By Kathy Szenda-Wilson

Coaching for Community Transformation in Battle Creek, Michigan

In 2009, a new early childhood initiative was being born and with it, a new approach to service delivery in Battle Creek, Michigan. A local educational leader introduced the idea of using coaching as the Early Childhood Connections initiative’s framework, believing that families with young children could be better served through an authentic relationship and nurtured through coaching.

She connected with Leadership that Works and brought our Community Transformation team on board to explore how to best employ such an innovative approach. As the trainings were being designed, we became curious how this model might also transform service delivery beyond the early childhood program, so we invited other community members in the nonprofit sector of the community and began to explore how coaching could empower those we serve and provide them with necessary tools to get what they needed for themselves and their families.

The first three-day training included early childhood educators, as well as many other people that were open to this new approach to working with those they serve. This experience ignited several things, including the desire to go further with coaching as a framework for service delivery. Coaching tools, language and approaches became embedded in efforts as they were being initiated.

There are currently over 100 people in the Battle Creek community that have experienced some level of coaching training. From 5-day coaching skills trainings to the full Coaching for Community Transformation certification to one or two day refresher trainings, many people in this community have gained skills that have transformed how they work with one another and within their organizations. Israel Flores, Family Coach for the Early Childhood Connections initiative, recently shared the following insight with a group of coaches:

The skills of acknowledging, asking empowering questions, listening, being present, championing, and even interrupting have taken me to the next level with all the families. I have been able to create a high level of trust so that our relationship is more one of friends and peers, not just a family coach with his clients. We have all together become part of one community.

Coaching has helped me understand other people: How do they live? How do they think? What types of situations are they experiencing? It helps me understand their lifestyle and meet them at their own level without judgment. Coaching helps them see their strengths, focusing on the positive experiences so they can see their achievements and be successful in life.

In an effort to increase the impact of coaching in the Battle Creek community, there are a group of CCT coaches that have been meeting to set direction and strategically think about how to embed coaching in this community. Recent efforts have included time spent with a consultant to help us develop a ‘business plan’ around the infrastructure of coaching in Battle Creek. We are connected by a desire to ‘shape a culture of mutual support to drive sustainable change.’

Today, coaching is no longer a concept that is foreign within the nonprofit sector. Trained community coaches are present in many organizations and families are being engaged in ways that leave them more powerful rather than ‘serviced.’

Listen in as Dana McNutt, Early Childhood Connections family coach, describes the impact of coaching:


Contributing to this article are the following Battle Creek Community Coaches: Kathy Szenda-Wilson, Kathleen Moore, Israel Flores, Teresa Durham, and Kathy Grosso. We welcome the sharing of perspectives on this work and we’re open to discussions that connect the transformation happening here in Battle Creek, Michigan with other communities throughout the world. Please contact Kathy Szenda-Wilson at [email protected].