In reviewing advocacy and the role of coalitions in the advocacy process, I spoke with Rev. Sylvia Meadows, pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. Meadows is one of the founders and the president of the Heart of Virginia Clinic, a free clinic serving those in need in the Farmville area. When asked how the process of starting the clinic began, she said it started with a sermon that she gave that motivated a long-time local nurse. The nurse had had an experience with a colleague who was in need of medical treatment but could not afford health care that moved her towards this calling. So she shared her vision with Meadows, and the clinic emerged.
I asked Meadows what her suggestions for coalition-building were, and she said that there had been two essential steps for them. The first was sharing the vision with people that you know and trust (she emphasized trust). By doing this, you give them the opportunity to catch the vision/passion and begin growing a base of support. Each person that gets on board with the vision helps to expand the base through their ideas, expertise, and, more importantly, connections. As you continue to expand those connections, you grow the coalition.
The second major step in the process was to admit what you do not know and ask for help. For example, as they developed the idea for the clinic, they spoke with people from other free clinics in the area and joined Volunteers in Medicine, and organization that could guide them through all of the steps they needed to take in order to get the clinic running. This process of connecting with people and groups that can help makes the coalition even stronger.