“Racing Toward Possibilities,” the theme of the Mennonite Health Assembly held in Louisville, Ky., March 1–3, invited 258 participants to peer into the future to discern trends they might implement in a variety of health-care settings.
A plenary session moderated by Emerson Lesher, president of Messiah Lifeways, Mechanisburg, Pa., and titled “From Possibility to Practice,” illustrated current innovations in providing in health and human service ministries. Assembly participants learned about cutting-edge programs from representatives of Landis Communities, Lititz, Pa.; Bridge of Hope, Exton, Pa.; and Community Health Services, Harrisonburg, Va.
Larry Zook, president and CEO of Landis Communities, described an innovative venture to provide senior housing in downtown Lancaster, Pa. Steeple View Lofts, which he said evolved from “listening and learning from stakeholders,” will consist of 36 rental units designed for active adults ages 55 and older. Plans call for construction to begin in spring 2012 with occupancy aimed for a year following.
Zook said the apartments will feature one- and two-bedroom units and common areas on each floor. The first floor of the four-story building will be developed as retail space accessible to both residents and the general public. He said one tenant in the retail space will be Landis At Home, a licensed agency that offers personal care and support services to individuals in their homes.
Edith Yoder, director of Bridge of Hope, told about her agency’s expanding mission of “ending and preventing homelessness one church and one family at a time.” Bridge of Hope works with congregations to bring together professional staff and trained church-based mentors to empower homeless and at-risk single mothers to attain permanent housing, financial stability through employment, life-changing friendships, and growth and wholeness.
Yoder said her experience has taught her that organizational innovation begins with “board members who ask curious questions and staff members who can live in chaos.” She also said she benefits from continual personal renewal that comes through reading, working with people in churches, and practicing the spiritual disciplines of journaling and prayer.
Kate Clark, coordinator of Community Health Services and a nursing professor at Eastern Mennonite University, reported on ways the four-year-old organization addresses unmet health needs in Harrisonburg, Va. She and a four-person staff of community health workers do “problem-solving as we go” as they work primarily with immigrant populations. Two of the workers speak Spanish and another speaks Arabic.
Clark said that she has drawn inspiration from her recent graduate studies, the nursing students she teaches, her staff, and the people they serve. “As a younger leader,” she said, “I find it easy to work with staff rather than over them. They keep me attuned to what the people we serve need.”
Setting the stage for the assembly sessions was the opening night plenary presentation by Tom and Christine Sine, Christian futurists from Seattle, Wash. The Sines painted a picture of a volatile and uncertain environment. Baby-boomers are pushing the need for senior care, and the rest of the population is undergoing rapid cultural changes as well.
“By 2040 the United States will be the first Western nation outside of South Africa to have a non-white majority,” said Tom Sine. “We need to learn how to celebrate multicultural gifts.”
The Sines also advocated tapping the gifts of older adults. Ideas they proposed included a church-sponsored “Craig’s list” of volunteer services, community gardens, and classes in financial management.
The Sines especially endorsed intergenerational models of community in which, Christine Sine said, “everyone works together for everyone else.” She said the church needs more research on the impacts of intergenerational living with a focus on the positive values associated with community transformation.
Assembly participants had the opportunity to attend 28 different workshops and additional cohort meetings during the three-day conference. Topics ranged from “Values-based Executive Appraisal and Compensation” to “Successful Employment of People with Disabilities” to “Transforming the Aging Experience.”
A governance track of workshops was planned to benefit the many board members who attended the assembly on behalf of the organizations they lead. In one session, Lee Snyder, chair of the MHS Alliance board, and LaVern Yutzy, MHS Alliance consulting associate, focused on “Leading a Nonprofit Board.” Their goal was to articulate strategies for “bringing the voices of individuals together into one spirit to further the organization’s mission.”
In the workshop, board members were asked to identify issues that confront them. Issues included finding ethical ways:
- to gather information about the organization that do not depend solely on the CEO;
- to encourage quiet members of boards to speak up and noisy members to harness their inputs; and
- to discern the difference between providing strategic leadership and meddling in operational matters.
Snyder and Yutzy effectively tapped into the wisdom of the group to offer guidelines that translate into effective leadership.
Another workshop, titled “The Five Things You Need to Know about Healthcare Reform,” delved into an interlocking series of changes that will have an impact on almost everyone in the United States. David Gautsche, senior vice president at Everence, said that reform has been driven by the need to improve access to healthcare, spiraling cost increases, and concerns about insurance industry practices.
Gautsche addressed the topic from the standpoint of health insurers and the employers who will be providing coverage under the new law. “How do we accomplish the goal of providing affordable healthcare for everyone?” he asked. “At Everence, we believe the debate is more about implementation and strategy, not the ultimate goal.”
Gautsche said that Everence has already begun to educate its clients on changes that will come in the next few years. He also advised employers, “You will need a good CPA to help you navigate the options.”
In a final plenary session, Rob Levit encouraged assembly participants to “Open Your Mind to New Possibilities.” Levit, an award-winning actor and community leader, said, “We build effective, service-oriented organizations by being creative as individuals and as teams. We do this by reflecting and acting on possibilities in a virtuous cycle of creativity.”
Levit warned against succumbing to four possibility killers—fear, arrogance, ignorance and laziness—whose initial letters spell FAIL. Rather, he said, participants should go from the assembly asking themselves, “What one idea had the most impact on me?” and “What will I change after today?”
Mennonite Health Assembly is co-sponsored by MHS Alliance and Everence, both headquartered in Goshen, Ind. Interest groups that support the assembly include the Mennonite Association of Disability Providers, the Mennonite Chaplains Association, and Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship.
The next Mennonite Health Assembly will be held in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 14–16, 2013.
Mennonite Health Services Alliance, an agency of Mennonite Church USA, supports health and human service ministries for Mennonite Church USA.
Plenary speakers Kate Clark and Tom Sine visit at the Mennonite Health Assembly in Louisville. (Photo provided by MHS Alliance)
Fran Wenger, a former Health Assembly regular and current resident of Greencroft Goshen (Ind.)—pictured here with Karen Lehman—reconnected with many friends and colleagues. (Photo provided by MHS Alliance)