Healthy Living Centers.

One of my projects includes the Healthy Living Centers at the Williams and Ponte Vedra Ys. The Healthy Living Centers are the first of their kind on the First Coast, bringing medically integrated programs from Baptist Health into the Y – and making these programs more accessible to the surrounding community. More Y Healthy Living Centers are planned in the near future. The flagship Healthy Living Center will be located at the new Riverside Y along with Brooks Rehabilitation and Florida Blue. Our vision: Healthy Living Centers are a community based initiative designed to increase personal engagement and accountability for health, making it easier for people to achieve and sustain a healthier lifestyle.

Part of my responsibility is also to advance our association strategy of developing the Y as a Total Wellness Resource. This includes the delivery of our Y signature programs such as the YMCAs Diabetes Prevention Program and Enhance®Fitness, as well as our adaptive wellness programs, in partnership with Brooks Rehabilitation Health Systems. These adaptive wellness programs are designed to help those with mobility impairments through supervised physical activity.  Through these programs, participants learn how to stay active and improve their health after they complete formal physical therapy.

Where we are going as an organization is exciting.  I’m really involved in changing the way the community works with and perceives the Y.  We are a vital part of the health of our community and the overall healthcare system.

Me:  What’s your biggest challenge?

Lisa:  Time. There are many potential programs to focus on and we lack the time to address them all. It takes a huge amount of time to do diligent research to ensure we develop programs that meet community need and, in the end, transforming the overall health of those participating in our programs. Everyone can think of a great idea/program—that’s the fun part.  But you have to take that idea through focus groups, beta testing, fine-tuning and adjusting in order to do it right.

Me:  Following up with that idea—how’d you keep your job?  You needed a lot of time to show the value of the work you’re doing to the Y organization…

Lisa:  I have a strong faith and pray frequently. Not in the sense of keeping my job, but in the sense of being able to provide what both the association and our communities need. As for keeping programs running, we are blessed to receive grant funding, at times, as we did to launch the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. This grant allowed one of our team members to focus on one program and really put the attention into the details of making the program succeed.  As a health educator, I highly value the concept of disease prevention & lifestyle behavior change. This allows me to speak from the heart about the great work we do. I can get behind an evidence-based program that is proven to work. During the time I was the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program Coordinator, I felt that my organization really trusted my judgment and I was able to develop professionally as the subject matter expert.

We received the grant and began this work in 2010 and it was three years until we flipped the business model and began receiving reimbursement for the program from Florida Blue in 2013. They are now a third party reimbursement payer.  Without them, we would have a really nice feel good, proven program, but not a strong sustainable business model. Currently, all Florida Blue insured individuals have coverage for and access to the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Florida Blue is also headquartered in Jacksonville, so this provides the opportunity to grow our partnership and improve the health of our community together as true local partners.

Me:  If you had more time (or budget) what would that buy you?

Lisa:  The additional time would buy me more organization and clarity. To have designated time to think, brainstorm with others, and research. To really navigate through and develop business plans. I have an amazing opportunity to work with some really great minds who challenge me. As a health educator, I don’t immediately think about the business model or financials. I would value more time to dive deep into this information and develop it further and to continue exploring how our organization can truly partner on holistic health outcomes.

Me:  Who do you admire inside or outside your industry?

Lisa: I enjoy listening to Heather Hodge Director, Chronic Disease Prevention Programs at YMCA of the USA.  It’s inspiring to hear what our national office is doing at a very high level with partnerships to advance our work.

There is an organization in our community, the New Town Successzone.  They are in a high-risk health zone. Their focus is revitalizing the community. What I value most, is who sits at the table – so many different organizations, of different backgrounds and races, all with the same focus, to better the community. It is very inspiring… I always leave the meeting uplifted.

Hey Honey this is what I do: Citizen-Centered Health Promotion

Live Well Lauderhill

“Going Places” Photo Credit: Kevon Bachelor

My primary audience for this post is my husband (17 years next month!) because he unfortunately has to answer this question for others all the time, “what does your wife do, again?”.  He’s actually not convinced I work at all because I just hang out with people I really enjoy, learn about their hopes, dreams & challenges, help them tell stories about their community’s goals, go on a bunch of walking tours, learn, learn, learn, present ideas to policy makers, host a community dance party or two, present about it at some conference, write a few grants, then take a nap.  It’s all pretty messy, super fun, and keeps the lights on around here.

So honey, as I start up another project in Broward County, FL with amazing colleagues at the Urban Health Solutions/Urban Health Partnership, Broward Regional Health Planning Council, Healthy Community Zone project thought I’d write about why someone hires me and what we’re trying to accomplish together.

I work with leaders to build healthy communities through policy, system, and environmental change. (the previous sentence is an example of “grant vomit”).  I like to explain environment as a fast running river.  If you jump into the fast running river you can swim against the current and go upstream.  It will be difficult and you will have to be committed and have the skills and strength to persevere.  It’s not impossible, but very tough.

Most people won’t swim against the river, or they will for only a short time.  This is the experience of an individual living in a community.  If their community supports health it may have safe places to walk or bike to errands, work, and school.  It may have anti-tobacco policies in place.  It may have access to affordable healthy foods and provide healthy meals at schools. It may have limited advertising for unhealthy products.  Individuals can still choose sedentary behavior, unhealthy foods, tobacco usage, and other negative health behaviors, but they will be less convenient than the healthy choice.

Changing the direction of that fast moving river to support healthy behaviors is what policy, system, and environmental change is all about.  We say, our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy and affordable choice.  Notice, it’s not about taking away choices.  It’s changing the current so that as we go with the flow we are moving towards healthier behaviors and communities.  It’s what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation calls building a Culture of Health.

I don’t make this stuff up.  Take a look at Citizen-Centered Health Promotion:  Building Collaborations to Facilitate Healthy Living published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and available on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website.  Citizen-centered means looking at how an individual’s choices are impacted by all of the environments she/he interacts with.  Our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and larger communities all impact what choices individuals have.  People exist in environments. Communities across the country are recognizing that they have to build a network of these environments to support individual health.

That’s what I do, help people build that network.  Here’s my job description below, found on page S44 of the article:

 A third party is often necessary to convene potential partners, solve logistic challenges, and pool resources to facilitate collaboration. For the majority of success stories involving effective community partnerships, third parties supported by philanthropies or public funding—a community organization or research institution—were key to “connecting the dots.” To make such collaborations scalable and sustainable over time in ordinary settings, where grant support and research investigators are lacking, an infrastructure for third-party support must be available to help communities undertake citizen-centered redesign. Each community must have access to an entity for on-the-ground assistance in building partnerships and designing solutions to help citizens sustain healthy behaviors.”

I build the coalition and help the coalition build the plan.  I basically do three things for communities in this role:

Translation–I am a generalist and I know enough about most sectors that impact the individual to translate among different groups (schools, transportation, housing, business/private sector, higher education, community based organizations, food systems, public health, etc.)  In the article above it’s called “connecting the dots“.

Boil-Down–I believe in using simple language and strive for clarity.  I muddle through “grant-vomit”, business jargon, academic yammering and all other forms of scrambled communication.  I refuse to use the word “stakeholders” (which is just a personal preference, I’m sure you’ve got your pet peeves in this category as well.)  Communities just want to be happier and healthier.  It’s complicated but requires simplicity.

Draw the Picture–Everything is about painting the picture.  We need to see it, experience it, touch it, taste it, smell it, and process it.  Yes, we need the 20 (or 200!) page document that backs up our work, but we need a picture of where we’re going and what it will look like.  That comes from pulling people together, learning, and drawing the picture…and that is what I do.

Move It Media Logo


A park in the center of the city: Sycamore Park #WalkingWednesday


Despite being only 2 miles from the center of downtown Lansing, this WalkingWednesday through Sycamore Park felt like a trip up north.  The neighborhood is filled with old growth trees, piney woods, and open green space.  It’s within easy walking and biking distance from many other beautiful parks, like Fenner Nature Center, Sycamore Golf Course, and Potter Park Zoo.  Hop on the River Trail and you can quickly access Ingham County Parks, downtown, and MSU.

It’s bordered on the north and the east by water (lots of it right now as the Red Cedar River and Sycamore Creek are very high due to heavy rain).

Looking north towards Potter Park Zoo

Looking north towards Potter Park Zoo

River High Water

Looking east along the Red Cedar








The green space assets of the neighborhood are stunning and on this beautiful June evening, the beauty of the area was on full display.  This area is known for its bird wildlife and is home to a heron rookery and a bald eagle’s nest.  Learn more in this Nature Discovery article.

Sycamore Park Neighborhood Association president Paul Wozniak provided a walking map (my first neighborhood to hand out maps for #WalkingWednesday!) Find our more about the Sycamore Park Neighborhood Association on Facebook.

Sycamore Park walking tour covering a part of every street in the neighborhood.

Sycamore Park walking tour covering a part of every street in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood has many long term residents.  Our tour was a mix of newer and longer term neighbors. Top reasons I heard for choosing Sycamore Park (in no order) were:

  • Proximity to downtown and MSU & convenience to everything
  • Access to the River Trail without crossing any major streets
  • Neighborhood friendliness

Houses are a mix of 1920s – 1940s single family homes with interesting architecture and tons of charm.

Mt. Hope Elementary

Mt. Hope Elementary School

Mt. Hope 4-6 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math) School sits on the neighborhood’s southern border.  The school playground, basketball courts, and green space add to the recreational opportunities & beauty of the neighborhood.  School leaders and the PTA partner with the neighborhood organization on many events.

Neighbors at one of the welcome signs.  Neighbors care for the planting/weeding of these entryways.

Neighbors at one of the welcome signs. Neighbors care for the planting/weeding of these entryways.

Bordered by both Pennsylvania Ave and Mt. Hope, commercial corridors have an impact on the neighborhood.  Neighbors are happy with the increased commercial activity at the Mt. Hope/Penn intersection with the addition of Central Pharmacy Vacancies still exist on the south side of Mt. Hope and neighbors are hoping for new tenants in those spaces.

Heading south along Pennsylvania Ave.

Heading south along Pennsylvania Ave.


Long time local businesses such as Smith Floral continue to provide commercial activity in the area

Looking south across Mt. Hope to Smith Floral

Looking south across Mt. Hope to Smith Floral







We waved to many neighbors enjoying the beautiful weather on their front porch and took a peek into the Little Free Library:

A little house of books

A little house of books








We headed back to the park for a summer time treat and were all really impressed with the watermelon slicer!

Paul introduces us to the wonders of the watermelon slicer

Paul introduces us to the wonders of the watermelon slicer












Thank you for your hospitality and the chance to meet many neighbors and see your beautiful homes. Enjoy the summer in your park in the city!

This #WalkingWednesday was the first attended by our AmeriCorps VISTA members in our Cities of Service Love Your Block program.  Learn more about their work and see their blog post about the Sycamore Park tour at Lansing Love Your Block



Cities of Service Lansing/Flint Peer Learning trip


I have the great fortune of working with Cities of Service a dynamic organization working to revitalize cities across the world through citizen engagement, impact volunteerism, and innovative approaches to municipal leadership.  Read about our recent trip to Flint for some peer learning with our Mayors & neighborhood leaders and see some of the innovative ways Flint residents are rebuilding their city:


Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero with Cities of Service staff

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero with Cities of Service staff

Why I still coach


Focusing like a laser and getting to your most important work requires a constant re-balancing of priorities and reassessment of skills, opportunities, and strategies.  It’s a continual effort to put your best work forward and peel back the effort in those areas that no longer serve you.  It’s taking risks, evaluating opportunities not just for today, but for the future.  It’s the privilege of getting to be selective and the sense that time is running short to be what you’re made to be.  It’s the recognition that the number of things you want to do and should do add up to more time and certainly more energy than actually exists.  It’s the light bulb that finally goes off that real contribution doesn’t come from cramming ever more into a week/day/year, but rather in being ruthless in deciding what gets your focus and attention.

Which brings me to this topic—why do I still coach gymnastics?  Why do I still allow the time and energy necessary at this time in my career to do something that supposedly I was qualified to do when I was 15 years old (I’m sure video footage of that teaching would surely prove otherwise).   Why do I put on the staff shirt and yoga pants and hang out alongside college kids and teach the same handful of skills I’ve been teaching for 25 years?  I am struggling with this—if I’m taking things off my plate, why does this remain?  Why do I want to add more of it?  Why am I writing this now rather than doing other work—who knows?  Here’s what I do know:

I coach because it’s the most complicated, intense work I’ve ever done.  It takes more thought, preparation, and expertise in multiple disciplines than any other work I do –and I work with some heavy hitting projects and people.  The stakes are high—these are young children, older children, and teenagers – what you say and do can stay with them for a lifetime and shape who they become as adults, parents, and leaders.

I coach because I’ve seen it done so poorly by others it makes me cry and seen it done so brilliantly it also makes me cry.  Because I’ve seen coaches like John Good build some of the best men I’ve ever known.

I coach because it’s a facet of my work where I simultaneously feel mastery and endless challenge.

I coach because it taught me how to parent and vice versa.  I’ve had parent/coach mentors like Lynne Horn say “parents are pretty easy, if we give you our kid for four hours, just come off the floor and tell us something about their practice”.  Simple, brilliant, endlessly helpful.  Or when trying to understand why a parent is so unbelievably appreciative of your efforts and generous with you like Nancy & Kevin Moody who told me “anyone who does right by your child and helps you get through the teenage years is someone you’ll do anything for”.  I didn’t get it then, now I do, because it’s any port in the storm time for us and we’re looking to constantly build our team.  Thank goodness and I see you Coach David, Coach Jay, Coach Tyler, Coach Chris, Coach Jones, Cody, Coach Block and so many more – we can’t do it without you.

I coach because I’ve had the privilege of studying at institutions like the University of North Texas, the George Washington University, and Michigan State University (2x grad school dropout), and I’ve never learned as much as when I was trying to figure out the right mix of psychology, physics, and communication techniques that were going to get an athlete over a skill development hump or a terrifying mental block.

I coach because in a deal with my husband I necessarily gave it up for 5 years as my “career” took off and I had to prioritize my time expenditures.  I did the next best thing and coached the best I could those professionals who were a couple rungs below me on the corporate ladder but way ahead of me in passion, skills, and aptitude.  I hope I taught them something that mattered – they certainly did teach me.

I coach because many of the north stars in my life yell at me when I’m not teaching enough, like Lesley Kovacs who just recently said my time spent in administration is a “soul—crushing waste of my life, and I better get back to teaching before I rot” (which I may be paraphrasing a bit, but I got her message).

I’ve had the honor of coaching/judging/choreographing at really high levels in the sport.  I’ve been a snob not wanting to waste what I thought then was my vast coaching talent on non-serious athletes.  I’ve since learned that I love working with anyone who has a body and would like to understand how to make it work in a multi-planar fashion.  Increasing someone’s movement vocabulary (one of my favorite phrases) is just about the coolest thing ever.

I coach athletes with cognitive impairment because helping someone figure out how to find the vertical axis on a forward roll and support a sometimes uncooperative body with two arms just might translate into the confidence needed to navigate an unforgiving world.

Most importantly I coach because it’s the only place I’ve never received feedback that I should “work on sitting still & talking in a lower voice” — some variation of which I’ve received on every report card and performance review  my entire life, whether in preschool or as a VP.

I coach because it’s how I learn.