Western Wellness Foundation

Report date
August 2017

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

What has formed the base of our work has been the community survey; a successful tool that elicited a broad response due to the ease of completion and return through resident water bills. Our project was proposed during the midst of an unprecedented oil boom. It began just as the boom was beginning to wane and we have since worked within a long, unexpected downturn. After meeting individually and in small groups with nonprofits, business, and government, we began to adjust our focus. As the downturn continued, we wanted to garner input from both longtime and new residents regarding issues, needs, and desires. This was particularly important due to the significant numbers of young families who arrived during the boom, and stayed. The results of the community survey, combined with individual and group meetings across sectors combined to inform our new work plan. Our community survey results were shared with city government and the public. This broad distribution of the community survey results supported the development of several community projects, partnerships and businesses.
Collaboration has been key to adjusting our focus due to the downturn and a focus on addressing quality of life needs within the "new" community of 10,000 recently added residents. We collaborated with the City of Dickinson and Dickinson Parks and Recreation to address an indicated need for more public art and art activities. The community input and collaborative plan led the City of Dickinson to allocate $10,000 for public art, potentially an annual budget item. This past year, a mural artist was commissioned and created a large public mural on the side of the Dickinson Fire Department building, through a partnership with the City, the Fired Department, and Western Wellness Foundation. A proposal has been submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America program for the creation of several murals on the iconic underpass in Dickinson. Again, this is a collaborative effort with the City and Western Wellness Foundation.
Our initial resourceful use of the former hospital building as a one-stop shop resurfaced within the past year, to meet critical needs of the region for a mental health/addiction treatment facility. We were asked to facilitate a process to determine the feasibility, ownership, and management of such a facility within the former hospital building, and further asked to submit a Letter-of-Intent for the possible donation of the building to our organization for overall management. This process has brought together several separate groups that were working independently, and we now have a collaborative group that meets regularly and includes multi-county and city officials, state and county mental health providers, private psychologists, addiction counselors, and physicians. We have been actively exploring the possibility of a unique public/government/private partnership that would provide a diverse array of critical behavioral health services to the community and the region. This process was stalled during the legislative session. Meetings are ongoing and we have provided information on potential tenants, space needs, and the beginning of a feasibilty study for the project.

Key lessons learned

Once again, we were reminded that the collaborative process is often slow, can be stalled, and not under our control. These impediments do not signify a failure, though they are frustrating and constrain momentum. We continue to work toward a regional facility to address the need for behavioral health and addiction treatment services; however, the process has been slowed again by discussion of the change in ownership and management of the facility. We have learned, particularly during this time of the energy boom and downturn, the economic downturn of the agricultural economy, and the uncertainty of state and federal programs, that persistence is key to success.
As indicated above, we have learned valuable lessons of persistence and adjustment. Our collaboration with a local resident, the City of Dickinson, and Dickinson Parks and Recreation to build a unique Artspace Park in downtown Dickinson was refined and submitted to a private foundation for funding. Our continued request for community input, through both the broad and more focused surveys has been productive and rewarding.

Our work to support the nonprofit sector continued through board of director conversations regarding needs, a rural nonprofit retreat, and individual capacity building work to increase sustainability continues. Currently, we are working to expand the long term capacity of one of the smallest, most vulnerable organizations in our community. Again, we have learned patience.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

All three elements have been important; however, the collaborative element has been critical and very rewarding. We have been able to bring entities to the table that have operated independently, with little awareness of each other. We have facilitated conversations that have led to the creation of cross sector collaboration, and we have created projects that can only be successful collaboratively. Our work has built a new culture of collaboration within the community, and an acknowledgement of the power of collaboration.

Our partnership with the City of Dickinson has led to increased awareness - and response to resident thoughts, needs, and desires. We will continue to work with the City to increase public art and opportunities, and we will continue to work toward innovative ways to increase the quality of life for our residents. We have promoted and utilized the Bush Foundation's mission to Think Bigger Think Differently, to the benefit of our process success and it has been fundamental to the success of our process.

Other key elements of Community Innovation

Western Wellness Foundation, as a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the lives of children and families is a neutral entity which does not have an organizational stake in this process. As such, our organization has been able to bring cross sector entities together for the first time for face-to-face discussion. Our Executive Director's extensive community experience and involvement has been extremely beneficial to the process.

We contracted with a consultant for much of the early work: individual and group meetings, research, survey work, and project planning. The consultant's strengths that made her a great "fit" for this work included the facts that she grew up in SW ND, has more than 20 years of experience in project planning and development, rural community planning, and nonprofit management. It was beneficial to have someone who not only understands the culture of the community, but has respect for it. It was beneficial to have a consultant with the credibility of a native North Dakotan, but with the neutrality of a nonresident. Individual and group meeting participants were more forthcoming, and the consultant's experience brought an outside perspective.

Understanding the problem

Our work has brought cross sector entities together for the first time, to discuss their most critical community need, and how that need might be addressed through the collaborative use of the former hospital building. Although frustrated by the length and adjustments necessary to the process, we are very proud of having been the catalyst and facilitator for what has become an important solution to a critical community and regional need. We are anticipating a successful outcome to the process through collaborative support of many community oganizations and the participation of local government and consequent agencies.

If you could do it all over again...

We could not have anticipated the sudden downturn in oil activity; however, we learned that community innovation is often a slow process, particularly with a large collaborative. We have also learned that if you ask for community survey input and make this anonymous process a simple interaftion and exchange, you will receive honest, broad input. One of the biggest surprises for us was the high percentage (80%+) of BOTH long term and short term residents who considered the best thing about living in this diverse community is the friendly people.

One last thought

The flexibility of the Community Innovation process has allowed us to adjust as needed to unimagined and unexpected changes to our community. No other funding would have been as flexible in allowing the necessary adjustments and therefore the continuation of the process toward a solution: meeting a community's identified need through collaboratively utilizing a community resource.