Coalition Building Webinar: Reflections

Wow! If you were one of the 180 attendees on Wednesday’s “Coalition Building: How to Build & Strengthen Partnerships within your School Community” Webinar call, I have to believe you were as completely blown away as I was by the information our experts shared with us on how they have successfully created partnerships to help feed hungry kids. In fact, there was so much incredible information shared that I was positively exhausted afterward. It reminded me of how I felt last year after attending a TEDx conference: inspired and excited! A fellow TEDx attendee used a phrase that I just have to co-opt; he called it a “fire hose of inspiration” and that is exactly how I felt when I got off of the Coalition Building webinar—like I’d been hit with a fire hose full of great ideas and I didn’t know where to start.

Madeleine Levin, MPH: Senior Policy Analyst, FRAC

Madeleine kicked off the discussion with information on how anti-hunger organizations and school nutrition professionals can form successful partnerships. She shared some creative ideas on how anti-hunger groups can help school nutrition programs through initiatives like school meal application campaigns and grant writing, and she punctuated her points with success stories from DC Hunger Solutions and DC public schools, Ohio’s Children’s Hunger Alliance, and Project Bread, among others.

Madeleine encouraged using anti-hunger groups to help in the coalition building process in order to strengthen and expand school food programs. Shared goals create a natural environment for coalition building which Madeleine illustrated beautifully. If you are interested in tapping into additional FRAC resources, don’t forget about their Breakfast Matters call series. Their next one is on March 24 at 3 p.m. (ET) and will focus on “Working with Principals on Breakfast in the Classroom”.

Mark Terry, Principal: Eubanks Intermediate School-Carroll ISD, Southlake, TX

Next we heard from Mark Terry, who gave a compelling comparison of his old school district—a low SES urban district with a high ELL population, an 85% free/reduced qualifying rate, and a high need for meal and nutrition education services—and his current district, which is more affluent with a much lower free/reduced qualification rate and a community of parents who have high expectations for student success and a healthy lifestyle. Mark had great suggestions for how to engage reluctant principals, such as approaching them by tying in one of their personal interests (he gave the example of a running club) with the goals of the program you want to implement. I was struck by his illustrations of the wide SES (socioeconomic status) variation between his previous and current districts; at his old district there was a need for parents to receive nutritional education but at his current district they serve sushi at football games. Sushi at football games! That stuck with me.

Michael Eugene: COO Orange County Public Schools, Orange County, FL

I think Michael’s job description says it all: as COO at OCPS he oversees the areas of Food & Nutrition Services, Transportation, IT, Safety & Security, Purchasing, Warehouse, Building Code Compliance and Administrative Operations. I wonder if Michael ever gets to sleep!

Michael provided the discussion with some great tips on how to work with COO/CBOs. His approach was very statistical and “data based”, and Michael backed up his suggestions with hard numbers and specific organizations. What really impressed me most was his emphasis on specificity: changing policy language from suggestive to requirement-based; recommending clear articulation of “pillars of success” to support a program’s foundation; and his “six areas of management”: Financial, Organizational, Operational, Technology, Customer/marketing and Legislative.

Lori Dather, RD LD: Health & Wellness Program Manager, Midwest Dairy Council (Arkansas, Eastern OK, Southwest MO)

Lori did a wonderful job of bringing the entire webinar together. Her photographs and accompanying talking points provided a visual illustration of how successful coalition building results in lasting partnerships. Her suggestions for approaching leaders included focusing on their goals and the benefits a program will bring to their area(s) of responsibility, how student and school environments can benefit, as well as focusing on results, including having good research and credible sources along with testimonials and success stories to shore up your position.

Two things Lori said resonated with me: first, her emphasis on involving kids and getting them engaged in the process. I loved this point because encouraging kids to take leadership roles on issues that directly affect them will serve them well throughout their lives. Second, Lori suggested using visual tools for coalition building; pictures really are worth a thousand words and Lori knows it; telling versus showing is a great lesson that I took away from Lori’s presentation. Yeah, yeah, I know – I’m a writer! I think there’s room for both the telling and the showing, and I was happy that Lori made the point.

If you want to view the archived webinar, go to

Image credit: Anna Bauer

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