In our third Friday Field Notes blog post we are welcoming back Jessica and Sandy from our first Friday Field Notes to hear the second part of their story. The previous post told how cooperative extension educators in Wisconsin worked with County Veterans Service Officers in their community to build capacity to address PTSD and Criminal Justice Response to Veterans in Crisis. Now their story continues. As you read this post, consider how your efforts to build community capacity to enhance the resilience and well-being of military families via job and career assistance might benefit from a collaboration with cooperative extension in your community.
Hello and welcome back to the rest of our story (so far). In our last Friday Field Notes update, we shared the story of how we began working with our local County Veterans Service Officer on an educational program geared toward helping various service providers and emergency workers understand appropriate responses to veterans in crisis. It was clear from the discussion and evaluations that there was a lot of interest in continuing to network with the agencies in attendance (and those not in attendance).
We never expected this one event to lead to much more than assistance in coalition building (in fact, we didn’t even have that expectation until after the first event). As it turned out, the local veterans home sent a few people to the event. Thanks to their incredibly dynamic PR Director, Amber, they had already been interested in doing their own educational programming and wanted to find out what others were doing.
Planning the Second Event – Forging a New Partnership
Amber and other staff at the Wisconsin Veterans Home – King had never heard of UW-Extension, and certainly had no idea that we could assist with educational programming in any way. When they connected with our local CVSO, Jesse, they were hoping to just find out how they could get Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for their speakers and professionals attending their event. Since we managed that process for Jesse, he connected Amber to us.
You could say that we initially injected ourselves into Amber’s programming – she needed CEUs, and we needed to be an integral part of the educational programming to provide the CEUs. However, once we sat down with Amber and explained UW-Extension’s mission in the community, that it included assisting non-profit and governmental entities such as the Wisconsin Veterans Home – King, the possibilities of a collaboration between our organizations became apparent – and seemingly endless! In fact, one of the requests from Amber’s office was for us to teach them about using Google Forms – which they ended up using to take in registrations.
So we were enthusiastically welcomed into the planning process for the first educational event, which occurred in January of 2016. Because of WVH – King’s connections across the state and its extensive email contacts, this event drew a larger crowd of just under one hundred. In attendance were local service providers that had attended the county sponsored event, people from surrounding counties, and even several from across the state.
Mental Health Awareness Summit, January 2016
Each of our planning meetings seemed to buzz with endless ideas. There was no lack of passion in the room, that’s for sure. In a room of endless ideas, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. At times it felt like we were moving forward with only a small understanding of intended outcomes, and we were running up against a very tight timeline. There was a need to find a way to come together to think about what we wanted the summit to accomplish. In the Extension world, we are often drilled to think of logic models—or, the importance of being purposeful in our programming to ensure we achieve our intended outcomes. Because we were brought into the planning process late, we did not have the luxury of time for this level of planning.
One way we were able to incorporate deliberate outcomes planning was by involving the stakeholders in the revision of the evaluation. When we work with groups, shared measurement and a common agenda are key components for collective impact. Using this thought process, we revised the evaluation tool, in collaboration with Amber and her staff at WVH – King. The changes were minor, but they offered an opportunity to consider outcomes. The edits to the evaluation also helped guide us for future planning by asking participants about potential topics for future events.
When planning the facilitated discussion, we decided to keep the format of the discussion very similar to the event we collaborated on with our CVSO. Again, this decision was not made without the input of our partner. Just like the first event, all of us were also interested in obtaining behavior change. We wanted to offer more than just “information and education.” Our hope was that this would provide some comparative data and the chance for deeper discussion. And it did.
After learning about suicide, various mental health resources, PTSD & Traumatic Brain Injury, dementia, and listening to heart-wrenching testimonials (agenda), it was time for discussion.
Given the size of the crowd, the configuration of the room, and the wide variety of organizational affiliation, we had to give up on our idea of separating the participants into “like” groups according to industry or profession. We asked participants to discuss possibilities for serving veterans and their families, and to identify things they can do without more resources or authority.
What were the top needs for serving veterans in our community/region?
The small group discussions provided a wealth of information, as well as two areas of overlap with the discussions at the smaller county-sponsored event. Qualitative analysis of the discussion notes revealed these top six needs for serving veterans in the community/region:
- More educational opportunities.
- More listening & understanding.
- More commitment/political support.
- More opportunities for collaboration/networking/coalitions.
- More outreach.
- Support for female veterans.
The two areas of overlap between the two events were: the need for more educational opportunities and more opportunities for networking.
The evaluations were another key role we played as Cooperative Extension educators. As a group, we had acknowledged the importance of the evaluation. Amber offered to have a raffle for those who turned their evaluation sheets in at the end. Now, if you have ever held a workshop, it often takes some nudging to convince people to take a few minutes. We were the only thing between them and lunch.
Well, we ended up having a long line of participants eagerly waiting to turn their evaluations in…that was a career first for both of us, and we couldn’t have done it without the generous dedication from Amber.
Overall, about 60% of the participants turned in an evaluation, and 100% of those that completed an evaluation stated that the workshop fulfilled their reason(s) for attending. By a large margin, participants found the testimonials to be the most helpful to them. No one reported that they found the discussion to be helpful, which we expected, but it was instrumental in helping us understand where to go next with this.
Cooperative Extension Adds Value
We have felt incredible lucky to have been able to work with Amber, and it seems that the feeling is mutual: “Collaboration with UW-Extension has opened up so many great opportunities to reach and educate various professions and community stakeholders. The resources UW-Extension provided and is able to provide opens up so many opportunities to reach more people, offer continuing education credit to pull in more interest, access to better processes and technology and software that enhances an educational event, etc. This partnership has me so excited for what we can do to bring much needed education to community stakeholders that ultimately can impact people’s lives in a positive way!” ~ Amber Nikolai, Director of PR at WVH-King
On the evaluations, participants were asked to share how they intend to use what they learned during the summit. While we had many passionate answers, this one was the most common – and it is a great example of a ripple effect.
What will the future bring for us and this effort?
This partnership – both internal and with our external partners – is a good example of how Extension helps transform communities. Today, more than ever, we know the value and necessity of coordinated, collaborative efforts. Whether it is within our own organization (in our case, Family Living and Community Development program areas) or with external relationships, we achieve more when we work together. One thing we noticed during the discussion portion was the time spent on introductions in the beginning, rather than immediately answering the questions. In our opinion, this was time well-spent because although all of the participants shared an interest in veteran issues, this summit became a place to meet new colleagues, friends and potential partners.
This fledgling network has led to some additional efforts, also. Shortly after the summit, Sandy introduced Amber to the local suicide prevention coalition, as well as an annual community services resource event—neither of which she or her staff had been a part of before. There is now a mental health awareness walk planned in the fall, as the result of the organizations joining forces.
As Coop Extension educators we may not always be directly in front of a classroom teaching, but we educate and transform in other ways. Extension is often known as the “backbone” organization, working to sustain and move work forward. But we obviously don’t do it alone—we need our partners, too.
Thank you for reading our story. We hope you found it helpful!
Jessica became passionate about communities while growing up as a military kid, making frequent cross-country moves and living in many different cities. After obtaining her Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Studies at UW-Green Bay, she proceeded to work in just about every sector of community development – Geographic Information Systems, urban planning and zoning, and economic development. In 2014, Jessica finished her Master of Arts degree in Communications & Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University, and began her journey as an educator with the University of Wisconsin Coop Extension where her current focus includes building capacity and facilitating an environment conducive to resilient communities.
Sandy Liang is a Family Living Educator for Waupaca County with the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Her work includes community assessments, parenting education and family support for at-risk populations. Liang enjoys collaborative efforts, and is on several coalitions to support families in the county. She believes that together, we create a community to support thriving, resilient individuals and families.
Liang has a M.S. from Purdue University in Child Development and Family Studies. One particular project she enjoyed working on at Purdue was “The Purple Wagon” project, investigating children’s understanding and emotions relating to issues of war and peace.
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