The Trouble with Collaboration

By Craig Nash  

“The Texas Hunger Initiative is a capacity-building collaborative organization… “ 

So begins the official description of what my organization does. Like most first words of a mission statement, it is full of all the pretty phrases, designed to make you feel good about what is coming next. And when it works, it does create positive energy, but “collaboration” can be one of the most difficult tricks to pull off in the non-profit world. And as we all know, you can delete “non-profit” from the previous sentence and it functions just as well. 

Working together isn’t something we are hardwired to do. A visit to the nearest playground right before naptime will provide sufficient evidence of this fact. But by the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood, we begin to understand, whether by intuition or inculcation, that it is something we should do– If for no other reason than to get a “Works well with others” stamp beside our name.  

Having spent some of my time in ministry, and much (read: all) of my life in churches, the inability for faith communities to collaborate with each other is an oft-stated frustration of many, both inside and outside of congregations. “Why can’t we all just work together” is the refrain that has sparked numerous joint fellowship-dinners and worship services, each of which fizzle out once the churches actually start talking about working on a project together. Now that I’ve been around non-profits and other businesses for a short amount of time, I am seeing that it is not a phenomenon exclusive to churches.  

Why is collaboration so difficult? 

I think a story I heard recently may hold the clue. (I’m being especially vague in the telling to protect the identities of all parties involved.) 

An employee of a business and her boss were in a meeting. The agenda was for both of them to dream and talk about what her future in the organization might look like. The boss asked her, “If you could do anything within our business, what would it be?” She thought about it for a while and then laid out her “Dream Scenario” for her next few years within the organization. The boss thought about it for a few moments, then responded with, “I’m going to have to say ‘no.’ The things you have described are not in my professional best interest.” It should go without saying that the relationship between the employee and this organization was not long for this world. 

The moral of this story isn’t that two parties can’t cooperate unless they are willing to lay aside some of their individual personal interests for the good of the partnership. (Though that is a good moral, it’s not the moral of MY TELLING of this story.)  This scenario could have gone better, but I don’t think what happened here is the worst example of collaboration, because it has the one element that often causes collaborative partnerships to fizzle out. You guessed it—Honesty. The boss had no problem laying all his personal goals and ambitions on the table, as well as his unwillingness to budge with regards to what his employee wanted to happen.

I suppose this isn’t necessarily a story about the value of collaboration, but rather about the value of not wasting each other’s time if collaboration isn’t possible. It takes a little bit of a dance to pull solid collaboration off, with one party figuring out when to lead and when to follow, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “You know, I don’t want to dance.” In fact, if you don’t want to dance, saying so is preferable to all the other linguistic gymnastics many often go through in an attempt to be nice. 

Luckily, when it comes to partnering together to alleviate food insecurity in Waco, there are a number of organizations that ARE willing to dance the dance.  

I’ve been charged with a clear mission: To drastically increase the amount of students in the Heart of Texas Region who are participating in child nutrition programs offered through the Texas Department of Agriculture, such as School Breakfast, After School and Summer meals. The Texas Hunger Initiative believes this is one of the most efficient and effective tools in solving the problem of childhood hunger. It’s not the only efficient and effective tool, though. Other organizations like Pack-of-Hope, Caritas and local churches have other “clear missions” centered on other tools. We have each found ways to “dance,” knowing that a rising tide lifts all ships.  

The word “collaboration” is a lot more fun to say than it is to do. There is sweat involved. And differing opinions about “best practices,” not to mention egos and reputations at stake. I am thankful to live in a community working hard trying to figure it out.  


craig Nash.pngCraig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.

 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

See you at the Station!

By Beth Armstrong

It was another warm September morning in 2015 when I was in my car driving to my next appointment for work. I was listening to the radio, as I often do, and heard the news of another, the fourth, police officer who had been shot and killed while on duty. His death was the most recent in a series of killings over the span of a few weeks that had taken place across the country last summer. Not wanting to deal with anymore horrific news, I turned off the radio and drove on in silence for the next few miles.  I thought to myself, someone should do something. Someone should change the conversation. Someone should stand up and DO SOMETHING; ANYTHING. In that moment, I heard a quiet voice whisper, “You’re somebody. Why don’t you?”

I am just a wife. I just a mom. I am just an employee. I am just a volunteer. I have no ties or connections to law enforcement. What could I possibly do? I drove on towards my destination that morning with that feeling that I should ‘do something’ lingering. As if a switched flipped in my mind, I thought about the national movement of “See You At The Pole” where students across the country gather at their flag poles one morning each September and pray for their school. What if we gathered at our local police stations and did just that? Prayed. Pray for safety; pray for integrity; pray for hearts to be changed? Whatever it is that you feel led to pray for, what if we prayed?

I syats-logoposted that simple idea on my Facebook page and within minutes had dozens of comments. A few hours later, I created a Facebook event page and titled it, “See You At The Station” in honor of the national, “See You At The Pole” rallies. In 36 hours, over 30,000 people had been invited. By the end of the second week, it had spread across the country to over 30 states. Our short window of 3 weeks, led to 65,000 people being invited in 35 states, hundreds of locations and thousands of people involved. Picture after picture after picture of people encircling their local police station gathered in prayer were posted the morning of the 2015 See You At The Station event. Pictures of groups of 1 or two people, dozens of people, and groups of hundreds were shared. For the people who came to pray or to be prayed over, I believe it changed them. For me, I know it forever changed me.

It is once again September. This month, we have two different opportunities to pray for our community.  For those of us involved with SYATS, we still believe that the men and women who serve and protect us across the nation could use our prayer. So, I’m inviting you to come; pray. On Wednesday, September 21 at 7:15am wherever you live in whatever state, find your nearest police station and go pray for the men and women who work there. The following week, on Wednesday, September 28, students and their families across the country will be gathering at flagpoles before the start of school to pray over their campus and all who step foot there.

We often talk about wanting ‘Someone’ to ‘Do Something’. What if that ‘Someone’ is YOU? YOU could be somebody’s miracle. YOU CAN DO SOMETHING. Sometimes it requires feeling a little unsure; a little uneasy but taking a bold step of faith and courage to make a difference. You praying for these men and women might change them and impact their life, but if you let it, it might also change you and your life. Will you join with me and pray on Wednesday, September 21 at 7:15am, wherever you live, go to your local police station and just pray? I hope to See YOU At The Station too!

If you’d like more information about SYATS or want to share it with others, please check out the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/seeyouatthestation/


Beth ArmstrongBeth Armstrong is married to Chris, and they have 2 kiddos: Hunter who is almost seven and Ella who just turned two. I addition to her fulltime job, she has been a member of the Junior League of Waco for 13 years.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more

 

Moving to Waco: In Short

 By Leilani Mueller  

Three nights ago Felicity, my one-year-old daughter, tried running. She was wearing her long maxi-dress, with the ruffles around the top and the bottom. She tried with all her little might to run after her two-year-old friend who had a ball. Into the long grass, she went. The thick grass was taller than her knees. She stumbled on the grass and her skirt, but stood up again, and again. She tried so hard. 

Three weeks ago she took her first step in California. Three weeks ago I was living in California. Not anymore.  

People ask, “How do you like Waco? What do you think of moving?”  

Putting into words the experience of moving is difficult. On the one hand, there is something so ordinary about it. Yesterday, I sang to my baby and put her to bed. This morning, I went for my mile run. I dropped Nathan off at school, carpooling, the same as we’ve always done. Yet, it is different. Here, Felicity has a room of her own. The brick buildings of the classically, beautiful Baylor campus put Makita Tool company’s white, rectangular office to aesthetic shame. And the air is thick here. It sticks to you when you run. You notice it. Three weeks is not enough time to really know what I think.  

As I reflect, I wonder about the story I choose to tell about this place. I find myself wondering, can I determine my experience of Waco? (Clearly, I’m motivated by the fact that my husband is a philosopher) Over the past six months, when I told people I was moving to Waco a range of responses came my way.  

“It’s the armpit of Texas.” 

“Growing up here is the best.”  

“It’s exciting.” 

“I hate it.” 

“I love it.” 

And the one agreed upon thought: “It’s hot in the summer.” 

 One place manages to elicit a range of contrary emotions. Perhaps the place is just a backdrop. It is me who gets to decide who I will be in this place. And I can love it as much as the familiar streets of Harbor City, the eclectic eateries in Los Angeles, the winding pavement of Oxford. But to love it, is also to admit that it is not those other places. And it is OK to miss them. But it is also OK to love this place, which isn’t to be disloyal to the other places I belong.  

My experience of Waco is a walking one. I try to run in this thick new grass, but I will stumble sometimes.  


leilani-muellerLeilani Mueller is a wife, mother, teacher, and writer. Formerly, a California native she now calls Waco home. She loves YA novels, Shakespeare, Victorian literature, Baylor philosophy, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.