I have the honor of serving as President and CEO of the Raritan Bay Area YMCA, a partner in the Healthier Perth Amboy coalition supported by New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI). Our Healthier Perth Amboy leadership team works closely with the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Community Coach for New Jersey, Toni Lewis. From my perspective as project director, Toni is a great coach because she never directly gives us the answers, yet this can be a bit frustrating at times.
She contends that her approach to helping us address health priorities in Perth Amboy is no accident. “As a coach, I don’t know what it’s like to be in your shoes,” she told me. “My role is to bring up the things I’ve noticed about your work and let you and your community partners determine your own direction. At the end of the day, all of you are going to make a difference in Perth Amboy, not me. Your coalition already has the resources to impact health; you don’t need me to give you the answers.”
The goal for our HERO Forum workshop was to take the theme of the conference and get participants thinking about how workplace wellness expands beyond the bounds of the workplace.
When Toni and I started planning a breakout session for the HERO Forum, a conference advancing workplace health, we looked to this coaching model to turn the traditional conference presentation on its head. Instead of planning a lecture from the podium, we wanted to let participants determine the direction and impact of their experience. Toni and I were confident that this would be a prime opportunity to go interactive and take advantage of the knowledge and enthusiasm that would be in the room. I appreciate the benefits that can come from an unorthodox presentation. As an example, our coalition had presented a modified version of the hit reality show “Shark Tank” to the NJHI program office as part of our proposal for funding for our work.
The goal for our workshop was to take the theme of the conference – workplace wellness – and get participants thinking and talking about how that expands beyond the bounds of the workplace. I wanted the attendees to answer the question: “How do we get people to think about their business as an integral part of their community and communicate how what they’re doing impacts their community for good?” Toni and I split the participants into groups and asked them to create public service announcements (PSAs) highlighting ways business could demonstrate their community values and impact.
We were pleased to see this format spark innovation and promote teamwork among the participants. Their PSAs were creative and compelling, demonstrating effective strategies businesses could use to communicate their integration with and support for the community.
And it did more than reframe the experience for participants. Planning and executing this workshop was an opportunity for me to take on Toni’s usual role as coach and ask guiding questions to help participants navigate the process of articulating their thoughts, and trusting that those doing the work know more than they may even realize. Toni says it was an opportunity to share strategies from our New Jersey communities with others across the nation. We both believe that this HERO Forum experience will continue to inspire our coalition to use innovative leadership and convening strategies to engage partners and guide our community forward to a Culture of Health. I invite you to learn more about our work in Perth Amboy, and read more about Toni’s coaching for our fellow NJHI coalition, Healthy Plainfield, here.