Saturday, June 09, 2007

Coaching trail blazers

Coaching trail blazers
April 5, 2007 issue of 7 Paths e-letter

“Dad, I didn’t get the Community Foundation grant,” my daughter, Hannah Hackworth, said in a phone call last week. “That’s the eighth grant I’ve applied for and didn’t get.”

I love to coach trail blazers, those folks like Hannah who head off into the wilderness, determined to find collaborators who will co-create a new nonprofit or a new program.

Years ago Terri Barton, executive director of Urban Jacksonville, a Florida nonprofit that has served elders and their families for over thirty years, recognized that older Americans often have unmet mental health needs.

For instance, the suicide rate among older adults in the United States is 50 percent higher than all other age groups.

Three years ago Hannah was hired to coordinate a mental health assessment and referral program for Urban Jacksonville. Through her work she discovered an unmet need for a community process to address to the well being of older adults who have severe mental health disorders, medical problems, and complex life domain needs. Such folks are at risk for suicide, homelessness, incarceration, exploitation, neglect, hospitalization or long-term care placement.

“At the heart of the problem,” Hannah says, “our current health systems are highly fragmented and a source of utter confusion” for elders who often find themselves interacting with numerous doctors, hospitals, home health agencies, senior programs, etc.

Hannah’s solution is not to create a new nonprofit but to create a new way for existing nonprofits and governmental organizations to meet the mental health needs of older adults.

Concord, New Hampshire has developed a model community process that Hannah wants to adapt for Jacksonville, a much larger city. Through the model nonprofits “wrap services around” the individual, through innovative, community-based and comprehensive coordinated services.

This week she hosted a meeting of 31 government and nonprofit leaders to identify the gaps in mental health services to elders and to begin to lay the groundwork for the wraparound program in Jacksonville. On the way out of the meeting a Jacksonville official said, “I’ve been working for the city for thirty-one years and this is one of the best meeting I’ve ever been to.“

As a nonprofit trailblazer, Hannah faces the same challenges as business entrepreneurs who search for partners and pitch investors for the funds they need to launch their business.

At my suggestion, she contacted someone in the Community Foundation who worked with her on another project. Rather than ask why she didn’t get the grant, she asked for help in improving her application. Next Tuesday she has a meeting with a foundation official who will help her improve her application.

Hannah, like other nonprofit trail blazers, has wandered into the wilderness with a clear vision of the treasure--how to meet a crucial unmet need in the human community.

She’ll keep searching for companions to co-create the treasure of wraparound community process for elders with mental health issues. And when she finds them together they will do what none of them could do alone.

Wisdom for the week: Nonprofit treasures are created one conversation at a time.

Fare thee well, Rich

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