A Story of an Iceberg
While that may sound like the lead in to a joke, it’s the beginning of a much larger story. It’s the story of a few people coming together around a purpose to create powerful change. It’s the story of how WellSpring got its start ten years ago, and why the work today is as important as ever.
Getting Its Start
A small group of educators and community members were meeting, however, and talking about early childhood readiness. This group, as directed by then Ocean Beach School District superintendent Tom Lockyer, was charged with looking at how to get children ages 0-5 ready for kindergarten.
“The goal was to provide seamless services to kids,” says Rosanne McPhail. “But we realized we couldn’t talk about the child without talking about the family and community structures.”
McPhail was the first chair for WellSpring, which was called the South Pacific County Health & Safety Network (SPCHSN). She served as chair for six years, wanting to provide a voice for parents. Now the grant coordinator for the Justice Mental Health Collaboration Program, McPhail is still an active member of WellSpring.
“There were a lot of excellent people already doing the work,” says McPhail. “There has always been this sense of community and connection on the peninsula. A sense of responsibility to those who live here.”
When SPCHSN formed in 2006, it started drawing people from an array of different fields—early childhood, health, education, and more. “It was broad, which brought in more people,” says McPhail. “It wasn’t just youth services or treatment. It was bigger than what had been happening.
“It got to a point where we said, ‘We’re going to do this, even if we have money or not.’”
SPCHSN began receiving state funding from the Family Policy Council in November 2006. This funding was the opportunity and support the coalition needed to get moving. They received $17,500 annually, and at the time is seemed huge.
“The right people were in the right place at the right time,” says Mary Goelz, director of the Pacific County Health & Human Services, who has also served with WellSpring since the beginning.
When considering local issues, three topics kept percolating to the top: substance abuse, mental health, and lack of parental supports. Today, those are the cornerstones of WellSpring’s work.
Also in 2007, speaker Krista Goldstein presented on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), a public health study in the 1990s that demonstrated a link between childhood trauma and lifetime physical and behavioral health outcomes. “These were not popular topics to talk about,” says McPhail.
Popular or not, ACEs has been a fundamental to WellSpring’s purpose. In August, WellSpring brought ACEs Interface co-founder Laura Porter to Naselle and Ocean Beach School Districts to train on ACEs and trauma-informed practices (see page 4, Building Resilient Schools).
“We had an overwhelmingly positive response to the education,” says WellSpring coordinator Vinessa Karnofski about the training. “We felt the staff appreciated the spirit in which it was delivered. We’re a tight knit community, and we’re all in this together.”
Through this, the coalition’s success is largely due to its members. “People were willing to come to the table and stay, no matter what. They were committed to the bigger picture.”
The Unseen Work
“What typically happens,” says McPhail, pointing to the top of the iceberg, “is that an event or crisis occurs. This may be a suicide or overdose. The community gathers around, works together, and provides support.”
Once the event passes, however, these efforts wane.
Coalitions do the work that is below the surface, the work that is unseen, explains McPhail. This is work like changing cultural norms and policy. This is the work that is ongoing and prevents such events or crisises from occurring.
This is the work that truly changes and makes a community stronger.
“We have to keep doing this work,” says McPhail. “And coming together is a part of the work, even if it doesn’t look like an outcome.”