Collaboratives and Communities

Imagine communities where…

Parents engage fully in the lives, education and health of their children.

Families learn how to create financial stability.

Community members create food systems, health systems, financial systems and educational systems that create a level playing field.

Initiatives foster more honest communication and effective feedback structures.

People share a common belief that all humans have the ability to create meaningful and happy lives.

Seasoned leaders, nonprofit staff and emerging leaders have the support, time and energy to engage in professional development to effect change in their communities.

We envision coaching skills embedded in communities everywhere, so that parents, teachers, caseworkers and change makers thrive. We are committed to bringing coaching to communities to unlock potential, engage all stakeholders and include marginalized groups.

Bridges to Tomorrow

Gheens Bridges to Tomorrow (B2T) in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A. is an exciting example of how coaching can support community initiatives. The project is a unique collaborative that involves nonprofits, foundations, corporate donors, community centers, volunteers and families who are working together toward the common goal of ensuring children are prepared to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

For B2T, coaching is central to the way this ambitious collaborative improves children’s and families’ success. Gheens, one of the largest private foundations in Kentucky, U.S.A., invited a number of Louisville nonprofit organizations to submit concept ideas for how they might “make a lasting impact on the community” with a large grant from the foundation. This invitation unleashed the creative energy of staff at Louisville’s Metro United Way. Their concept paper combined early childhood development with financial stability for families, with the assumption that children’s success in school would dramatically improve if their families were economically secure.

Gheens chose to invest $2 million over four years in Metro United Way’s proposal because it was “pioneering and entrepreneurial.”1 That initial risk-taking investment started a revolutionary new approach to supporting families and communities by putting the parents and their children at the center.

The B2T initiative supports families through four childcare and early childhood development neighborhood centers in the most economically disadvantaged communities in Louisville. The program incorporates a creative curriculum for early childhood development, family coaches working one-on-one with family leaders, and a comprehensive set of community resource partners committed to serving parents in areas of education, health, financial services and employment.

Early in the initiative, executives and key staff of all partner agencies, including Metro United Way, participated in coaching training. They were so taken by the approach; they decided to make coaching the cornerstone for the service delivery model. In 2008, Leadership that Works worked with the Bridges program to train local coaches and provide on-going support to ensure the coaching culture would be fully embedded in the initiative. The program included on-site training over two years and mentoring for executive directors, senior staff and family coaches. In addition, a local mentor supported the family coaches based at the neighborhood centers.

Armed with new coaching skills and the charge to build relationships with parents at the neighborhood centers, the family coaches reached out to dozens of family leaders and established relationships. In July 2008, Spalding University of Louisville began a program evaluation of Bridges to Tomorrow.2 The report states that Bridges has implemented “a number of best practices along with a particularly outstanding broad-based approach.” 3 It points out that, “empowering people as Bridges to Tomorrow does, although often a slower process than more directive approaches, also holds greater promise of more long-lasting change.” While the Bridges program faces many challenges, not least among them is sustainable funding for this broad-based, family focused approach, the Spalding findings illustrate the promising potential for coaching as a core strategy:

A number of the family leaders have reported positive changes at a level well beyond initial expectations. They have described dramatic shifts in attitudes and behaviors not only regarding their financial decisions but also affecting their health and family relationships either in service of their financial changes or as results of them. Although the family leaders particularly attribute these changes to the family coaches and to the coaches’ empowerment approach, they also credit a number of other components such as the sense of community that has developed among family leaders and the mutual support and accountability that has grown among them. In addition, many participants and staff have been impressed by the project’s commitment to a shared vision, which has helped them feel included in it.4

Early Childhood Connections

Similarly, in the Early Childhood Connections (ECC) project in Battle Creek, Michigan, because many young children in their community are at risk of failing before they have the opportunity to begin reaching their potential, the ECC project employs family coaches. These coaches visit the families of every newborn infant in the county. Trained to evaluate and assess infants and their home surroundings, the family coaches provide an important link to the wider community. In many cases, only one home visit is needed to start the infant and family on the road to a successful future. In the event that needs are identified, the coach links the family to appropriate community services and connects them to a virtual family resource center. Subsequent follow-up visits are managed by the family coach along with any referred agency representatives. The coach, in conjunction with the local school district, provides the family with an introduction to the school community. This “Crib to Kindergarten” approach helps build a family-school relationship, ensuring initial school success, while paving the way for ongoing success in school.

ECC recognizes that an empowerment model engages families in a way that builds rapport and engagement. Coaching is at the heart of this initiative. With a common language and coaching skills in their tool box, the family coaches listen to what family leaders want for their children, and help them create the plans to succeed as their “child’s first teacher.”

Not satisfied to have coaching embedded only in their program, the ECC project also provides coaching skills training to many of their collaborating agencies that the families in Battle Creek might also work with. The goal is to bring this coaching language and orientation to the whole community, so that families who interface with many social service agencies can engage fully with an empowerment orientation.

On the horizon

Providing coaching services and coaching skills training to community members is an emerging trend for social change coaching. Family leaders (parents and guardians) who received coaching in these projects, asked for additional training to help them support their children more effectively. The new horizon includes coaching as life skills training, shared directly with parents. Coaching helps families view their lives differently, become empowered to plan better futures for themselves and their children, and design strategies to support their life goals. These examples affirm the possibilities of working directly with community members—especially in low income communities. When everyone has access to coaching skills, regardless of their income level, the possibilities for community change are endless.

Consider a brighter future where:

Children create exciting visions for their lives and learn to design support systems to keep

their dreams alive.

Pre-teens and teens peer coach one another during their challenging years.

Gang members communicate effectively to reduce violence.

Community groups work collaboratively rather than competitively.

Parents and teachers collaborate more effectively to support children’s learning and


Youth communicate their feelings, needs and requests more effectively with parents and other

adults in their lives.

One area where the benefit of providing the skills directly to people who need them is taking hold is through volunteer efforts in prisons. When groups of inmates are taught coaching, communication and conflict resolution skills, they integrate the learning in ways that empower them to make life-altering choices—both within the prison and upon their return to the community. They use the skills not only to change the way they interact with other inmates; they plan their futures, peer coach one another informally, and collaborate with outside facilitators to lead training.

1 Dare to Dream Bigger, a First Year Diary of the Gheens Bridges to Tomorrow Initiative, Metro United Way, p.1

2 Gheens Bridges to Tomorrow, Program Evaluation, Year Two: 2008-2009, Evaluation Team: Ken Linfield et al., 2010.

3 IBID, p. 2

4 IBID, pp. 1-2

Excerpt from Coaching for Transformation by Lasley, Kellogg, Michaels and Brown.

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