Guest Blog: Seeing What Takes Shape in Plainfield, NJ
By Antonia (Toni) Lewis, MPH, Health Officer
County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Community Coach
It was a day or so after the Healthy Plainfield coalition’s team presented community data to an audience of government officials, hoping to elicit a call for action. The coalition meeting on this day, designed to delve into the Blueprint for Action, turned out to be the perfect time to review the earlier presentation. As the New Jersey Roadmaps to Health coach for NJHI’s Communities Moving to Action coalitions across the state, including Plainfield’s, I provide technical expertise regarding components of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program. That expertise includes the Take Action cycle, a framework to support the coalitions as they strategize and begin to make changes in their communities. I use a coaching model of asking questions intended to generate ideas, but more importantly, to prompt actions to improve progress in the coalitions’ work of building a healthier New Jersey.
I asked the team, “Looking forward, what might you do differently next time you find yourself in front of elected officials?”
Listening as the Plainfield coalition discussed their recent presentation, I asked the team, “Looking forward, what might you do differently next time you find yourself in front of elected officials?” This led to a frank conversation that steered the coalition to another course of action that provides a more strategic presentation of community data, and includes a specific appeal to influencers.
My role as a coach is to offer resources to address a community coalition’s specified needs throughout this work of addressing barriers to health and challenges to building effective coalitions. The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps’ website features tools developed by top-notch communications firms. These tools help groups such as the Plainfield coalition to craft messaging for various audiences. Once created, the messaging can certainly be used elsewhere, for example, in the Blueprint for Action. When the Plainfield coalition members who are developing the Blueprint for Action viewed the writing process as an enormous challenge, I adopted the role of Mover (based on the Kantor Institute’s Four-Player Model/the Four Team Roles) to help them swiftly move past an alleged obstacle and asked, “Could the majority, let’s say 85%, of the Blueprint for Action include the good work already in progress by the multiple groups in your coalition?” The team discussed a variety of ways to tap into existing planned actions. They quickly agreed that once the solidified work is taken into account, what remains are opportunities that can lead to a healthy future for Plainfield. One team member reflected that “everything crystalized from this conversation.”
The team quickly agreed that once the solidified work is taken into account, what remains are opportunities that can lead to a healthy future for Plainfield.
As a coach, I feel like my work is done when a very capable group of people coalesce over their own self-derived solutions. My fellow Roadmaps to Health coaches also use questions to create opportunities for individuals to reflect aloud and be heard. Usually, other coalition partners will respond to follow-up questions designed to expand and extend their thinking about the local community’s health needs, innovations to address them, and key influencers and audiences who must be engaged to sustain this work.
Antonia (Toni) Lewis is a Community Coach at County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Toni’s role is to provide guidance to leadership teams working together to adopt programs, policies, systems, and environmental change to create healthier places to live, learn, work, and play. Her interest in working with communities began in Mercer County, New Jersey where she worked as a Project Director for the Greater Mercer Public Health Partnership. Her coalition work developed into the Mercer County Health Assessment and Improvement Plan with funding from New Jersey Health Initiatives, a grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She has worked in development and community outreach at various non-profit organizations primarily in health care quality and access, education, and maternal and child health. Toni is a NJ Department of Health licensed Health Officer and Registered Environmental Health Specialist. Toni received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Ramapo College and Master of Public Health from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
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