I’ve been wearing two hats this season – 1. School Consulting and 2. Ending Veterans’ Homelessness. Just by happenstance I was able to fold both roles, back-to-back, into a one week blitz, bouncing between Tucson and Phoenix.
I started out immersed in homeless shelters in Phoenix, a whirlwind tour that ranged from the most Spartan to the best of the best.
For close to 1,000 people daily, the first step out of the streets is the city’s 14 acre human services campus, a one-stop shop that offers shelter, assessment and assistance of all sorts from 17 different on-site agencies. They offer the largest homeless post office in the world, assistance replacing lost identification papers, free dental services…the works. They’re also the jumping off point for finding better housing, ranging from barebones transitional shelters to upscale wet housing which I managed to visit, and which I’m convinced should serve as models for the rest of the nation. It was a humbling experience, as well as an inspirational one.
Surprisingly, one of the most impressive programs was in one of the humblest facilities, the MANA house, run by a group of once homeless veterans who started their own peer-run transitional home. They do many things brilliantly, but two features particularly stuck out:
- Anyone accepted into the house immediately is assigned to a squad, tackling weekly chores ranging from floor care to kitchen duty. As military veterans this is a concept they can understand, and it gives them an immediate sense of belonging and purpose hard to find while living in the streets.
- The term “case worker” is banished. Instead, staff are “action plan advisors.” The thinking behind this shift is brilliant. “Case worker” labels the client not only as a case, but as a passive one at that. The staff person is the one expected to do some work. By way of contrast, an action plan advisor is there to help empower the client in moving forward.
Great points to ponder in a variety of circumstances, ranging from social services to schools of all sorts. Not directly related to what comes next, but permit me to awkwardly segue into the rest of the week…
I zipped from Phoenix to Tucson in mid-week in order to present at an impressive school safety conference – the Security100 Summits K-12, the brainchild of Focus Media Events. The venue chosen was the Marriott Starr Pass Resort, and the organizers pulled out all the stops pulling this together – lucky for me. The setting was a posh hotel surrounded by cactus-studded hills, the food outstanding, and the attentiveness of the staff almost embarrassing – particularly after my time in Phoenix. But that was merely the setting. I was at least as impressed by the conference itself.
I actually hesitate to use the word conference, as it doesn’t fully convey the approach taken, which sets the bar a bit higher for this type of event. While they dished up some fine speakers (along with yours truly they brought in Mike Dorn of Safe Havens, International, Michelle Gay, founder of Safe and Sound, A Sandy Hook Initiative, and Dr. Stephen Sroka, president of Health Education Consultants), but just as important they also went to great lengths to make sure individual networking was a top priority. Plenty of conferences talk about networking, but this one really made it happen, with a schedule of one-to-one meetings between school representatives and vendors that set a new standard for how great conferences should be crafted.
For schools looking to build anytime soon, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a more productive and enjoyable experience to recommend. Experts in everything from software to hardware, visitor check-in to crisis management, were available for nuts-and-bolts intensive guidance on problems and solutions. As if this wasn’t enough, the Focus Media folks sweetened the deal considerably – school facilities managers and the like were flown in, all expenses paid. If you’re thinking about building new schools anytime soon, I’d suggest getting on their mailing list for future events ASAP! Email Nancy Largay at email@example.com