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

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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.

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Why I still coach

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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.

Lauderhill Students Continue to Create Change

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As the summer concludes, the Lauderhill Y teens continue to make progress on their community action plan.  Over 50 Lauderhill teens spent their summer at the Y in the Teen Leadership Institute engaging in a variety of activities including meeting numerous times with FIU professors and city leaders to continue their Art of Community project with funding from the Community Foundation of Broward.  This fall, a full scale public art project will be installed around the Overpath, creating a community gathering place where once there was high crime and unsafe conditions. The teens were featured in the Sun Sentinel for their leadership and continued progress towards their goals.  We are so proud to work on behalf of these students.

http://touch.sun-sentinel.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-76920385/

Lauderhill Students Welcome the Country to Broward

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http://browardnetonline.com/2013/05/students-and-broward-county-to-be-featured-during-national-healthy-communities-conference/

It was a packed week of conferences, policy roundtables, and trainings.

A highlight was the  PHC/REACH conference and the Lauderhill tour and student panel.  Follow more highlights at http://www.livewelllauderhill.wordpress.com