Leadership academy graduates improving their communities

As 2016 winds down, we begin our annual blog series where Health Forward associates review highlights from our work this past year. In our fourth post, Brenda Calvin and Adriana Pecina reflect on the success of the Healthy Communities Leadership Academy. Join us as we look back on 2016. 

Three years ago, Health Forward began what we called an experiment of sorts. We called that experiment the Healthy Communities Leadership Academy (HCLA).

Our challenge was to find leaders working individually to improve access to healthy eating, active living and tobacco prevention, and bring them together to leverage their collective strengths to mobilize under-resourced communities for change.

It began in May 2014 as a year-long program with 15 participants representing a wide variety of sectors — education, neighborhood and economic development, hospitals, mental health, health departments, and community-based organizations.

We used an integrated approach of policy, leadership and collaboration training. The result was astounding. When you remove the boundaries from fields that are natural allies, great things can happen. Our participants came from varied backgrounds and held a variety of perspectives, yet they learned together so deeper problems and exciting solutions emerged.

Three years and 42 graduates later, responses show our experiment was a success. Through workshops, individual coaching, action-learning sessions and mentorships, we’ve successfully helped to develop a critical mass of change agents, local expertise and field capacity to effect policy and community environment changes. Together, these result in improved health choices for the underserved.

Here are two recent examples of our graduates successfully influencing the health of the community around them:

  • Dina Newman was one of our original 15 academy graduates. At the time, she was the health initiatives manager and advocate for change at the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council. And she did some spectacular work for Ivanhoe. Through the relationships and skills she gained at the academy, she now has the chance to help more neighborhoods thrive through her new work at the Center for Neighborhoods, which influences positive community change through capacity-building, community development and neighborhood stabilization. http://info.umkc.edu/cfn/
  • Shannon Criss, a 2014 HCLA graduate, is an architect working for the KU School of Architecture. Shannon brought her enthusiasm and the knowledge she learned from the academy back to KU, where they established the Dotte Agency. This agency helps KU School of Architecture share design resources and expertise with the community. It also gives the community a direct channel of communication back to the school and an opportunity to tap into the resources and expertise that is now available through the KU School of Architecture. Shannon has been able to leverage the skills learned and relationships to make the project successful.

These examples are just two of many. We are proud of all our graduates and the work they put forth during and after the leadership academy.

Participants tell us they’ve gained confidence and developed skills to persevere in operational ambiguity. They have an enhanced understanding of civic leadership, policy and systems change, and community collaboration.

They feel more adaptive to solve complex challenges, more able to act purposely, and better prepared to take part in true collaboration that will lead their community in making the healthy choice, the easy choice.

One graduate said “To be influential we must stay curious, authentic and check our defaults. Challenges are opportunities, so dress in layers when the heat rises and learn to float in murkiness.”

Just when we think we know how amazing the Kansas City-area healthy communities field is, you prove to us in new ways that you are not yet done innovating and striving for the most effective programs and solutions. A few weeks ago, we welcomed a new class of HCLA participants. Their eagerness is contagious. We can’t wait to see how this group will interact and turn challenges into opportunities, and learn to float in the murkiness of being change agents in their community.

To learn and see more about the HCLA, please watch our video.

Read more from authors in this series:

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