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Dear friends and colleagues,
What an honor it has been to serve as Executive Director of the Build Healthy Places Network for the past decade. It’s incredibly rewarding to have had the opportunity to play an early role in the movement to link community development and health because, as we’ve often said, by joining forces we can have a more powerful impact on reducing poverty, improving health, and advancing racial equity.
It was 10 years ago this month that I submitted my first grant proposal to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation requesting support in linking these two disconnected sectors. That first tentative planning grant led to more robust funding and, with the help of Colby Dailey, the first of many amazing people who risked joining me in this effort to build a new field, we formally launched the Build Healthy Places Network (BHPN) in 2014.
We’ve had an amazing run, and we’re nowhere near stopping. But after a decade at BHPN, I’ve decided that it is time for me to step away, take some time off, reflect on our successes and our challenges, and consider the next chapter of my career. I’m certainly not leaving the effort to improve neighborhoods in order to improve health, but I may be doing it from a different vantage point. From where, I’ve not yet decided, but that’s what makes this next step exciting.
The great news is that BHPN is in an excellent position to continue the important work that we’ve begun. We have strong philanthropic partners and an active advisory services program. But even more importantly, I’m fortunate to have our two remarkable Senior Directors, Ruth Thomas-Squance and Colleen Flynn, who will be stepping up to take on the shared role of leading the Network going forward. Ruth and Colleen have been working closely with me and with each other for years now and will ably and with great passion lead BHPN into the future.
There are many people who I want to acknowledge. Thanks first to my amazing team both now and in the past; you’ve made this work both meaningful and enormously fun. Thank you to Mary Pittman and everyone at the Public Health Institute (PHI). When the Build Healthy Places Network was just a twinkle in my eye, the team at PHI stepped up, helped me turn it into a reality, and supported our continued growth and development. And, of course, I want to thank our major funders including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Kresge Foundation, Blue Shield of California Foundation, WK Kellogg Foundation, and the California Wellness Foundation. Your support of our vision allowed us to play a central and national role at the intersection of community development and health.
I also have to give special thanks to a group of leaders at RWJF who took an early risk in supporting this venture and the field-building that it represented. They include Jim Marks, Jane Lowe, Elane Arkin, and Abbey Cofsky who helped me get my nascent organization up and off the ground, and Don Schwarz, Amy Slonim, and Amy Gillman who helped shepherd and support our continued development in more recent years. I have tremendous thanks for my UC Berkeley mentor and population health guru/curmudgeon, Len Syme, and my early “kitchen cabinet” of David Erickson, Nancy Andrews, and Lisa Richter. Without you none of this would have happened.
Other colleagues – many now friends – also played a critical role by supporting the shift in my career path, serving on my earliest advisory council, or otherwise grounding me in the cross-sector nature of the work. They include Nancy Adler, John Auerbach, Raphael Bostic, Jo Ivey Boufford, Tom Boyce, Mollyann Brodie, Antony Bugg-Levine, Lisa Chamberlain, Audrey Choi, Bechara Choucair, Alison Coleman, Kimberly Cornett, Annie Donovan, David Fukuzawa, David Fleming, Ian Galloway, Neal Halfon, Ted Howard, Kelly Kelleher, David Kindig, Ronda Kotelchuck, Kaja LeWinn, Michael McGinnis, Sister Lillian Murphy, Carol Naughton, Dan Nissenbaum, Tyler Norris, Mark Pinsky, Ela Rausch, Jack Shonkoff, Maggie Super Church, John Vu and Julie Willems van Dijk.
Over the past 10 years there have been, of course, many, many other important partners and colleagues along the way. I thank you immensely for your friendship, collegiality, and the support you provided to me, Build Healthy Places, and this important cross-sector work.
Are we where we thought we’d be 10 years into this effort? Perhaps not. But I believe that we’ve still made enormous progress. Housing as health? It’s almost cliché now. Healthcare and health insurers seeing neighborhood investment as a way to improve health? Certainly normalized if not yet the norm or at the scale we might wish. Community developers and housers recognizing health as a key outcome of their work? Check. Banks and investors actively using community development finance to advance population health and reduce racial & health disparities? Mmmmm, a ways to go, but the exciting thing is how many are now overtly working on it.
My last day at BHPN will be December 7th, 2022. This will give Ruth, Colleen, and me time to ensure a smooth transition. As I mentioned, I’ve got no next job yet in the works, so let me know if you come across a position for which you think I might be a good fit! And many of you may receive a call or email in a few months when I begin to explore my next steps. Here is my contact address once I’ve moved on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you again for the incredible experience. It’s been the work of a lifetime and, clearly, will require a lifetime of work.
Please enjoy the photos below of the many fun times and amazing team members at Build Healthy Places Network over the years.