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Leadership Changes Bring Opportunity to Refresh and Renew

By Sarah Strunk on September 3rd, 2015

To every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.

With these words on my mind and gratitude in my heart, I’m pleased to announce a new chapter for Active Living By Design (ALBD) and for me, personally.

Effective October 12th, I will be transitioning into a new role at ALBD as its Strategic Advisor. After nearly 14 years of leadership to ALBD, it’s clear that this is the right decision at the right time—for our organization and for me. The healthy communities movement has changed a lot during that time. ALBD has evolved along with it, and so have I.

Now on the cusp of my 50th birthday, over the past several years I’ve watched many friends, colleagues and family members struggle with serious health issues and other significant challenges. Life feels precious and, increasingly, much too short. As many of you know, although I encourage it in others, work/life balance hasn’t been one of my personal strengths. As a result, I have decided this is an important time for me to carve out a little more time for myself. As Strategic Advisor, I am looking forward to continuing the work I love at ALBD while learning to practice work/life balance. In time, this will also give me some space to consider what may be next for me professionally.

I’m delighted to let you know that Risa Wilkerson, our Associate Executive Director, will become ALBD’s next Executive Director, also effective October 12th. Risa joined ALBD in 2008 and since then has served in a variety of positions, including Senior Project Officer, Communications and Marketing Director and, more recently, Associate Executive Director.

Risa has also been the long-time Board Chair of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and was Vice President of Active Communities at the Michigan Fitness Foundation before joining ALBD. It’s clear that Risa has the vision, leadership, relationships and enthusiasm to lead our team into its next chapter. I’m excited, and our advisory board and staff are equally supportive of this change. ALBD prides itself on being flexible and nimble, and this is yet another example of that value in play.

These changes come at an excellent time for our organization. Our commitment to healthy communities, the social determinants of health and equity is unwavering. We have an increasingly diverse group of funders, partners and projects. Our relationship with Third Sector New England, our fiscal sponsor, provides the flexibility and nimbleness that is required to meet our clients’ needs. And we have a strong, versatile and passionate team with experienced leaders throughout the organization.

Over the next few months, Risa and I will continue to partner with each other, our team and our clients to ensure a smooth transition into both of our new roles. As Strategic Advisor, I will remain involved in business and partnership development activities, continue to lead and support several special projects, and advise Risa as needed.

I’m filled with gratitude as I reflect on my work with ALBD. It’s been an honor and a privilege to lead this organization and, in doing so, to work with an extraordinary team of smart, supportive, committed and caring colleagues here at ALBD, in North Carolina and throughout the nation. I’m extremely grateful to our many funders and for the opportunity to help build a field and influence how millions of dollars have been invested in healthy community change. Without the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s initial and ongoing investments in ALBD, our organization and our work would not exist. They took a chance on me as a young, emerging leader. They cheered me on when I thrived and encouraged me when I stumbled. My colleagues at RWJF are simply extraordinary, and they have been steadfast in their support every step of the way. Because of that, ALBD has been able to far exceed our initial aspiration as a five-year demonstration project.

Finally, our grantees and community partners are the fuel that keep my fire burning, my intention focused, my ego humbled, and my soul inspired with daily examples of healthy community collaboration leading to sustainable changes across the country. One of the great privileges of this work has been to meet leaders and residents across the country and see firsthand the changes they’re making in their neighborhoods, cities and regions. Earlier this summer, I visited an American Indian community that has done extraordinary work to create a culture of health in response to centuries of trauma and oppression. From middle school girls engaged in an anti-bullying campaign to the former tribal governor intent on eradicating illegal drug use through innovative treatment options, every person I met touched my spirit, confirmed my belief in the importance of a whole-person and whole-community view of health, and validated the power of collaboration. Our visit ended with a prayer, hugs and a send-off: “We don’t say goodbye,” they said. “We say gigawabamin menawah. It means ‘see you again.’”

So thank you, my friends and colleagues. The past 14 years have been a blessing, and I look forward to our next chapter of work together. And this isn’t goodbye. It’s “see you again.”

—Sarah Strunk

Sarah Strunk

Strategic Advisor

Healthy communities networker, integrator and distance runner on the go.