Boundary-Spanning Leadership in Action

In Toledo, OH, the local YMCA and United Way, along with other critical partners, spearhead a broad-based community effort to improve health and safety called Live Well Greater Toledo.

In October 2012, after struggling for many years to advance efforts to improve the health of the community—Lucas County is ranked 71 out of 88 counties in Ohio for health outcomes—the coalition participated in a boundary-spanning leadership training sponsored by RWJF that inspired its members to take a new approach.     

Through an in-depth stakeholder analysis and outreach, the coalition learned that parents’ number one concern was their children’s safety traveling to and from school, especially in neighborhoods with high rates of crime and violence. Next, the coalition engaged individual champions within the public school system to help build trust and recognition among other school administrators, and used a technique called “buffering” to help define an emerging partnership with the school district.

As a result, the coalition was able to launch a project called the Walking School Bus, which uses community volunteers to escort children safely to and from school on foot. With a $200,000 grant through the Ohio Department of Education, the coalition has now added a full-time coordinator to further expand the district’s Safe Routes to School program to all 41 Kindergarten through Eighth Grade schools, working with experts from the Ohio Department of Transportation. 

“Our end goal was physical activity, but what the community cared about was safety,” said Kate Sommerfeld, Director of United Way of Greater Toledo. “So we had to figure out how to meet our core mission in way that was relevant and met the needs of the community. The Walking School Bus was our first entry point, and boundary-spanning leadership practices helped us engage a new partner by finding common ground.”

Live Well Greater Toledo began with a RWJF Pioneering Healthy Communities grant in 2011. Today, more than a dozen partners representing government, nonprofit, business, various health sectors, and grassroots community members  are working together to advance its mission: to measurably improve the health and well-being of the community through policy, systems and environmental changes that support improved nutrition and physical activity.