Phase 6: Miller County, GA Vignette
The Action Cycle
Located in the southwestern corner of Georgia, Miller County is a small rural county with a population of approximately 6,000 residents. In 1997, a coalition of community organizations and representatives embarked on a community strategic planning process. Throughout the process, successes and progress were celebrated. The coalition recognized the importance of celebration in sustaining energy, creating momentum, and building community spirit.
The Miller County coalition began each monthly meeting and periodic strategic planning retreat with a celebration of the progress made to date. This kept community spirit and energy high, especially at times when little progress seemed to be occurring or when obstacles presented themselves. At the beginning of one of the retreats, the Hospital Authority chairperson boldly proclaimed that the hospital would have closed had this community process not occurred.
The media was also used to celebrate the successes of the process and to give periodic updates to the community at large. The health official, the hospital chairperson, and the editor of the local paper (all of whom served on the community coalition) played key roles in ensuring that frequent, positive articles appeared in the local paper. The closest large newspaper, which serves the city of Albany, also published several articles about the process. Finally, the story of a local physician's terminal illness and her quest for a successor was featured in several large newspapers nationwide, including papers in New York and Chicago.
Contributions to the strategic planning process testified to the strong community spirit that developed throughout this process. Multiple community leaders gave enormous amounts of in-kind support. The community pledged tax support in order to support the process and keep the hospital open; this was a direct outcome of the community-wide recognition of the problem and the attempts at finding solutions.
Several other activities attest to the success of the community's collaboration. The hospital, which previously had been unwilling to take external suggestions, agreed to extensive board development activities and aggressive in-house changes to address its financial needs. The coalition also established the "Brother David Ebersole Health Care Fund" which celebrates the life of a retired minister whose philosophy was "it's not what you get out of life that counts, it's what you are able to give."
Miller County's strong community spirit was also instrumental in other community-driven initiatives. Swamp Gravy, a local theatre production featuring local stories and legends, has been nationally recognized and has been performed in forums such as Washington's John F. Kennedy Center. The community also financed and developed a state-of-the-art golf course. After its opening, a tournament was held that raised over $10,000 for the hospital.
Miller County recognized the importance of celebrating successes as a way to maintain community spirit and energy. The success of a community strategic planning process is dependent upon this community energy and spirit. Celebrating successes, even if they seem minor, is vital to overcoming the obstacles that often stand in a community's way.