Summit speakers stress collaboration as key to fighting hunger

Jeremy Everett (left), founder of the Texas Hunger Initiative and director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, moderates a discussion about collaboration involving Cristal Retana, manager of government and community relations with Children's Health in Dallas, and Alan Cohen, president and CEO of the Child Poverty Action Lab. (Photo / Ken Camp)

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WACO—Public/private collaboration, innovative partnerships and a relentless effort to find common ground are crucial in efforts to reduce poverty and eliminate hunger, speakers told a summit at Baylor University.

“The issue is too big for any one organization to handle by ourselves,” said Jeremy Everett, founder of the Texas Hunger Initiative and director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.

Everett, author of I Was Hungry: Cultivating Common Ground to End an American Crisis, encouraged participants at the Together at the Table Hunger and Poverty Summit, to explore ways to collaborate—a theme speakers at the event stressed.

Find common ground

“Figure out where there is common ground. Lean into what you agree on,” Alan Cohen, president and chief executive officer of the Child Poverty Action Lab in Dallas told summit participants.

The Child Poverty Action Lab seeks to develop partnerships “to work collaboratively to reduce by half child poverty in our generation,” he explained.

“We attack the problem from multiple angles,” Cohen said, addressing issues related to basic needs, family structures, safe surroundings, education and living-wage jobs.

Some individuals and organizations are motivated to eliminate child poverty because they recognize it as a moral imperative, he noted. Others see it as an economic issue, recognizing that childhood poverty costs the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion annually, and every $1 spent to fight child poverty lowers future costs by $7.

Demanding that everyone approach the problem from the same perspective and for the same reason is “a collaboration killer,” Cohen said.

“We can fundamentally change the future,” he insisted, but it only happens when people are willing to find areas of agreement.

‘Stop working in silos’

Michael Hole (left) from the University of Texas at Austin moderated a panel discussion on health and hunger featuring (left to right) Donal Wesson, president of the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Center at the Juanita J. Craft Recreation Center in South Dallas; Valerie Smith, director of the Community-Centered Health Home Initiative at St. Paul Children’s Foundation in Tyler; and Jackson Griggs, chief executive officer of the Heart of Texas Community Health Center. (Photo / Ken Camp)

Cristal Retana, manager of government and community relations with Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, likewise emphasized the importance of creating public/private partnerships and working in cooperation to achieve shared goals.

“Stop working in silos,” she urged. “Make sure the right people are in the room.”

Physicians who participated in a panel discussion on hunger and health also emphasized the importance of working with multiple partners and being sensitive to community concerns to meet common objectives.

Valerie Smith, who leads the Community-Centered Health Home Initiative at St. Paul Children’s Foundation in Tyler, described the importance of encouraging dialogue. She pointed to her own experience when she began working in Tyler.

“There were amazing people who were providing food. There were amazing people providing health care. And they were not talking to each other,” she said.

Consider ‘collective impact’

Jackson Griggs, chief executive officer of the Heart of Texas Community Health Center, stressed the “collective impact” that occurs when partners work together.

“The greatest progress we have made is collaborative,” he said.

Griggs pointed to a “food as medicine” partnership with World Hunger Relief. Doctors at a family health clinic serving low-income individuals write a prescription for fresh produce, and patients are able to fill those prescriptions by picking up half-bushel boxes of farm-fresh vegetables down the hall from the examining room.

Each box includes recipes in English and Spanish to help patients know how to prepare meals using the vegetables, and the health center also offers cooking classes.

Since the program started, the center has distributed 4,300 boxes of farm-fresh produce, Griggs reported.

Listen to people in the community

Donald Wesson, president of the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Center at the Juanita J. Craft Recreation Center in South Dallas, talked about managing chronic disease such as diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure by improving access to good nutrition and developing health lifestyles.

To accomplish that goal, the health and wellness center learned it must establish partnerships and learn to “leverage trusted agents in the community,” Wesson said.

He applauded the “tremendous resources within the faith community in South Dallas,” and the importance of listening attentively to the ministerial advisory board the center established.

Angela Olige, addressed the Together at the Table Hunger and Poverty Summit at Baylor University. (Photo / Ken Camp)

For example, Wesson noted several ministers said their church members liked participating in a Zumba fitness class, but they were uncomfortable with the “secular music.” The ministers suggested using familiar praise and worship music from African-American churches instead.

“In case you don’t know, Black Gospel music rocks,” Wesson said. “So, we renamed the Zumba class ‘Praise and Flow.’”

Angela Olige, assistant commission for the Texas Department of Agriculture, similarly stressed the importance of listening to each other and finding ways to work together.

“There is nothing like collaboration,” Olige said. “It’s easy to identify our differences. It takes more effort to discover where we agree.”

Olige encouraged people who share a common commitment to ending hunger to find ways to bridge differences and find common ground.

“Find that sweet spot,” she urged.

This is part of an ongoing series about how Christians respond to hunger and poverty. Substantive coverage of significant issues facing Texas Baptists is made possible in part by a grant from the Prichard Family Foundation.


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