On a daily basis, I realize how fortunate I am to work with so many terrific people who care deeply about Kaua‘i. Recently I had the pleasure of seeing firsthand three groups of people who embody the word “partnership” and who are contributors to the island’s future.
At Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance’s recent annual meeting, a group of nine talented, articulate high school students offered their ideas about the future of Kaua‘i. Many of them serve on Student Council and are considered leaders at their school. As they talked about their own hopes and dreams, they offered suggestions they felt would benefit others.
The young panelists encouraged the community to reach out through the schools to inform students of activities and opportunities available to young people, such as mentoring and internship programs, that offer real-life opportunities to learn about careers and how to prepare for them.
They invited the community to find meaningful activities that young people can participate in to build their sense of belonging and value. When asked how we as a community can develop even more leadership among young people, they suggested that those who are already student leaders have a responsibility to reach out to those who don’t normally participate so they, too, can become involved in discussions and forums to build greater understanding. The students were suggesting the creation of new partnerships.
What does it take to build, nurture and maintain such partnerships? The Kaua‘i branch of the Boys & Girls Club of Hawai‘i, under the direction of Keith Cruikshank, has been offering the 21st Century Leadership Institute to nonprofit staff members. Last week at one of their sessions, I facilitated a panel of five island leaders asked to offer their insights on community partnerships. The assembled group has a wealth of experience on the topic and included Jim Gancos, Sheraton Kauai Resort hotel manager; Dr. Becky Rhoades, Kaua‘i Humane Society executive director; Beth Tokioka, director of the county’s Office of Economic Development; Tom Clements, public affairs officer for PMRF; and Mattie Yoshioka, executive director for Kaua‘i Economic Development Board.
The ideas they shared are worth reflecting on for anyone interested in creating partnerships. The panel talked about the value of working together toward a common goal and how that shared purpose binds people together. Often partnerships need to be clearly defined and mutually agreed to, yet with flexibility built in to refine the terms of the agreements when needed. “Semper Gumby” is a phrase Tom Clements uses to remind himself of the need for flexibility in partnerships.
It was suggested that we cast a wide net when trying to develop partnerships. Being inclusive brings new people to the effort, with a variety of useful perspectives and skills. The panelists found that their partnerships work best when there is good communication and respect among the members. To foster this, they stressed the need to listen to each other and ask questions to increase understanding. There is value in learning together.
Among the many lessons learned in creating partnerships, the group noted that building strong relationships takes time and patience. As Mattie Yoshioka said, “In partnerships, you have to check your ego at the door.” Partnerships are stronger when everyone is made to feel they are making a difference and that their contributions and accomplishments are recognized and appreciated.
Last week KPAA held an appreciation event for participants in the “Community Volunteers in the Classroom” program. These volunteers are partners in education and have been assisting at six elementary schools on the island. They echoed the importance of clear communication and being made to feel welcomed and appreciated. They also noted that all members of the partnership benefit. They said that while teachers and children appreciate the volunteer assistance, at the same time the volunteers feel greatly enriched by the experience.
For example, the volunteers talked about the gratification of working individually or with small groups of children and seeing a child’s sudden delight at mastering a new skill or grasping a difficult concept. They enjoyed watching the growth in the children’s math and reading skills over the course of a semester. All felt they benefited from the experience just as much as did the children, and they look forward to volunteering again in the next school year.
We are fortunate on Kaua‘i to have these and many more fine examples of partnerships. They broaden our knowledge, bring more hands to the task and accomplish amazing things. They unite us in working toward a common goal. Our challenge is to thoughtfully build, nurture and strengthen them to ensure that everyone benefits.
• Diane Zachary is president and CEO of Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org