Caring Communities

About Caring Communities (excerpted from 12 page VMS)…WIP!

August 2017 update: CC is on hold for the time being, due to a wonderful foray into the wold world of alternative education. But the whole “community” thing is still near and dear, still vital to humanity.

I asked a few friends to review this and provide input, but if you’ve just stumbled across it I’d appreciate your thoughts too. It’s tough without a  detailed introduction, but…what’s confusing? What questions does this raise with you? What sounds enticing or promising? What’s full of bull? Disclaimer: this is not yet ready for prime time….

What’s the Big Deal? It’s All Been Done Before

This is an overview of a community improvement initiative that emphasizes human development. Nothing new really, it’s already all out there in abundance. Social-emotional and school-to-work skills development, community economic growth consortiums, self-enrichment disciplines like mindfulness, meditation, yoga….there’s even a comprehensive resource for community organizing, The Community Tool Box from the University of Kansas.

The puzzle pieces are out there and the benefits are known. Still, community development hasn’t taken off. There’s no sustainability, no stickiness…why? What’s lacking in existing models? Is there no WIIFM that’s compelling, so no stakeholder buy-in? Why no committed champions? Why only hit-and-miss implementation of patchwork programs? Is the plethora of information from expert consultants and academic researchers too intimidating? Witch doctor voodoo incantations syndrome? No collaboration, no benchmarking? No shared vision or goals? Lots of probable factors. That’s why I’m driven to do something radical with existing stuff. But what IS “it” anyway? I need help. So here’s the overview, holes and all!

Defining “It”

Social-emotional development–emotional intelligence in the private sector—is a proven enabler of academic and professional achievement. Yet we’re obsessed with doing and learning “thing stuff” first— STEM, common core, standard test scores in education; corrective action, capacity utilization and productivity improvement—physical stuff only, not people—are highest priority in the workplace. Lip service only to fully developing and utilizing what’s espoused as “our most important asset.”

Caring Communities flips priority focus from process to people first, with abundant justification. People first is the catalyst for process excellence and delivers impressive, well-documented improvements in key performance metrics. On the macro scale, people first very probably ensures not just community but global survival. We’re a mess socially and ethically. Forward-looking parents, educators, private sector and government leaders are slowly realizing this, but we don’t have time for natural evolution.

The Caring Communities project is aggressive and visionary, and it has evolved into something far too big for me on my own. Even though an army of committed activists isn’t enough to resolve a host of social, educational and economic issues, I’ve encountered tightly closed doors. It’s tough to get noticed without proper expert credentials or a credible, high profile sponsor.

This initiative needs a well-connected champion to move from concept to reality, the right partner who sees the potential and shares the project’s basic vision and values. While I’m sitting on a book full of support material I’ve avoided details without that development partner on board. If I find one and I’m allowed to come along for the ride, great. But the ship needs to launch regardless.

Experts agree that across-the-board implementation is the only clear path to sustainability, so this project calls for systemic, all-stakeholder involvement. PRIORITY: craft the narrative, build awareness. Gauge feasibility and stakeholder interest without which the project cannot get off the ground.

Educators and private sector managers are all under incredible pressure to deliver more with increasingly fewer resources. Educators know they need family, private sector and all-community support. The magic: stakeholders can greatly improve their own lot by being involved in Caring Communities, and that WIIFM is backed up with studies and data in the expanded project material.

 Vision or Delusion? Thoughts on Purpose

Clear and compelling vision drives stakeholder engagement

Caring Communities impacts the global greater good one community at a time with a universally relevant model of human development. The process starts with helping people young and old re-connect with their Self, with others around them and with their environment so they have a decent shot at a fulfilling future, whatever their chosen path may be. The goal is not just kumbaya and social health; it’s cultural and physical survival of the species. Not tinfoil cap melodrama. Reality.

Caring Communities addresses social and emotional issues by reconnecting people with what makes us human. Doing so certainly impacts individual well-being but also drives performance and productivity, therefore profit. Also impacted: organization, community, society. Global sustainability one person, one community at a time.

People are driven to achieve, to make a meaningful contribution. Hands follow head follows heart:  physical health and emotional well-being are interconnected and both directly impact our ability to perform. A radical thought…sense of purpose and belonging, strong relationships, self-perception and values—all boost productivity even more than knowledge, skills and abilities. KSA’s cannot be fully developed without people first.

Emotional intelligence, leadership, employee engagement, social-emotional learning, character development…distill them all down to their basics, and it’s clear they share core attributes. Strip away consultant-concocted marketing “differences” and most preach the same basic messages. It’s the artificial differences that are confusing, intimidating and lead to inaction.

All those disciplines are deeply rooted in basic human nature and values that we learn via childhood socialization, and the learning is reinforced throughout our lives. Then as adults we juggle an endless barrage of urgencies. We’re pressured into pursuing more and more “things”. We pass our urgency and things addictions down to our kids, and along the way we’ve lost track of what it means to be human. When social norms break down problems crop up— hate, intolerance, unethical and illegal behavior—much more than bad manners and being jerks, we’re talking significant social issues.

If stewardship of purpose and values, goals and plans was shared among education, family, private sector…community-wide and across all ages the outcome would be synergy, reinforcement and continuous strengthening. The broader the ownership, the greater the impact. It takes a village.


The Caring Communities initiative engages all stakeholders—students, education, families, employees, private sector, community. Sharing goals, exploring common concepts together, learning the same terminologies, developing ethics together…all of this leads to across-the-board awareness and shared values that drive social norms.

Caring Communities builds socially healthy, economically prosperous communities by promoting human development and building an environment conducive to a highly engaged citizenry. We work in and with communities to provide opportunities for people of all ages to become maximum contributors in all they do, to be fulfilled in whatever they set out to do.

Caring Communities reaches beyond the goals of academic and workforce performance, beyond academic social-emotional learning and workplace skills, to economic prosperity and sustainable social change. The bigness of the initiative means it is dependent on all-stakeholder commitment and support (reference the loop model). But the significant benefits are all-stakeholder as well.


Community Consultancy: Implementation Support

(this should be a separate file sub-linked to high-level narrative. Very much in-process, as is the rest!)

ACTION: Provide startup guidance and ongoing support one person, one community at a time. Community Consultancy is much-needed high-priority service to develop. Community teams need guidance in fund-seeking, infrastructure, awareness, coalition building—all the implementation support needed to initiate and sustain a Caring Community. Priorities: all-stakeholder community awareness and support and chartering an effective, sustainable interface among stakeholders. See the loop diagram that depicts WIIFM for a broad stakeholder base, including (especially!) the private sector. Companies can stock their talent pool with high-quality candidates real-time and for years to come.

This can’t be understated: for a consultancy to provide maximum value, it can serve no one master or the consultant becomes another market-driven vendor. Sustained community development is so rare partly because of the proliferation of good to choose from. But it’s spread out among multiple owners, there’s way too much redundancy, wheel recreation and artificial differentiation. For-profit providers compete for their share, and non-profits are (sorry!) too often overrun with experts who may be highly committed but are turf-protective, exclusionary, and “my model is groovier than your model”.

Community Initiation First Steps

(pre-meet) With a point person, identify driving forces…game-changers, rallying events, undesirable trends. What has happened in the community or is ongoing that could drive involvement? Economic or social trends, major employer loss, general socio-economic state?  Has the community simply lost its mojo? Don’t focus on data alone. Seek out anecdotal, subjective, emotional, from-the-gut input. Need an initial branding narrative: what are we considering and why?

(ONE) Recruit / identify with referrals, queries with point person’s help. Who will be the preliminary contact / sponsor? May be individual or group—civic or community council, school board, chamber, private sector consortiums or leader(s). Church community can’t be one congregation, but ecumenical group is OK. Caution: too many participants at this point is not a good thing!

(TWO) Core Group awareness meeting, go-no go decision. What is the feasibility, especially the ability to bring the entire community together? Continue?

(THREE) Expanded audience meeting, broader awareness. Expand buy-in, use input from larger group to frame the initiative. Purpose and scoping (right-size the effort) focus groups are used to identify initial sub-groups. These focus group members may evolve into sub topic owners.

(FOUR) Formally identify / agree on sub-groups, assign owners: scoping in earlier steps will determine the sub-groups to a degree. Probable priority groups: a) community group. Get final input for and draft vision / purpose, goals / scope. This will be the lead team; b) high school / older kids. Mentors, face-to-face coaches for kids and older seniors; c) private sector: skills needs analysis, talent pool is the target. Employers’ workforce will be an important group to develop;

(FIVE) Assign tasks: fact-finding including current state mini-survey, other grunt work. Mood /culture/ environment assessments are tough! Schools survey focus: bullying, engagement levels. Citizen perceptions of community—not facilities and services but the socio-emotional, cultural psyche?

GROUND RULES / Principles

Fire hydrant graphic with dog. NO turf wars, no egos, no hydrant-pissing

Spock: the good of the many outweighs the good of the few

Shrunken Loop Diagram: maintain systemic focus, eye on the big prize

#1 Tactical Goal: Take Community Ownership and achieve self-sufficiency ASAP

Short List of Key Services

  1. Provide consultation and ongoing support for community-wide initiative start-up and implementation, ensure sustainability(see prior section);
  2. “People” development has been largely ignored. In part due to the voodoo witch doctor syndrome: information and how-to resources are intimidating and inaccessible, therefore held at arms’ length. Provide support for accessible, non-threatening social-emotional development. Reference Chillin’;
  3. Provide an all-inclusive cross-disciplinary roadmap for individuals and communities, showing the way to deep understanding, awareness and development of stronger social norms and values;
  4. Develop online access and direct resource support based on expert-developed material. Critical: serve no one master!

Cooperative alliances among the right researchers, providers, experts, practitioners, educators, private sector. Caring Communities itself is non-profit, but the challenge will be how to get the players to play nicely, and share the effort as well as the payback. Competition and Ego Must Go!  Fill holes as needed, develop materials using select non-proprietary concepts, terminologies, methods;

Customer Focus: work with stakeholders to define needs of the private and public sector, families including students, government and education system.  Use findings to collaborate on developing local goals, curriculum and resources. Help communities set up the structure to enable all the stakeholders to meet the collective’s own needs. Involvement and ownership builds commitment.

Design a process and help facilitate initial efforts to re-assess employers’ skills needs. Shift unrealistic academic degree requirements to general competencies where it makes sense. Use cooperative in-house training to fine-tune specific skills when needed. Arrange for or develop ACE-PONSI accredited college courses to meet specific employee / learner needs. This sequencing provides learning that is more relevant as it is in conjunction with the learner being employed: knowledge and skill gaps are better understood.

Use “S-E development” to address bullying, self-harm, suicide without overtly dwelling on the raw-nerve “b” or “s” words. Caring, compassion, connecting with others, tolerance are universal needs to combat bullying among young people which devolves into workplace harassment, social discrimination, violence and hate crimes. (need to rediscover my workplace bullying stuff)

Provide alternative education awareness-building and support for parents considering non-traditional education. There is already a growing movement toward alternative education. In the US there is uncertainty and broad concern over the future direction of education with the new administration and budgetary issues. Collaborative support may include one-on-one mentoring, initiating and supporting formal local learning circle cooperatives outside the academic system, charter schools, or a blended curriculum of any of these options combined with traditional education.

More Big Honkin’ Bucket Items

  • Develop and deliver a concise, compelling presentation of stakeholder WIIFM, an essential early priority.
  • Drive awareness and understanding and build community stakeholder support with WIIFM-intensive, benefits selling presentations, articles, mini-workshops;
  • Sustainable synergy and consistency: re-tool young learner material to be relevant to older learners.
  • Develop a web portal roadmap through the maze of concepts and materials, sales-pitches and jargon gobbledee-gook. Ensure easy access and understanding for the right things;
  • In-depth material development on a priority basis after awareness and introductory workshops. Full course (and all) material is without bells and whistles artificially differentiating selling points. No-gimmicks content. No wheel re-creation: use existing material from select vendor partners, develop material as needed;

Craig’s Role: Interpreter, Catalyst, Go-fer

I’ve been told I’m pretty good at breaking complex issues and concepts down into understandable, actionable elements. In this case I’m breaking down witch doctor spells—interpreting mysterious incantations for regular lay people, a conceptual Rosetta Stone universal translator with a constant eye on systemic connections to ensure cohesiveness. Make it one big puzzle, then chunk out the elements into an understandable, accessible process of digestible bites. Does that make sense?

I’m somewhat multi-lingual as I’m an education / private sector hybrid. I can use the right languages to build cross-sector bridges, identifying then leveraging common ground in education, private sector and community then initiating, guiding and supporting systemic, sustainable efforts.

Playing the outsider / neophyte is perfect for me: I can ask legitimate, innocent questions and answer them from a John Everyman perspective. This is a major plank in the Caring Communities platform.

The Big Honkin’ Need: Branding, Positioning. This Before That: Image is everything

(Andre Agassi said that…but what does a spoiled brat rich kid professional tennis player know anyway?) Screw the feasibility study…how do you know if something is doable when you’re not sure what it is?

PROBLEM STATEMENT: too many high-powered, highly educated, overly intelligent experts researching and writing, but primarily for peers and other highly educated, interested persons. Experts and long-time practitioners tend to be zealously purist and protective, and here I am wanting to spearhead a renegade, gonzo approach—bastardizing Shakespeare into pulp fiction. How dare thee, knave?

But if all that good stuff is to go mainstream, John and Mary Everyman must be the real targets. And they are discouraged, disconnected, frustrated, confused with voodoo mumbo-jumbo. They don’t know where to start, what to do. “Radical” unlearning (even the name is intimidating!) and other alternative education methods, mindfulness, yoga, spirituality, social-emotional learning and development, engagement, purpose, values…the huge need is to drive things down to an everyday, grassroots level of relevance.


The primary Caring Communities target is the mainstream—the Everyman crowd. But it’s not a good idea to anger or alienate the establishment, the purist practitioner experts can be formidable enemies. While I’m at it, terms, concepts, methodologies must appeal to the go / no-go decision-makers.

I feel that the project first needs backing, credibility, star power exposure—the right partner and funding to help prepare the fields and plant seeds. But, what seeds? Maybe the first need is a clear narrative. But that narrative would ideally be co-developed by partners. So…that means it’s find a partner first. But who will hop on board without a clear narrative? Maximum-strength chicken or egg.

Terminology poses a real branding dilemma. I’ve already shared my feelings that the proliferation of artificial labels is confusing and intimidating to the grassroots crowd. Simplicity is essential, as is being meaningful to regular people. So, the short list of questions includes what should everything be called?

The umbrella identity, Caring Communities itself, may not be appropriate. From a sounding board friend: “I didn’t feel a strong connection with that phrase….it seems too aligned to things like health care or mental health services. I think caring is overused., healthcare. Assisted care. Hospice care (my addition…they even have Care Bears for cryin’ out loud)I think compassionate might be a better word?” (Thanks, Maggie!)

See Chillin’  for an example of driving it down—presenting meditation, mindfulness, yoga in a mainstream-friendly, voodoo-free package so normal peoples’ eyes don’t glaze over when they hear all that mystical stuff. Chillin’ may be an ice-breaker session to get Communities out to the public. Maggie feels that Chillin’ is “too 80s. Even though our decades are close together, yours belongs to the era of groovy. I just don’t know how else to put it. I think you need a term that is more current.” Maybe “far out”? Maybe not….

But that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Need input!

I’m aware this is a tough request, asking for mechanical and creative help when you don’t even know much about the final design. What really sticks out—unclear terms, something that’s named wrong / could be named better? Any wild and crazy ideas that may make something of this magnitude do-able?

To say this is wide-open at this point is laughably understated!


One thought on “Caring Communities

  1. Pingback: Are They Buying It? | One Pond-Ripples

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